STORMY NIGHTS (during the day)

Shooting two TVC’s in one location is a great idea but especially challenging if each commercial require a completely different look, lighting wise. One look being bright, sunny, warm and soft, the other - dark, stormy, contrasty and…”realistically night time”. That last part always scares me - I’ll come back to that.

I co-shot this series of commercials with the very talented cinematographer Mark Kuilenburg, almost a year ago. It was our first time working together as a kind of gaffer/cinematographer/creative duo. I mention that because looking back, I guess I was trying to prove myself and make a good impression. We Recce’d, shot listed and planned this shoot together, but Mark left the lighting up to me and I was (now that I think about it) OVERLY confident in suggesting that we should shoot the night-time stuff…during the day.

“Yeah! We’ll just black the windows and throw a light through the front door!….DONE!”

Not only night time, but we also had to emulate lightening and rain on the windows, as if there was a storm outside. Nothing too crazy of course, but with a tiny crew and limited time it wasn’t a breezy setup. I’ll come back to that too….

If you’ve ever caroused through my lighting setups over the years, you may have thought to yourself “who has the time, or the imagination to create a lighting set-up like this before a shoot?” And the answer is, not me. NONE of these setup’s were done - to that level of finesse - before a shoot. I might sketch a lighting plan on the back of a napkin after a recce, but it inevitably changes on the day. Just like this one did :) The diagram you see below is me spending hours creating little icons and basically designing a poster. It’s as accurate as I can do in Photoshop hehe…but hopefully gives you an idea of how I light stuff.

SO! Back to the “realistically night time” part. It scares me because often people have inaccurate ideas about how night scenes actually look on screen. Sure they can FEEL like night time, but there still needs to be light, and there’s often a LOT of it - especially for a TVC. The difference is that it’s well controlled and the ambient light is low. That, and the fundamental idea that the scene is at least “lit” by a practical. That could be a fire place, or a lamp, a TV, an iPad, headlights, or candles….which you can then enhance further with your own film lights, keep spill off the walls and create realistic lighting that makes it FEEL like night time. So, on this TVC? Nope. This shoot was written with the power-lines being down. No house or street power. They left me with the dreaded idea that MOON LIGHT would light the interior of the house. Oh, and a green tinted LED torch that was as bright as black hole.

Not only did I have to black out the entire front of the house (which was time consuming), but I also had to leave enough room on the porch to create “moonlight”, and please, no, don’t say it…..lightening. We all love a good rolling-shutter-half-screen lightening flash don’t we ;) That, and rain…on the porch, between the front window and the blacks…with the the lights and power cords. Safety second?

“Yeah! We’ll just black the windows and throw a light through the front door!….DONE!” I said. Fully knowing that I didn’t really have any idea of how I would go about pulling this off.

I often find that jumping into the deep end is the best way, for me anyway. Terrifying, but energizing and fun.

Meanwhile, when I speak with utter confidence, I am in fact…MOSTLY confident. I know that I’ll be able to create something okay, something that works, and as far as this shoot went, I was happy. In hindsight though, I reckon I could have gotten away with MORE light. Especially as a key on the dad’s face at the door. You’ll see in the below video tutorial that I ended up masking a fair bit of the walls off and lowering exposure to help with contrast. That’s the tricky thing with lighting for night, especially when there is supposed to be, no light. Even if you decided to key someone’s face using a small soft source, you’ve got spill to worry about. Same goes for any light that you chose to illuminate the scene with. Controlling the light in a small, dark house (with white walls) isn’t easy!


Lighting everything blue is a cheap trick that helps emulate night….even though it’s not necessarily accurate, it’s a good starting point. I pushed the blue further using 201 Blue gel’s on daylight sources and had the camera set to a white balance under daylight (in this case, 5000 Kelvin) which emphasizes it even more. I was careful however, not to gel EVERYTHING blue. Even with decent light/shadow contrast, the whole scene might look a little too flat if it were all blue, which is why I chose tungsten to light faces :) Meanwhile, setting the camera’s white balance to 5000K (instead of 3200K) warms the tungsten even more. The result is great colour contrast and effective separation of what is important to look at in the frame (faces). You can then play with that warmth (especially on skin) in post to get it looking right…same with the blue surrounds and how they work with each-other. You might also notice that with the side light on Ruby, I set the LED to 5600K without a blue gel. This added, although subtly, to the contrast of colour I’m talking about. Her hair is lit closer to white compared to the “moonlight” blue around her and it helps :)

And then, the lightening. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried using a flash unit to create a lightening effect, or gun firing effect…because in theory, it sounds perfect! A super bright, controllable light flash that runs on batteries! In practice however, a rolling shutter (a shutter that scans in passes across the sensor from top to bottom) just doesn’t capture it well. Only part of the screen will be filled with the flash!

You’ll notice in the diagram that I’ve used a separate LED out on the porch, gelled purple. I then turned it on and off, just enough to create a flash which bounced through the windows and looked somewhat compelling (sound design helped of course, thank you George Goerss!). The challenge was though, that the LED doesn’t actually turn on instantly….it kinda builds up and then all of a sudden turns on, which made the timing of the flash really difficult. The inconstancy of that flash actually helped though I reckon :)

Finally, let me answer the questions that I know I’ll be asked:

1) What are the Godox lights like?

If you know me, you know I like cheap gear - comparatively cheap more specifically. Comparatively cheap and useful gear. It’s a risky business because it means investing in something that could potentially be a nightmare or a waste of money. These lights have been the workhorse for me for a couple of years now and I love them. I found them because I wanted to be able to modify my lights simpler and cheaper…which meant the tried and trusted, BOWENS mount. Modifiers are super cheap and there’s lots of them! Mostly made for flash units but work fine with these guys :) I even have true fresnel, focus-sable lenses for them!

2) How bright are they?

I haven’t tested them side by side anything, but from my experience, if you daylight balanced a 2K blondie… these are brighter. They’re also cooler, draw ten times less power and are simple to modify.

3) Do they have a colour cast?

Yes, magenta, but it’s minor and not a problem as far as I’m concerned.

4) What’s the fan noise like?

Three of them running at 100% intensity with the windows closed, close to the talent…yeah, it could be a problem, but otherwise, they’re fine. Nothing compared to a RED Scarlet-X.

4) Would I recommend them?


5) How much do they cost?

Between $500 - $600 AUD.

6) Where can I buy them?

I got mine from an eBay seller (not direct) but that seller doesn’t exist any more. Meanwhile, they’re not hard to find if you google the shit out of Godox SL200W.

7) What about the other variants from Godox (the SL60 for example)?

I don’t know, I’ve never used any other godox products.

So, have you ever lit for night? What was your approach? I’d love to learn about other people’s experiences with lighting for night-scenes…I find them very difficult, but super fun :) In my next blog post on lighting (shot 30), I’ll be breaking down the same house lit completely differently. Here’s the TVC…

Posted on October 10, 2018 .