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In Lighting

By DavidPimm

Lighting Empress: Deeper in Disguise Promo

On 28, May 2013 | In Lighting, News | By DavidPimm


Director Ross, operating on the Empress shoot

In terms of timing, this shoot was both good and bad. I had been at the NFTS for 4 months and had learnt an enormous amount that I was itching to start applying to projects outside of the curriculum. So this came along at just the right time and I was really excited to get the chance to light it. The trouble was that the video had almost no time in prep, during production or in post. I was brought on as cinematographer 4 days before the shoot. The location was confirmed on Friday 12th April and the shoot took place on Saturday 13th April. We managed to pack the whole video into a 1 day shoot with a few macro shots done over a couple of hours a few days later. The video was cut and ready a week later. The good news is we worked like crazy and it turned out really well. A nice bonus came when it aired on Scuzz, a music video channel on May 24th. So with my first cinematography work making its way onto TV, here’s how I approached and lit the video.

The idea behind the video was relatively abstract, but latched onto elements of the song that the director and band felt were important to get across: fakeness and the fraudulent nature of people in today’s society. The video was split into two sections – the band playing live, and little vignettes of two models. Both parts were shot in the same space, a fantastic chapel that survived a direct bomb hit in World War II.


I’ve worked with Ross, the director a number of times. He’s also a very competent cameraman and wanted to operate. This was perfect for me as it meant I could just concentrate on the light and talk to him about composition as we rolled. I grabbed hand held shots on a second camera and shot some of the model shots later in the day to support him when time was marching on. Everything was shot on DSLRs.

There wasn’t time for me to recce the location, so I ordered a lighting package which I hoped would handle the size of the place and prayed the natural light would work with me rather than against on the day. When I stepped into the chapel I first looked at the course of the sun with a great iPhone app called ‘Sun Seeker’ and decided that I would work with the available light and augment it with my lighting package. Luckily it worked out that by the time the band had set up, been through makeup and we had lit and set the camera, the sun should have passed around towards the back of the building so we wouldn’t be competing too much.

For the live band part of the shoot, I wanted to create as much contrast as possible as I felt it was right for the mood of the song, as well as the genre. In a very wide and tall space that had numerous large windows on 3 of the 4 walls, this was quite tough! I wanted the band to pop out from the space around them and for the lead singer to be the main point of focus. A strong but natural looking, soft cross light with small shards of hard, warmer light was the aim, as if it was an overcast day and the harsh sun was occasionally peeking through the clouds.


I had a small lighting package of 2 blondes, 3 redheads, 2 4 bank 4ft kinos and a set of dedo 150s. I hoped we had enough oomph to maintain some consistency! Sverre, another cinematography student from the NFTS worked as my gaffer and Pete camera assisted and gripped (and sparked where needed, because the man works relentlessly). The first thing we did was to block out the set of windows on the back wall (behind where the camera would be facing). This was to stop the sun interrupting lighting continuity and the overall look later in the day when we were rolling. I requested ‘a shit load’ of tin foil for this exact purpose. It’s a really cheap efficient way of blocking natural light coming through a window. You can quickly stick it up using water, or gaffer tape. Because the windows were so high and we didn’t want to rot the wood, we used gaffer tape. So we three set to work on blocking the windows off.


Lighting the Band

Next we set the camera frame, roughed in where the band would be positioned with their kit and got to work on placing the lights. Because we needed as bright and soft a source as possible, we lined up a row of 2 blondes and 2 redheads behind a sheet of Rosco ¼ grid cloth. Each lamp had ¼ blue on them to cool them down without losing too much light. The grid cloth is a thin, light diffusion which has a fabric quality to it. It’s a great, fast way of creating a soft source. I unrolled the lot and positioned it with 2 C-Stands at each end for speed and recyclability!

Row of lamps behind the 1/4 grid cloth. If we had a 5k, that would have made for a much smaller footprint!

Row of lamps behind the 1/4 grid cloth. If we had a 5k, that would have made for a much smaller footprint!

If we had to shoot then and there, that would have been acceptable, but we had longer to craft the look as the band were still setting up. So I set to work on creating a streak of warmer light on the background to further separate the subjects from the environment considering light, shadow and colour. This was just a red head positioned to the right of the ¼ grid cloth without any blue gel and using the barn doors to shape the light. This was our hard sun light creeping through the clouds. A little spill from the redheads behind the ¼ grid was helping this along in the way happy accidents often do, so Sverre suggested adding another warm streak along the floor with a dedo as a continuation. So we placed that dedo downstage beside the redhead.

The band then moved in and we had a look to see what needed tweaking. The light was struggling to reach the drummer so we placed a kino alongside him, downstage and to the right of the ¼ grid to help pick him out from the background.

I noticed that there were a few moments in the song where Ollie, the lead singer moved forwards as the energy of the song picked up and he really belts out the lyrics. I wanted to pick him out a little more and to reflect, with light, the aggressive nature of the music.

Hard light catching the lead singer as he works his vocal chords

Hard light catching the lead singer as he works his vocal chords

So on the left of the grid cloth I placed a dedo 150, un-gelled, a little above head height to catch the lead singer in a very small, warm, hard pool of light that worked on the edge of the soft, slightly cooler light he was already being bathed in closest to camera. I boxed it in with the barn doors and positioned it as precisely as possible after watching where he moved in rehearsals. To pin point it after we began rolling, I asked him to try and feel for the light in his eyes when those moments in the song came about. It’s important not to disrupt the flow of those performing in front of camera, so I made it clear that it wasn’t essential, but would help reflect the energy he was giving off. He really liked the idea and ran with it happily.

150 dedo bouncing into a poly for a low eye light

150 dedo bouncing into a poly for a low eye light

Finally because Ollie was often looking down at the low angle of the camera, I was aware we might lose his eye light. So I placed a 150 on the floor under the lens at the end of track and bounced it into a small piece of poly resting on the floor and angled upwards. We were ready to roll! The only time we changed the lighting was for two close ups on Ollie, and that was just a case of walking the dedo light on him in a bit so it had more punch. Setting the light in a simple way that didn’t need changing was very much the plan, allowing us to shoot constantly and keep the momentum going. I’m pleased with the look of these parts, but of course time ran away and we spent a little too long shooting these sections, making life tough for the parts with the models.

Lighting the Models

By now the light level had dropped considerably as the sun had moved all the way behind our tin foil blacked out windows, which was helpful as we wanted this to have a different feel to the band section. We chose the darkest wall to shoot against and kept the lighting as simple and movable as possible. I took down the ¼ grid and worked only with kinos and bare blondes. I wanted to stick with the cross lighting approach in the band section, but increase the contrast, have it lower key and change the colour temperature of the lamps. I kept daylight tubes in the kinos which produces quite a white, cool light, and asked for all of the blondes and redheads to be gelled with Dirty White, which is a warm gel which has a rusty, slightly brown tinge to it. I never softened the blondes or redheads. To keep things fast and simple I always had the colour temperatures placed on opposite sides of the frame and tried to stop the two colours from contaminating each other on the subjects or space. Instead, the dirty white was used largely as a very side on key light, usually from camera right, and the kinos more as a ¾ backlight from camera left. We shot a lot of wide and mid set ups moving the lights a little each time in this approach.

The one thing we didn’t have time to shoot was close ups. So Ross and Nic, the model came to my house a few days later and we shot all of the close ups one evening in my bedroom.


This was good fun – I wanted the close ups to fall into place with the model section of the video shot in the chapel, but play with colour temperate and experiment a little more. I had redheads on hand but just decided to try and work with the practicals I had in my bedroom. I gelled a standing lamp with peacock blue, which gives a sort of turquoise colour and wrapped dirty white around a soft globe light (£10 from ikea, go, go, go!) and skirted the half away from the subject with black cloth to keep the light off the walls.

With Ross on camera I hand held the globe light, moving it in an arc over the camera and rotating it so that the black cloth would flag the light from her face, and then rotate it back in for a nice complimentary lighting effect. I think these tie in quite nicely with the rest, and proves you can very easily pull this kind of close up work off with the lights you already have in your bedroom. You can even see the peacock blue gel in one of the shots – that’s the bokeh in the background of the close up at the end of the video. You can watch the final video over here. Hopefully it has a strong visual identity and no one can tell it was largely made with off the cuff, very cheap lighting methods!