Monthly Archives: March 2012

Dramatic interview lighting

Seattle Interactive Conference today launched the first in a series of short films that Visual Contact, my company, is making for them. We’re delighted to be working with SIC on this project, which over the next six months will spotlight some of the entrepreneurial minds involved with the conference.

I’d like to share a behind-the-scenes look at how we shot part of this first piece, a profile of Neumos co-owner Jason Lajeunesse, who is a panelist at this year’s event and host of the after party.

I gotta say this is the most beautifully shot piece we’ve made to date. Check it out:

OK, so a few observations I’d like to share about making this piece. In particular, the interview setup. As is common, we had about 10 minutes to identify a spot to conduct the interview that was not only quiet, but looked fantastic. The main dance floor at Numos was the only quiet place during mid-day, as the bar next door was blasting music and pouring day drinks. Lisa just walked out into the middle of the floor next to a divider curtain and said “right here.” I protested for a minute, attracted to the only window along the north wall, where some beautiful natural light was falling. But that’s why we pack lights. Framing the shot with him behind the curtain in front of the stage was a perfect way to spotlight the owner of one of Seattle’s landmark night clubs (a place I’ve spent more than my fair share of evenings). I explain how we lit it in a minute.

But first, some frame grabs:

So, here’s how we approached lighting Jason for his interview shot.

It was nice to have a lot of space in this scene, because it meant I didn’t have to flag off the lights. The light spill was absorbed by the large dark space. I used three lights in addition to available light:

Ambient light:
There were some tungsten house lights aimed toward camera spilling onto the floor, which provided the splash of red. Also there was one big vertical north-facing window that was letting in daylight but not nearly enough for a proper exposure. I simply augmented this light to make it my key.

I set the white balance on my Canon 60D to 5400K daylight, which made the tungsten light spill in the background a super-saturated red.

Background light: Lowel ProLight with snoot and 1/2 scrim (this blocks a stop of light from half of the light, so that the light projected across the curtain is more even). I use a cheap 300-watt dimmer that you can get at Home Depot with the ProLight, which draws just 250 watts. It’s a small light, but I find it incredibly versatile and I use it all the time as an edge light or hair light.

Key light: CN-900 LED at full power. I clipped a 24″ piece of full-stop diffusion onto the barn doors, which goes a long way to softening this light.

Rim light: CN-900 LED dimmed down quite a bit without diffusion.

Here’s the shot again, with a floor plan for how it was lit:


This is the second video we’ve recorded primarily with the amazing new Sennheiser MKH-8060. As backup, we also recorded lav audio with a Tram TR-50, which is a great lav, totally professional and used by lots of major productions. But wow, comparing the audio between these two mics was flat-out stunning. Who knew that a Tram could sound like such crap? The 8060 just blows it away entirely. Granted, it’s not a fair comparison to match a lav with a top-of-the-line shotgun mic. But my previous go-to shotgun mic, the AT875, was about on par with the tram, so I was gobsmacked at how sweet this mic sounds. It’s also incredibly forgiving to use – if you’re accidentally off-axis a bit, it’s a simple fix: just boost the levels, without need to tweak the EQ, because off-axis sound isn’t colored the way most every other mic is.

The MKH-860 is an incredibly rich sounding mic, and after using it a couple of times, there’s no doubt in my mind that it was worth every penny of the $1,200k it cost to acquire the beast. Audio is a massive part of every video we shoot, so it just makes sense to have an epic mic even more than an epic camera (or a c300, or even a 5dmkiii for that matter. We shot this film with a pair of Canon 60ds).

Lisa and I will be delivering a new video in this series every month between now and this year’s conference on October 30th, and we’ve got some incredibly talented and fascinating personalities in the pipeline.

Between the video and the still lies this cool idea from Microsoft Research

I can’t remember the last time I saw something this cool come from Microsoft. Check it out:

What a nifty idea. But no need to wait for MS to ship something that likely won’t work on Mac anyway: this is a technique that anyone can do immediately by shooting on sticks, grabbing a still frame, putting it in the background, and using a mask to hide the part of the image that has the unwanted motion, while keeping the good bit. Can’t wait to try this one out.