STUDIO TUNGSTEN LUXURY (and set builds with dad)


Lately I've been looking for resources on line where I can learn more about lighting for film. I'll often finish watching a lighting tutorial or read an article detailing "how we lit it" and find myself sitting back and saying "yep, cool, I'd probably do that too if I had a million dollars worth of grip and lighting equipment and enough power to run a small city".

I've been lighting with basically the same kit for several years now and am beginning to see what a difference larger, more powerful sources can do (as you'll see later in this post). That being said, my kit contains no such large sources, although the 1.2K has really helped. 

1 x 1.2K HMI (e-bay knock-off)

2 x 650w Tungsten Fresnel (e-bay knock-off)

2 x 300w Tungsten Fresnel (e-bay knock-off)

2 x 500 LED Daylight Balanced (e-bay knock-off)

1 x 500 LED Tungsten/Daylight dial-able (e-bay knock-off)

I've shot 5 features, many shorts, a few commercials and a TV pilot with this kit....and I'm still pushing the limits of what I can achieve on a house-hold circuit. That being said, there are a couple of points I'm trying to make here...

1) Lighting with relatively small sources (like the ones above) can be super challenging, especially when trying to maintain contrast. 

2) There are plenty of "learn lighting", or lighting break-down resources available, but many of them utilize MASSIVE light sources that are often out of the reach of most independent film makers, OR, contain so many sources in the setup ( 4 x Red Heads, 1 x Kinos, 2x Didos, 1 x 2K Tunsgten for example) that you'd need a 10K generator to power them.

I'm not saying that hiring lights isn't an option - I'll often supplement my kit with an extra 1.2K, or hire a genny for out door stuff, but that (often) isn't always possible on the no budget films that come my way. It's both a blessing and a curse I guess...because one way it forces you to be creative and resourceful, but on the other hand you're trying to work towards a goal that requires a lot more time and power, and this can be frustrating to say the least.

LED technology has come a long way and if you can afford them, they're a great light that will get you around the power restrictions I'm talking about.  That being said, I'm a fan of hard light, so LED panels aren't a substitute....sure, there are LED Fresnel's, but they aren't super bright, or affordable...and if they are, they're green, pink or something else that you'll have to deal with. It's something I haven't looked into for a while though, so I could be missing something. 

Throughout my adventures as a cinematographer, I've always had this voice in the back of my mind that is like "damn, if only I had a roof full of space lights right now", or "a couple of 10K's would sort this out", or "I wish we had the power to light up the FOUR of those blonde's". And then I go and try to make do with what I have. It's not healthy to blame your gear (or lack there of), but I guess it's good to know what your limitations are so you can work with them and know what to expect. 

Before this post gets too long, I better get into what prompted me to write it in the first place. I recently wrapped shooting a short film for Writer/Director, Michael Young called 'Someone I've Never Met'. It's a super short short, is well written and cleverly designed. I was instantly excited about shooting the film when I learned how passionate Michael was about the set and what colours he wanted to emphasize, and how clearly he saw it all in his head. With a few pre production meetings and some serious planning, we both went ahead and with a confidence that we could deliver....well, a face of confidence anyway hehe ;) Whilst discussing the look of the film, with any director, I'll be thinking in the back of my mind what sort of lighting I might need to achieve it. Then, I scrap those ideas because we can't afford them and think again about how I can use my usual kit to get there. The difference with this film was huge though....because once I realized half of the film would take place in a studio, I knew we had some serious power. On top of that, I learned that we had the following...

3 x 5K Tunsgten Fresnel

6 x 2K Tunsgten Fresnel

2 x Blonde

That's 28,600 Watts of light right there....and I'm used to using around 3000 Watts. Also, I'll often steer clear of tungsten lighting too, because power efficiency wise, they're terrible! So, not only did I have the large sources I wanted but I also had enough power use them all at once, and the option to dim them to any level.  

And then there was the set. This is first time I've worked with a set build that had not only been thought out very cleverly, but also designed and constructed in a way that made my life super easy :) It's kinda of a funny story actually, because I've always wanted my parents to come a visit me on set, or actually see what I do! Because mostly, they'll introduce me at family dinners or outings as a very talented "photographer" and don't really seem to have any REAL idea of what I do haha...god belss'm, they're a lovely bunch :) So anyway, the opportunity came up where Michael was looking for a set builder. My Dad's a builder, but has never set foot on a film set before, let alone one I'd be shooting hehe. So I put him and my mum (an amazing artist) in contact with Michael and a week later this is what they came up with!

The walls were movable and everything just looked so legit! Even down to the painting and functioning door - we were all thrilled and so were the hoards of people coming in and out just to take a look :) Needless to say, I'm sure dad will be doing more of this sort of work in the future hehe. So, a set is one thing, but let's also take a look at the colour palette and how well designed the space is. Michael sourced nearly all of the furniture from opp shops and second hand stores. He specifically chose colours that would suite the tone of the film, which he had already determined well before the set build began.  

Michael's carefully selected colour palette for his film 'Someone I've Never Met'

Michael's carefully selected colour palette for his film 'Someone I've Never Met'

With such attention to the look and feel of the film BEFORE I even got there, it really did make my job easy! When I say easy, I still spent an entire day pre-lighting the set, making refinements and adjustments until I was happy (which I very rarely am), but let's just say that the "look" of the film had mostly been determined by the set and production design - it was now my job to enhance that and paint in the time of day :) Once I learned what light I had available to me, I began a shot list and lighting plan in my favorite app 'Shot Designer' :)

"warm", "inviting", "morning sun, "shortly before opening hours" were approximate descriptions given to me when I asked about how this half of the film should be lit. So, of course I wanted to fire up those 5K's and get some volumetric light happening.

I ended up changing a few things in the final lighting setup (you can see an in-depth lighting breakdown of the shot HERE), but my idea was pretty close to what I needed. Seems like I should trust that pesky voice in the back of my head after all ;)

Here's the final shot and a few more grabs from that scene...

The other half of the movie takes place in a dark house, at night. We didn't have a lot of time or resources there but I think it will work for the film. I hope this experience doesn't spoil me...cos now I can REALLY see how much easier it is to light using larger sources, and how much better it is having complete control over the lights position and dimmer setting (all lights were hanging from the ceiling except the Blonde's). It was also nice to be working with a single light temperature, without having to match lights using gels. Tungsten has a beautiful quality to it, especially when it's so hot and huge - although I processed these images at 5000 Kelvin, they totally work balanced at 3200. To see more detail on my lighting plan, be sure to check out the LIGHTING section above, or just click HERE. Thanks for visiting :)



Posted on October 23, 2015 .