Category: development

A beginners guide to lighting gels

Gels are used by cinematographers and videographers to balance the colour of light sources, adjust contrast and control shadows. It is the use of these gels that helps to create certain moods and looks to productions, whether that be low key drama or high key corporate video.

If you don’t know your ND from your CTB then read on as I introduce some of the most popular lighting gels and demonstrate how they may be used in your productions for creative effect.

CTB

CTB (not to be confused with CBT!) stands for colour temperature blue and is often referred to simply as ‘daylight’. It is used to convert tungsten balanced light sources such as traditional household bulbs and fresnels from 3200K to 5600K. It’s a common gel for balancing artificial light sources to daylight when the sun is acting as the key light in a scene.

With our camera balanced to daylight and using a tungsten light source, our professional model looks like he should be in TOWIE..

5200K_FULL_DAYLIGHT_GEL

..so by applying FULL CTB the skin tone looks a bit more natural now.

5200K_HALF_DAYLIGHT_GEL

If your subject has a lighter skin tone or if your camera’s auto white balance reads around the 4500K mark (for some fluorescent lighting), you may want something in the middle between tungsten and daylight and HALF CTB may be your answer, converting tungsten sources to 4300K. In this shot the camera is still balanced to daylight.

  • CTO

Another popular colour correction gel is CTO which stands for colour temperature orange and is often simply referred to as ‘Tungsten’. It is used to convert daylight 5600K sources to 3200K, in line with the colour temperature of most traditional household lamps.

3200K_NO_TUNGSTEN_GEL

Using a daylight balanced LED light and with the camera balanced to tungsten, our image is looking a bit cold. But there is a use for this though; it is a popular method of simulating moonlight as well as shooting ‘day for night’.

3200K_FULL_CTO_GEL

But if moonlight isn’t what you’re after, FULL CTO will return the skin tone back to a more natural colour.

3200K_HALF_CTO_GEL

HALF CTO converts 5200K to 3800K, so a little cooler than FULL CTO but not too far off. With the light I’m using (dedolight ledzilla) and the model’s skin tone in this case HALF CTO actually looks a little nicer.

Both CTB and CTO also come in other strengths including QUARTER and EIGHTH, for those more subtle differences, but FULL and HALF are the most widely used.

  • ND

ND stands for neutral density and is used to reduce the amount of light without altering the colour. ND is often used on the camera in filter form but for lighting it can be invaluable in helping to control exposure and contrast. Using ND to reduce powerful light sources that do not have dimmers (or if you don’t want to change the colour temperature of the source through dimming) or stopping natural light from washing a scene out through covering windows with these gels, it is an incredibly useful tool.

NO ND

Oh no, you can see that I forgot to iron my backdrop..so in this shot as you can see our model is looking a bit ghostly. Time to crack out the ND.

1 STOP ND

ND.3 reduces the light by 1 stop.

ND.6 reduces the light by 2 stops.

ND.6 reduces the light by 2 stops.

And ND.9 reduces the light by 3 stops.

And ND.9 reduces the light by 3 stops.

Wise words a gaffer once said to me, “you can never have enough ND!”

  • Diffusion

Diffusion is used to control the softness of shadows and the softer the source the less prominent the shadows will be. As hard lights have typically much higher output than soft lights, diffusion is key to softening these sources whilst utilising a strong beam.

There are so many different types of diffusion available and it can be difficult to know where to start so here are a few examples to give you an idea of the range available. At the end of the day it’s down to you to experiment with various types and find what you like.

NO_DIFF

Our professional hand model is currently being lit with a hard LED source (Dedolight Ledzilla) and no diffusion.

HAMPSHIRE_FROST

This diffusion used here is HAMPSHIRE FROST. Notice a subtle softening of the shadow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HEAVY_DIFF

HEAVY DIFFUSION is being used here (and it’s easy to see why it got this name)

CLOTH1

I don’t actually know what this diffusion is called but it somehow found its way into my kit. A thicker, rougher sheet that is a little closer to greaseproof paper. As you can see it has a lovely texture to it and can add a bit of spice to a background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s important to note too that the further a piece of diffusion is away from a light source, the softer the shadows will be, as will be a slight reduction in overall output of the light. See the example below:

HALF DIFFUSION attached to the light..

HALF DIFFUSION attached to the light..

HALF_DIFF_FURTHER_AWAY

..and the HALF DIFFUSION moved away from the light source (closer to the subject). Notice how much softer the shadow is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • “Party” gels

Not necessarily an official term but in this case I shall refer to most other coloured gels as ‘party gels’. Whilst these may not be as important for most shoots as the colour correction and other gels mentioned above, they can be used to create certain moods for your scenes whether they are used as key lights, backlights or kickers. There are an almost endless number of these gels to choose from but here are a couple of examples.

3200K_STEEL_GREEN

STEEL GREEN with the camera balanced to tungsten. Sci fi!

STEEL GREEN but with the camera balanced to daylight.

STEEL GREEN but with the camera balanced to daylight. Lord of the Rings or Matrix?

 

 

 

 

 

 

3200K_STRAW

More subtle than the above, a STRAW lighting gel with the camera balanced to tungsten. A nice morning light look.

5600K_STRAW

A STRAW gel but with the camera balanced to daylight. I’m getting a CSI Miami vibe here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, which gels should you buy?

It all starts with the light source(s) that you’ll be using most. Their colour temperature, power, whether they are dimmable and how hard or soft they are will all determine the gels you need. Aspiring DOPs will probably accumulate gels over time as their portfolio grows, but a good place to start is with the simple colour correction gels (CTO and/or CTB) and some diffusion which are the bare bones for lighting anything professionally. Another thing, don’t always rely on kit hire companies to stock a wide range of gels!

Big D Jonny boy

Experimenting is key to finding lighting styles that will grab your audience’s attention.

Use of softbox fill Liquiproof

Part of the fun and the craft of being a DOP is finding lighting styles that fit your productions and consequently help you to create your own signature style. Experiment with gels and see which colour combinations work and which don’t. Get creative!

Whether you are new to lighting or not, the LEE filter comparison tool here is a fantastic resource to see the range of lighting gels available and help you make decisions on what to buy. LEE filters are widely considered the number one name for gels; heat proof, colour accurate and with a huge choice available, they are an essential investment if you’re an aspiring DOP.

Happy shooting!

 

P.S. This post would not have been possible without my trusty light meter. Here are a few reasons why every aspiring DOP simply must have one.

7 DIY lighting essentials for low budget filmmakers

So you’ve raised the finance for your project, chosen your camera, cast your actors..and you suddenly find that your budget has disappeared in a flash. Where did it all go? Film making can be a seriously expensive affair and sadly certain departments sometimes get neglected as a result. Lighting is one of these departments.

No matter how low your budget is, lighting should never be neglected if you want to create cinematic visuals to be remembered. In fact, here are a list of reasons why good lighting is so important. In this article however I’m going to identify 7 lighting essentials that don’t cost the earth but every low budget camera operator or DOP should be armed with. Sometimes you need to spend good money on kit and sometimes you don’t, but if you’re keen to increase production value economically then read on.

  • Gaffer Tape

gaffer tapeA ridiculously obvious one but gaffer tape is something that should go with you on every shoot no matter how big or small your budget! It can save your life (in a creative emergency, I have yet to prove this medically!), whether it’s used to rig lights or modifiers onto unusually shaped objects or into areas that are inaccessible for light stands, gaffer tape really is essential. It can also be used to make DIY french flags to avoid lens flare and teamed up with some trusty cinefoil/blackwrap makes a perfectly functioning LCD cover for operating in bright sunlight. Trust me, don’t leave this behind!

And the award for best DIY rig goes to..

And the award for best DIY rigging solution goes to..

One item you can't afford to be without is cinefoil. This, along with your gels is worth spending good money on.

Gaffer and cinefoil = budget french flag. Cinefoil is one item you can’t afford to be without on set. This, along with your gels is worth spending good money on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Halogen work light

Revealing an indHalogen worklightustry secret here. Or maybe not. This item is ridiculously obvious and cheap but the likelihood is that most of us low budget filmmakers probably don’t use them..or at least not yet. If you pop down to your local B&Q you’ll find these useful halogen work lights. At about £10 each these little lights give out a fair amount of light considering their size and use tungsten balanced bulbs which means their colour temperature matches the expensive Arri equivalent. If you have the right colour correction gels then armed with a few of these you could in theory light your whole film.

Of course being cheap means that these little fixtures do have their drawbacks; short power leads, a lack of any way to control the spread of the light and the fact that they won’t attach to normal light stands are the main ones (because obviously film making isn’t what they were designed for) but, if you purchase one of these, and I recommend you get several, you could potentially fill decent sized spaces for little money. What’s more, their handles allow for easier rigging at height than some lights. With a bit of problem solving, and lets face it – that’s what film making mostly is, you’ll be able to find ways to rig, hide and control the output of these lights.

  • Polyboard & foamcore
bounce board on roof

Polyboard is common even on the biggest of film sets

While you’re down at the DIY shop why don’t you pick up some of this too? Polyboard is a perfect and cheap way to bounce light in order to create flattering soft light and fill in shadows on your subject. It often comes in fairly large sizes and in various thicknesses and can be easily cut to size to meet your needs, or at least to fit in your car! What’s more, if you have any black paint lying around then paint one side and bob’s your uncle: you now have a large, lightweight flag to use for cutting light and creating negative fill. Two for the price of one (almost!).

foamcore flagIn addition to this your local craft shop will probably stock black and white foam core; both of which can be useful for smaller, more portable bounce boards and flags. Once again this is inexpensive, easy to cut to size and easy to rig. The only downside is any thin layers of card on these boards will be flammable, so be careful using them near hot light sources.

 

 

 

  • Spring clamps
spring clamps

Top tip: buying multi packs on sites such as eBay can make these accessories even cheaper for you.

Cheap and cheerful, but where would I be without them? These large spring clamps are cheap, lightweight and a must have for anyone doing any sort of lighting. Use them to attach reflectors or boards to stands, flags and tarpaulins to backdrops and for making green screens taut. Do yourself a favour and get some now.

Diffuser reflector spring clamps

A quick way to hold up your reflector

spring clamp reflector

 

 

 

 

 

  • China ball lantern
china ball

A beautiful quality of light for certain applications.

China ball lanterns can create beautiful soft light for use in close ups and as practicals. Inexpensive and by using regular household bulbs, china lanterns are a cost effective option over the dearer branded soft fixtures and combinations offered by the likes of Arri and Chimera. They do have a specific use however, their main drawback being that regular 60W or similar household bulbs don’t give out huge amounts of light, at least not for cinema use. To the naked eye their light output is fine but on camera the lanterns reduce a bulb’s output a fair amount. Adding to this, their size and the fact that they’re made out of paper means significant fire hazards are present if too powerful bulbs are used, so you need to stick to the recommended wattage. For larger areas of soft light an Arri/Chimera combination is a much more suitable option which understandably you will need to pay for.

Despite their drawbacks if you’re able to find use for them still china ball lanterns can provide wonderful results. Rig them off C stands or mic stands, ensure you have long enough extension leads and you’re good to go. Watch out for that colour temperature though; some bulbs rate lower than 3200K (tungsten) so will appear warmer than you may like. Once again it pays to have a good selection of colour correction gels!

  • Tin foil & baking paper
tin foil

Tin foil: cheap as chips!

Who’d have thought that every day items around the home could help you in lighting your cinematic masterpieces? The highly reflective surface of tin foil can be used in the same way that the silver side of a reflector is used; to fill in shadows when a white surface isn’t cutting it or to create a bit of ‘pop’ to the image through introducing highlights. Attaching sheets of tin foil to your foam core boards (see above) or even just a sheet of plywood can give you another way of applying contrast quickly, cheaply and without having to hire anything!

No product placement here..

No product placement here..

Baking/parchment paper is a good option for when you need to diffuse hard light sources to soften their shadows and reduce the contrast. It’s designed to withstand heat so is ideal for using with hot light sources without risk of burning. So if you’ve run out of diffusing gels and need a quick softening solution, go have a look in the kitchen cupboard or run to the shop!

 

  • Tarpaulin
tarpaulin night shoot

Protecting a 2K arri fresnel from the rain.

There are many uses for a tarpaulin, many of which may appear to have nothing to do with filming, however the long days on location and the unpredictability of the weather (especially in glorious England) mean that a tarpaulin lends itself to being pretty useful in general on set. For DOPs a tarpaulin can provide suitable protection to lights (and camera) from the rain and from dusty or wet terrain. More importantly, they can also be setup and rigged to act as huge flags, with a host of uses. From blocking out large windows in order to control interior lighting to providing a huge source of negative fill on location, tarpaulins are inexpensive, reusable and portable. If you decide to rig one up on location then make sure you remember your spring clamps! (see above)

tarpaulin over windscreen

Flagging the windscreen of a car to eliminate reflections and any changes to ambient light levels.

These are just some of the useful lighting accessories that can be used in low budget film making. However, as you climb the ladder in your film career, you may find yourself using some of these items on the bigger budget productions too!

Remember that there are certain items you’ll need regardless of your budget; lighting gels and cinefoil are the big ones here. Don’t cut corners on your gels, buy the real thing (I recommend Lee filters) so you know you have high quality, accurate colours and so you can avoid setting anything alight. If your budget can stretch a little or if your professional image concerns you then get yourself a few 5 in 1 reflectors; you won’t regret it.

Hopefully you’ve found this helpful and if you have any suggestions of your own for DIY lighting do tell us in the comments!

 

Video Production London

10 things they don’t tell you about working in video production

Universities, film schools, specialist courses – all can be a great place to start if you want to equip yourself with useful skills for a job working in video or film production. However, there are some things that just can’t be learned in an educational environment. Only by talking to those already working in the industry and gaining experience yourself will you learn some things that no book or lecture could ever prepare you for. So listen up, we’ve got a few industry insights here. Some are positive and some are not, but if you want to work in this industry you had better listen to the pros first before you dive in at the deep end.

Video Production Company Brighton

Fatboy Slim appreciated the gig!

1. Every new job you land, no matter how big or small, becomes a huge personal victory.

This is especially true to start ups and freelancers. It is much harder to get new clients than it is to get repeat business from an existing one. Even landing little jobs that only last a few hours can give you that warm feeling inside that something is working because people want to hire YOU. This in turn will help you stay driven and motivated. Enjoy it!

 

2. How tremendously adaptable you sometimes have to be.

To get where you want to be in your career you may find yourself sooner or later doing something that you don’t really want to do (well, that’s life!) but you’ll realise that it’s a necessity to making any sort of progress. Whether it be learning a new skill in an area you’re not confident in or taking on work in a completely different industry just so you can survive until your next video job comes in, if you really want to succeed you’ll do what it takes. You may just find it character building too.

3. Marketing is so incredibly, ridiculously important.

Whether you freelance or run your own business, you simply can’t avoid the subject of marketing or you will fail. Word of mouth is often described as one of the best ways of getting work in an industry as small as this, and this is true, but first impressions count and knowing who it is you are trying to work for and how to target them is key to starting new working relationships. Included in this is the ability to sell yourself, plus with growing demand for online video content the marketeers out there should be your best friends!

4. GAS.

Not the poisonous kind, unless you let it get the better of you. GAS stands for gear acquisition syndrome. It is actually a thing. In the western world we are suckers for consumerism and just love to own stuff but this is especially true in video production for cameras are sexy, lenses are bokehlicious and a DJI octocopter – well, who wouldn’t want one of those?

Video Production Brighton

I’ll take them all please

It’s very tempting to spend lots of money and think your career will instantly bloom but if you’re not careful you could get stuck in a never ending process of continually needing to buy stuff and never make any money as a result. For some of us of course it is important that you buy the right tools for the job but perhaps consider whether you really do need that new flashy gizmo or if hiring would be a more sensible option. And don’t forget, your talent counts for something too.

There’s some brilliant advice on the matter in this filmmaker magazine article by DOP Sean Porter including one bit that really stuck with me:

“We have to be very cognizant about the impact, however minute, we make when we mix our creative responsibilities with enterprise. Your gear is a powerful influence on your work, both good and bad. I think stepping up means knowing which is which, even if it’s not the answer you want to hear.”

Wise words.

5. How to balance multiple jobs.

This for me, and I’m sure many others, is probably one of the hardest things about starting off in this industry that’s on this list. I’m not just talking multiple film or video jobs; I’m referring to balancing the self employed work with the employed. The paid with the unpaid. The desirable with the reliable. The big question that nobody seems to have the answer to is:

How can you get experience without a job when you can’t get the job without experience?

You have to start somewhere. Maybe you’ll be working part time so many days a week so you can focus on the video work on your days off – if you can afford to live off part time wages. But then, what if your perfect job comes up while you’re at work and you could be potentially missing out on your big break? If you keep trying to get time off from your reliable work are you likely to keep that job for long? On the contrary if you always keep your diary open, how do you know that you’re definitely going to land more video work to pay the bills? Juggling the reliable and the desirable work can be an absolute nightmare and it’s one thing that no educational institution can ever prepare you for.

My advice is to keep your options open and explore the different possibilities available to you until you find something that works. Everybody needs to earn somehow but what ends up working for one person may not work for someone else. I recently wrote about how my non video job helped me learn new transferable skills but the most important thing to understand is you have to be prepared to work your socks off, whichever path you decide to tread.

Oh, and one more thing. Dealing with a clash of job offers never gets any easier.

6. When to say no.

I must refer again to the article mentioned earlier by DOP Sean Porter, who deals with this point in great detail. Knowing when to say no can be another one of the hardest things to deal with in this industry. Taking on too much work could leave your clients unsatisfied or affect your personal life and relationships in a negative way. It’s another thing that can only be learned through experience and through applying a good level of judgment every time an opportunity arises. We’ve all accepted those jobs we’d wished we’d declined but it’s all about learning from these mistakes so that our future selves won’t curse our present selves into oblivion!

money

Budgeting can be hard when your income fluctuates

7. Steady sources of income can disappear suddenly and you may not know why.

A client may go on sick leave or change premises, marketing budgets may be slashed or a competitor may offer your clients better value. In fact, there are a whole host of reasons why you might lose a steady client and it can be very hard and frustrating when this happens, especially if you don’t know why.

The answer? Don’t take it personally, avoid complacency and learn to be like a gecko – adapt! Don’t stress and remember that factors which are beyond your control can be a blessing as well as a curse in your work life. It also pays during busy times to save for a rainy day.

8. How to manage your taxes.

Tax returns, accounting, filing..yawn. It may be boring but unfortunately it’s something that none of us can avoid doing, whether we freelance or run a business. Not to suck the fun completely out of the creative industry at hand but the more you learn about tax returns and the like the earlier on in your career the easier it will be for you to stay on top of your money and make sensible decisions throughout. You wouldn’t want any nasty surprises now!

The first place to look for information on all things tax is the HMRC website.

9. Your competition may also be your friends.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Working in such a small industry means we often bump into familiar faces and that includes the competition. The beauty of this, unlike most industries, is your competition could not only help to keep you on your toes but they could potentially be a reliable stand in for you when you need a helping hand or could loan you equipment and vice versa. There’s also a thing called referral fees for the business minded among us!

Video Production Brighton

Time to take a break?

10. How to switch off and relax.

Last, but certainly not least. You spend so much of your time and energy hacking away at your career that no matter where you are on the ladder, it can be nigh on impossible to switch off from work when you’re worried about things like where your next pay cheque is, if your clients will like your work and what your competitors are up to. Whether running a business or working for yourself and with dangerous cross overs between work and play on your social media accounts, switching off from the world of work can be very difficult indeed. It could be viewed as a good thing as we are just that determined to succeed, but don’t let it consume you. Allow yourself some ‘me time’ and enjoy those rare opportunities to turn off your phone. Your other half will appreciate it!

There is no real single secret to a successful career in any of the creative industries, but hopefully these insights will help you make the right decisions early on. If you make mistakes along the way however, that’s OK, it is part of your professional development no matter what career you decide to embark on (except for the tax issues – we wouldn’t want you getting in trouble!).