Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cinematography - Doing more with less

I shot a feature length film back in May with almost no crew and maybe a few hundred dollars worth of lighting equipment. Almost all of the setups were day interiors and night interiors and I used ambient daylight and/or daylight compact fluorescent bulbs, always with the daylight white balance preset set on the camera.

Here are a small group of still images shot on the set:

I remember going into the project I was thinking about how little equipment I could get away with using and as it turned out, my one and only full time crew member got sick 2 days into shooting and was gone for the first week. So there I was almost completely on my own with a camera on my shoulder, having to set the boom mic and move lighting around and kind of loving not having to deal with a lot of gear.

There's a lot to be said for "minimal," and I recommend highly going minimal when possible. Not only does it free you up, but it takes a lot of load off of a minimal (or non-existent) crew.

I recently worked on a commercial shoot with 2 camera operators using available light for exteriors and minimal fluorescent light added to interior setups, and not having to deal with a lot of film lighting surely allowed for more footage and more time actually rolling.

Obviously, the downside is possibly less stylistically involved work, and that's probably the main trade-off - either "nicer" looking shots OR more footage. I suppose it all depends on what you need but I have managed to do more with less more often than not so maybe I'm biased.

With today's light sensitive, large sensor cameras with fast lenses, it's entirely possible to be stylistic and get suitable coverage with minimal added lighting, reflectors, and of course flags and teasers to control ambient light. You have to remember, with regard to lighting, it's not always about what you add, but often - what you take away.

Consider a day interior.

You have hours of ample ambient daylight at your disposal, so with the right choice of curtains, blinds, shears, or whatever window covering you want, you can control that light to the point where you ARE actually lighting with it rather than trying to compete with it using low powered fixtures (if on a budget).

This commercial was shot using ambient daylight, two 1200 HMI fixtures, and 2 fluorescent fixtures. There was a large bay window just behind camera facing the child talent that was completely covered with black cloth. Otherwise, we let all the rest of the ambient light work for us and we shot all day.

©2010 Chris Santucci