Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Guerrilla Gaffers

Logo design from Xristos Production's Cafepress Store. You can pick one up for around $40 AU.
I've always had an interest in lighting but I'm no gaffer by a long shot, however, I've noticed the way that Indie filmmakers have taken to 'do it yourself' production kits, and I admire the initiative in getting around costly hurdles when tackling various filming conditions. The information below is not new or particularly revolutionary, but I think that it is worth spreading - as the more resourceful filmmakers are, the better tips and tricks can be adapted to shooting video.

Indie filmmaking is often done using small crews with make-shift equipment. Don't let this stop you from making the best you can produce under the circumstances. It is Rebel Filmmaking, trial and error, and Mercenary Movie Making at its most exciting. As an independent filmmaker in the commercial industry you are sort of like the Légion étrangère, and particularly so will rely on their values of esprit de corps, which is a morale theory associated with group and teamwork. As Guerrilla Filmmakers, you will have to be resourceful and so here are some tips and pointers regarding lighting for being well stocked in your mission.

Windows are a major issue with lighting especially when having drawn curtains, this requires the use of Tungsten lighting you may not have available to you.

Two types of indoor lighting types I would suggest for Digital Video, one is Dedo Lights, very small but powerful enough and good for controlling shadows or setting moods. They are also compact, making setting up and spacing very efficient. However, these lights don't come at a pretty price but hiring them is certainly a good option for shorter duration film shoots.

The second is using Fluorescent and Halogen 'Lamps', now these differ from Pendants or Troffers found in many indoor workspaces; which are either Fluorescent or Halogen lighting types but at a much higher Colour Temperature. What you might find interesting is that Hollywood developed the Halogen lamp as a way of blaring at a certain Colour Temperature, now Colour Temperature is how the light interacts with the spatial colours in video. The lower the Colour Temperature the warmer the effect and the higher, the cooler.

For indoor lighting, I recommend you go and pick up some Halogen Bulbs from a hardware store and replace your indoor lighting with those. A 500W Halogen Wall Light will set you back about $80.00 but well worth the price for a key light. Although not ideal for creating atmosphere.

The other options for back and fill lights are 130 Watt Twin Head CFL Work Lights, which cost about $80.00 and come with stands making life a lot easier during set up. It is important when running these lights to know exactly how much wattage your circuitry can handle - a blow out will be disastrous. All these should be available at your local hardware store.

Just be aware of Colour Temperature when choosing your lights, most stores have a range of wattage to suit different levels of lighting, some lights even have adjustable dimmers on them. These kind of things can be very handy. Also, use your gels, your blues and reds, to warm and cool where needed, and the gel you use to style your hair to blemish any glaring reflections on shiny surfaces.

For reflectors and diffusers I would just go to your auto store and pick up a windscreen sunshade. More detailed info on putting together your own kit is nicely written up at Videomaker.

So always shoot with the light behind you, and use a neutral density gel on the windows where the brightness is over-powering. Neutral density gels are used a in order to soften the light picked up by the lens so that you can open your aperture more to increase depth of field etc. You can easily pick up neutral density gels from a store like Image Melbourne which you can order Online for about $10.00 for a pack.

Bright skies can also be a problem when shooting outside, one way trouble shoot your exposure issues in this situation decently is to lock your white balance, this is the old zoom in on your subject, the brightest part of the "circle of confusion" I would say, change gears to manual focus once auto has settled down, then zoom out and do a manual white balance. Failing that avoid low-angle shots and use your reflectors to balance out shadows.

Finally you can bounce light off white walls if need be, or if shooting outside and in need of a scrim, you may be able to pick up an old projector screen which will act as a softener (balancer) for contrasting lighting conditions.

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