Home > Cotton-Top Movie, Film Production > Production Bag – Part 3 – Lighting

Production Bag – Part 3 – Lighting

LIGHT IS THE RAW MATERIAL OF A CINEMATOGRAPHER. When I was pre-poducing the Cotton-Top documentary there were a few decisions I had to make regarding the ‘look’ of the film. This relates to how the pictures are going to look and, consequently, which sources of light I was going to use.

LED Litepanels MicroPro used for Fungi-Cinematography (Photo by D.Schmidt)

First of all, taking on account that I was going to be in the field for  only 3 weeks, I knew that I would have to deal with the light of any given environmental conditions. Additionally I didn’t want to give the images an ‘artificial’ look. I wanted to use natural light sources as much as I could  and thus trying to capture the ‘light mood’ of the subject.

A recurrent situation we faced was the canopy diffused light inside the Tropical Dry Forest. The light was usually dim and its color temperature varied rapidly from green shades to yellow and red.

In Colombia‘s Caribbean coast the days are normally bright and hot; if, as a cinematographer, I am able to translate this sensations through images I would consider myself somewhat ‘successful’… Seemingly, set up time and overall production cumbersomeness shouldn’t be an issue.

But lets get to the point. I needed a lightweight and reliable lighting solution that could use daylight or tungsten balanced. The versatile LED Litepanels MicroPro were the ideal tool so I included two of these in my production bag.

Here is a list of what I valued the most of these LED lights:

  • Compact size and lightweight.
  • Battery powered (six AA).
  • Adjustable color temperature using filters (1/4 CTO and white diffuser included).
  • Variable intensity with a dimmer.
  • On-camera support included. Mounts on the camera’s flash shoe.
  • No external cables.

Additional to the LED lights there were other tools/techniques I used to enhance  cinematography.

ISO: The Canon 7D works really well under low light conditions. I shot several sequences at ISO 1600 and they still look beautiful. It is important to keep in mind that noise/grain is a consequence of ISO so you have to expect the footage to be a little bit ‘grainier’. I personally don’t mind the grain as long as I capture the lighting atmosphere of what I am shooting and it becomes the aesthetic of a sequence.

Screen capture of footage shot at ISO 1600 with only natural light coming through a window.

Diffusing light: ambient light can sometime be harsh and difficult to control. Shooting indoors and using doorways and windows as light sources can be very effective and good looking.

Using the diffused light of a door-way can be very effective. (Photo by D.Schmidt)

High-Watt bulbs: although I didn’t get the chance to use the, inside my production bag I had two 200Watt bulbs. These would have been ideal to replace bulbs that were in lamps or ceilings. Sometimes I like the warm and yellowish look of tungsten lights. A 60Watt bulb, however, is rarely enough light. This solution is cheap and easier than carrying huge light kits.

For this production I didn’t use bounces or professional light sources but they are also vital tools for good cinematography.

I hope this is useful and please let me know if you want me to expand on any of these tips.


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  1. December 23, 2009 at 5:40 AM

    You rock. Thanks for the post.

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