STUDIO GLAMOUR (using continuous lighting)

LEFT: Actor > Nick Soldatos RIGHT: Actor > Rosie Noone

In photography, the mind creates it's own story from a still image. It's a beautiful thing. In cinematography, it's not all that different (other than the obvious) because even though more of the story is being told with the addition of sound and movement,  the mind still tries to relate and associate what is happening on screen with its own experiences - distorting and fabricating it's own version of the film's story. That pesky mind....always doing it's own thing. Anyway, I love capturing images - moving or still. Photography and Cinematography both share one HUGE element of design, and that is...LIGHTING. in fact, I'd say that it's the single most important aspect of the two crafts....although lately I'm beginning to notice how important blocking and composition is when it comes to cinema...but that's another journey, and maybe it will have it's own blog section one day :) I should also mention, that on a shoot like this, MAKEUP is so damn important. We were lucky enough to be working with Maryana who did a stunning job :) Thanks Maryana! You absolutely nailed it :)

ANYWAY! As much as I love lighting and shooting as a cinematographer, there's something magical about stills that I'll never let go of. I really enjoyed this shoot! These images (and two more) will be used for a poster and promotional material for the up and coming TV pilot comedy, written and directed by Thomas Petrakos 'Make or Break'. 

Thomas and I talked about how we wanted the poster to look and quickly began Googling "Movie Poster" for inspiration. We decided that because of the nature of the show (comedy), we would go for a glossy, glamour look, rather than the moody, edgy and dark (teal and orange) posters you'll see if you Googled what we did :) This is the third studio style shoot that I've done (here's the one I shot before it). I don't have experience with flash units so I decided to stick with what I know - continuous lighting. After analysing some of the posters in our search results, I got an idea of how to light these portraits but let's be clear, I was only guessing! I didn't walk into that studio knowing exactly how to light it, nor did I know exactly how it would turn out, but what I am good at is being super critical of my own work, looking at it objectively and fixing what I don't like. Luckily, we had the day to shoot these four shots so I had time to make those changes...unlike a film set ;)

A big thanks to Matt from Barkly Street Studios for the great space, and my awesome crew Jessa Rose and Glen Cook :) I'll be sure to share the finished poster and other portraits when they're done. Thanks for visiting and if you'd like to see more lighting diagrams, please visit the LIGHTING section above, or just click HERE :)

Posted on February 26, 2015 .

REFLECTIONS ARE COOL (ask any photographer)

Creating depth is at the forefront of my mind when I look to compose any shot. How do you give depth to a 2 dimensional picture? We're not shooting stereo here, so what tricks can we employ to fool the mind into thinking this world (a flat screen) is somewhat similar to ours? 

There are a few. Depth of field as the name suggests, plays a huge role in , you guessed it, "depth". When one thing is blurry and another thing is sharp, our brains instantly start building a world that isn't flat any more. The space we had to shoot this scene wasn't exactly filled with objects or shapes that would help us perceive a difference in size (depth perception is also enhanced by this comparison), so I decided to use the mirror as a layer adding prop. With Rosie Noone's (amazing actress and joy to work with) shoulder's reflection left of frame, the image is beginning to shape up. The out of focus background element (actually, a was a fashion shoot you know) helps carry this idea even further, because now there are three planes of focus, the middle one, Rosie, being "in" and the foreground and background ones, Rosie's shoulder and the reflector, being "out". 

To further sway this illusion of depth I decided to use colour contrast to separate these planes. Daylight balanced down lights illuminate our actress's (or is it PC to call everyone an "actor" these days?) while the un-balanced tungsten lamp from the rear warms up and gives edge to everything else. 

For more lighting diagrams, click on the LIGHTING link at the top of this page :) Thanks for visiting!

Posted on January 7, 2015 .

MIX DAT LIGHT (daylight, tungsten, halogen and LED)

Press the play button on the image above to see it in action :)

Mixing light temperatures can be risky, and I've rarely been happy when trying it in the past. I'll often have a rule, that mixing light temperatures is fine, so long as the "mixing" doesn't happen on the actors face. Sounds a bit crude doesn't it....oh well. The point is, usually, since you can only balance your camera to one white balance setting, or one Kelvin setting, if you have two different coloured lights illuminating someone's skin, it can often look yucky. That's right, yucky. For example, leaving the above tungsten practicals on in a home while the actor stand in the kitchen and daylight pours through the window, might not look as nice as if you turned those practicals off and just balanced for the daylight.

In this shot, I had a soft wash of daylight coming through the large window into the cafe and although it wasn't super dominant in terms of my exposure, it was playing a part in the overall ambience of the scene. I balanced my camera for that (5600K) and decided to use tungsten Fresnels instead of the 575w HMI's (daylight) to light the actor and the immediate scene, which would mean my camera would render tungsten light super warm, and the down lights, even warmer.  

Then there was the issue of the back, left hand corner of the hallway (camera left), which was in shadow. I could have also used another tungsten lamp to light that area (or simply left it in darkness) but I wanted emphasize the super saturated look and further compliment the colours already present in the scene. In this case, I loved the yellowish/greenish shirt pattern, especially how it played nicely with the red and blue background and already, overly warmed skin, and decided to turn my LED lamp to it's tungsten setting, fully knowing that LED tungsten (especially on cheaper LED's like the ones I own) have a green spike, which gets greener, the lower the intensity setting. 

The result is a greenish glowing back left hand corner, which separates nicely from the warmer foreground. Vibrant colours are everywhere, but not too distracting. With a smidge of diffusion (thanks to the Pro-Mist 1/8th filter in front of the lens) nice looking skin and dare I say, (although a little tight on headroom), what a simple, but beautifully composed shot. It always helps when the wardrobe department does an amazing job, along with the ridiculously charismatic actor in front of the camera - Jordan Holtam, an absolute pleasure to work with. Cheers!

For more lighting diagrams and breakdowns of shots, please check out the LIGHTING section at the top of the page. Thanks for visiting :)

Posted on January 6, 2015 .

MATCH LIGHT VERSION 2 (using a match as a key light)

* download this clip and grade it yourself! NEW to the DOWNLOADS section (above)

Earlier this year I was invited to Alsayegh Media in Dubai to share my knowledge with the crew about lighting, lensing and post production techniques. Marlo Espolong is heading the video department there and has a wonderful team of enthusiastic and talented people around him. On day three we covered lighting techniques for interviews, out door lighting and how to work with different lighting types (HMI's, Tungsten Fresnels, LED's, etc). The shot above shows what we came up with for the "Low Key" lighting class. One of the most important aspects of any lighting, is contrast. How bright are some areas compared to others? And let's not forget about colour contrast too, which is also very important. Here you can see a good example of both brightness contrast (light and shadow) and complimentary colour contrast (red and blue).

A big thanks to Amir (Miro Sedra) for modeling for us, he's not only a talented editor and producer, but was great subject matter too :) Check out the lighting diagram below to see how we lit this shot.

For more lighting diagrams, be sure to visit the LIGHTING section at the top of this page. Thanks for visiting :)

Posted on May 15, 2014 .

WARM ROMANCE ( with small light sources )


We didn't have a studio, so we used a small bedroom. The walls were all white which helped with bounce, but made decent contrast tough to achieve. By smashing a backlight from top right I at least had a strong edge separating the couple from the white background. I also let the top/back light flair the lens and in addition, had a broken glass filter in front of the lens which was being hit by a flashlight helping with extra flairs and adding to the mood :) You'll also notice that Olympia's face is being nicely illuminated by some bounce from Maurice's white singlet. All intentional of course ;)


For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on February 13, 2014 .

300 FPS, GUNS & RAIN ( LED's are your best friend )


Have you ever shot with RED? It's a noisy camera, and at 800ISO in low light, it's already noisy (come at me RED fanboys!!!) Crop in to 2K and the noise patterns are even bigger and more noticeable. So, a slower shutter (1/300th instead of 180 degrees) doubled my light intensity and gave the rain drops a longer WIN! You can read in more detail about the shoot HERE :)


The shot below is basically the same lighting setup, but this was shot at 5K 60fps through my Nikkor 50 f1.4 at f2.


For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on February 13, 2014 .

SAMYANG CINE - LOW LIGHT (emulating moonlight & key light with a match)

I recently purchased the very affordable "cine" lenses made by Samyang/Bower/Rokinon. I had read all the reviews I could find on-line, and nearly all of them said that these lenses weren't really useable wide-open. Please define "useable" hehe ;) Below are two videos that show what I did with them (the 16, 35 and 85) all wide open. They are amazing lenses, and very useable wide-open.

Both of the frames you see above I lit as per the lighting diagram below. I wanted to emulate moonlight and see if I could use a match as my only key-light source. Both videos are graded very differently. One, over-the-top saturated and the other quite the opposite :) The Hallway shots were lit virtually the same, one light outside the doorway, one inside adding a tiny glow to the hallway.

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on November 19, 2013 .


This location was so awesome. Picture a basement, hidden underneath a prestigious school on the top of a hill. Actually, this property was used in the original Mad Max too! Mad!

When we first recce'd the spot with Lucas, Julie and the crew, I instantly fell in love with the walls, but more so what I could do with the lighting. There were two windows that had light streaming down from above, hitting the floor. I knew exactly what to do. Smash some HMI's down through the windows and try to use that as my main light source. I did end up bouncing it off reflectors laying on the ground, for some extra kick. In hindsight, I think I needed stronger HMI's (2.5K's) but hey, the 1.2's did okay :)  I wanted to keep the place kinda dark anyway and I think it worked well.

Here's the breakdown:  

With a fairly simply grade, the shot really comes alive! See below for a before and after. I was also experimenting with grading the 1080p ProRes file, instead of the original 4K R3D, just to see how far it could be pushed. It's definitely not as easy, but with a little time, it's no problem :) I graded this in EDIUS 7 Pro using 3 way, Curves, and a window.

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on November 8, 2013 .

QUEEN OF THE BEES (low light)

In this shot I was trying to stay true to the practicals in the room so as to match the accompanying wide shot. In this case, two bedside lamps, either side. The actual lamps either side were horrible! One was fluro and the other tungsten about 25watts, both shining through a green shade cloth....not very nice on the skin. I warmed up some 300w tungsten fresnels with a peach and straw plus some diffusion and got some pleasing results. If you read the accompanying blog post HERE, you'll learn more about the challenges I faced on this shoot. 

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on October 8, 2013 .

EYE WIDE OPEN (Shot from The Snap Factory)

Here's a fairly simple set up (although enhanced in post) which I think worked quite well. Macro shots aren't always easy, mostly because of the super shallow depth of field, but also because it can be tough to get light into that tight space! Having the camera and lens so close to a subject makes it awkward.

I stopped my iris down to f3.5 to give a me little more than razor thin DOF (f2.8 that close is RAZOR thin). The 1000 led (daylight balanced) LED's I purchased from ebay recently (check this guy out, these lights are awesome!) are a joy to use and have amazing output and quality. They are my new Kinos!

For this shot I placed both lights either side of my subject and added some soft fill (and a subtle reflection) from a white bounce board.

Posted on May 3, 2013 .

THE SNAP FACTORY (by Luke Launer)

NAB 2013 was an amazing experience for me! I was flown to Vegas and worked with Atomos, helping them on their booth with color grading presentations. I talked about 10-bit colour spaces, compression and why they matter. I also demo'd some grading examples in EDIUS and DaVinci and received great feedback from the attendees :) It was an awesome week! So many new advancements for the film-maker - the most exciting developments for me being LED lighting. The future is bright!

As I stepped off my 15hr flight back home in Australia, I drove straight to a shoot for Luke Launer as DP for his new film "The Snap Factory". No shower, no nothing. I was wired!! We shot into the early morning and suffice to say, I was exhausted the next day, but really happy with some of the shots I got that night. Below is one of my favorites......

For a higher detailed image, see HERE

This scene is where our protagonist finds a friend in his dark and gritty cell of The Snap Factory. Luke wanted a black void to surround the actors which meant I had to be careful with light bouncing onto walls, etc.

The scarlet holds up well at 800 ISO, as long as you give your subject enough light. I always take a look at my "RAW" exposure to check what is really going on, and then tweak my lighting accordingly. As you can see on the histogram, the image should be filled with noise and is super under-exposed. I've learned not to trust my histogram and use "RAW" as my exposure guide, judging the image by eye. It's working a treat!

The low wattage tungsten Fresnels (150w dimmable) are some of my favorite lights in a kit. They are so tiny and easy to use, perfect for hair lights and selective lighting. One of them I used as a hair/back light which was aimed from up high, pointed down, directly at the back of my subject. The second 150w was set to spot and pointed at the ground just in front of the actor to bounce some fill into his face. The diffused LED was on the ground pointing up and dimmed to taste for some extra fill and eye ping ;) I'm really happy with the results. Here's the reversal:

For more shots from this shoot, check out my blog post here :)

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on April 18, 2013 .


Here's a simple lighting setup I put to great effect using 2 x 2K blondies and a reflector. These lights can be hired for about $40/day. I probably could have done this with only one of the lights, but what the hell, I had two of them so I put them to use (notice the little pocket of light hitting the drink bottle). Looking back now, I should have shifter the reflector to fill her face a little more, but, with a strong grade, it didn't matter too much in the end.  (here is a higher res/less compressed version to pick on)

Camera: RED Scarlet-X  |  Lens: Nikkor AiS 35mm f2.8 @ f3.5 |  ISO 320, WB 5500Kelvin (no tint), Shutter 1/50th  |  Graded in DaVinci Resolve Lite

Ungraded, REDLog

Here's a BTS of the setup. I would have liked NOT to include the power outlet on the top right, but time was pressure and we just left it as is. I personally hate it!

Thanks to prefacefilms for the opportunity and for letting me use these grabs :) Also, a big thanks to Kylie Lyons (athlete) for being a joy to work with.

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on March 17, 2013 .


A couple of months ago I was on a plane watching "No Country For Old Men" for the first time. The audio was terrible through those headphones and the highly compressed, 4:3 image in front of me was pretty hard to watch...but, I was glued the whole time. I recently hired it and watched it again at home and enjoyed it even more. It's easily in my top 5 favorite films. Roger Deakins, the Coen Brothers and their amazing cast and crew have created a masterpiece! Whenever I watch films these days, it's actually difficult for me to switch off my analytical mind and just enjoy the story....cinema's help, but I'm always wondering..."how the heck did they light that?". The beauty of watching a DVD or Bluray is that often they come bundled with behind the scenes footage, which can sometimes give you a glimpse into the magic that goes into lighting a Hollywood feature film. "No Country for Old Men" has some great special features but sadly, there is ZERO content regarding Mr. Deakins and his work. There are however, some 2 second shots that reveal enough...if you look carefully and are quick with the pause button hehe :)

One thing I noticed, or at least think I have, is that many of the shots were lit with one MASSIVE soft light source (amongst other lights). I managed to pause the making of one shot (the hand-cuff strangle 00:45), and I saw what appeared to be a high intensity tungsten light behind thrown into a corner, which was then diffused by a huge bed sheet. The setup looked DIY but the results looked amazing...this got me thinking. The next day I drove to my local hardware store and purchased 2 x double 500w "workers lights". That equates to 1000Watts of light for $50. Pretty good deal! Next up I drove to the super-market and got 30meters of silver foil for $5. I then drove to a HiFi shop, parked out the back and went through their trash looking for a large flat box from an LCD one :) 



"The Mother Reflector" is something I've been meaning to make for a while awesome and so cheap. It even folds up to fit in the car! I'll be using this a lot, especially out doors. But anyway, for this experiment I was using it as my reflective  "wall" to bounce my worker's lights off. From there, even though the bounced light was already soft, I had to soften it even more and disperse its intensity. A bed sheet did the trick nicely :)


So, as you can see, my experiment looks NOTHING like No Country For Old Men hehe ;) But the idea of creating your own beauty light/massive soft source, is quite simple! A gentle back light slightly camera-left and some soft fill from a reflector on the same side to even out the face is all it took finish it off! The reflector also adds some nice catch lights for the eyes. See below for a detailed diagram :)

It's one thing to have ideas but it's another thing to have someone who is willing to participate and help you bring those ideas to life. My girlfriend, Laura McCann is the most beautiful person I've ever met. Her warmth, massive heart and caring nature FAR outweigh the beauty you see here, but damn, she's HOT too hehe :) She's also the best model I've ever worked with. Who's the luckiest guy on earth? I am.

Here's another shot where I let the spill of the lights hit the back wall (sans black sheet)...same setup, but TOTALLY different look. I love them both :)

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on March 11, 2013 .

ALL THE MOUNTAINS (by Paul McSherry)

Our soon to be launched production company HEIST Films (soon!) was recently approached and asked if we would be interested in producing a music video for singer/song writer, Paul McSherry, entitled "All The Mountains". Below are some lighting setups from day one.

We didn't have a huge budget for lights so we opted to shoot tungsten. It was difficult too because we had a lot of windows that were allowing daylight to enter the premises and it wasn't the sort of place we could black the windows or really alter in any way. We also own a few LED panels that are colour temperature adjustable, but they're no match for the sun. This meant that we had to change a few shots but all in all, it worked out well :)

SHOT 1 >>

We had to change this shot from what was originally scripted because of the strong daylight source behind our actor. With no HMI's and no lights to match that sort of power we decided to shoot profile instead of font-on. To balance exposure on his face, I used a reflector and an LED set to 5600K. I had these placed high to help shape his face and add shadow under his chin. Reflectors are THE most versatile and useful lighting tool ever! And so cheap! Also, the room he was entering (to the left of frame) needed to be lit. I just set up two LED panels at 5600K, again to match the colour temp of the sun. I pointed them at the wall and bookshelf and dimmed them a few notches so as not to draw too much attention and maintain a nice contrast. Below is a diagram that will give you a clearer picture.

SHOT 2 >>

By pointing the 2K at the wall I created a soft light that spilled everywhere. I wanted our actress to look warm and soft so this was a good start. We had no scrims or really any extra rigging for diffusing so bouncing off the walls was a good compromise. I then had to give her face some shape. I also wanted to place some emphasis on her hair. A high, softened LED panel was placed camera left as a side/hair light and you can see it working well there. Her hair and right shoulder are glowing at least a stop hotter than her opposite side which gave her some nice shape and helped separate her from the wall. I then filled her left side (camera right) with a smaller LED. This also gave her necklace an extra kick. Notice the colour temp of this was set closer to tungsten than the back-light? I played with these because I didn't want her hair to appear TOO yellow, and wanted her skin to be more neutral. If I had all lights balanced to 3200K, it would have been a yellow mess. Splitting the colour temps also helped separate her from the tungsten lit wall. Different skin tones show up differently on camera. Don't be afraid to adjust the temperature of your lights to compensate, even in a tungsten environment. Below is a diagram that will give you a clearer picture.

SHOT 3 >>

I lit this shot similarly to the previous shot but this time I took away the diffused wall bouncer. I wanted the man to be lit much harsher. I also took off any diffusion from the LED's. The streaming back light from the 2K (although subtle) was a nice way to light the archway behind him and help with a small rim behind his left ear. Once again, playing with the colour temp of my LED's to get the skin tone I wanted. Below is a diagram that will give you a clearer picture.

I hope this helps you with your next shoot! I'm always experimenting with lighting and I learn a lot from every shoot. Although shooting in available light is a great skill to have, lighting your own environments exactly the way you want, is very rewarding. Get out there, experiment and create your own style! Thanks for visiting :)

The lighting illustration icons used here were designed by Kevin Kertz. He was kind enough to allow me to use them to help demonstrate my setups. Thanks Kevin!

For more lighting setups, check out the LIGHTING section at the top of this page :)

Posted on February 25, 2013 .