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Background for Cooking Series

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Background for Cooking Series
on Jan 14, 2011 at 7:45:16 pm

Hey all-
I'm producing a series of cooking videos for the web with a local chef on location. The kitchen is fully outfitted and professional, however not the most aesthetically pleasing for filming.

The only practical setup is against a large window facing the street. For a cleaner, less distracting background, I have been using either muslin or white paper under the drop down shades. It's decent but there is a seem directly in the middle of the two shades which I usually try to place the Chef in front of and as the light changes during the day we end up with funky shadows.

I've tried using tungsten lights with gels to give him a bit warmer feel and pop off the background a bit but would really appreciate any insights or suggestions to raise production value on this master shot. I've included a few stills from the productions so far.

It should be noted that for future shoots we are going to try a black chef coat and see if that helps things.



Fluoro with Shadows

you can see the seem behind the chef

The Seam behind

Here's a link to the video:

As you can seen it's not the best background. I've tried to dress it up a bit with the colorful cans, etc but am still hoping to raise the bar. A few challenges for the location are:
-range hood that hangs down over the stove
-seam in the middle of the window shades
-bottom sill of the window (I've been raising the Chef's work surface using apple boxes)
-edges of the window to the left and right of the frame
-changing light conditions seen through the window

Any thoughts on improving the background? I do have a bit of a budget but would really appreciate any ideas to improve the overall look and feel. The Chef is outstanding and knowledgable and I want to do my best to match production value with his expertise.

I've got another shoot Tuesday so any quick fixes are most welcome!


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Ty Ford
Re: Background for Cooking Series
on Jan 14, 2011 at 8:34:27 pm

Charcoal Muslin instead of white?

Actually use the white first then hang the charcoal over it so the white acts as a diffuser between the white and camera. Adjust the key and fill lights and exposure for how dark you want the charcoal to look.


Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide

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William Kamp
Re: Background for Cooking Series
on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:45:44 pm

I'd use some duvetine and some c-stands outside the window to block off the light streams hitting the window. Then I would continue using the fluorescents, but put a little color back in his face by adding a 1/4 or 1/2 CTO in front to warm only his face up a bit. Keep the rest of the room in the white Daytime balanced look. You're best looking stuff is the bottom two (other than the weird shadows on the window) The top one is to orange and looks like you lit it at night.

Hope this helps? Good luck on your shoots!


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Mark Suszko
Re: Background for Cooking Series
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:33:18 pm

My idea would be to make a one-piece easy background by hanging seamless cloth material from an auto-pole, out of shot. You can get really wide seamless cloth at a good price from RoseBrand in New York.

If you can't afford that, and the seamless paper or whatever it is, is all you have, turn the seams' "bug" into a "feature", and build the background so that the seams look intentional. Add some wooden slats between the joints for a shoji screen-like effect, or hang more, but narrower vertical panels, alternating shades of the same color,same color as in your graphics, to unify things, maybe do some very faint sponge-painting texture in grey on the even or odd panels, with some overlap of the panels in the z-axis, and you can use edge-lighting effects with color gel washes, from simple 10-dollar parabolic reflectors and either gels or colored incadescent bulbs.

This gets you a cheap but effective background that has some controllable amount of visual interest, but that need not look very "busy", and it would be super-cheap to make with either photog's paper rolls or discount store bolts of actual cloth. And it would be light and easy to deploy and store between shoots. You could add some "branding" in the sponge painting by using the show's logo or title in the painted parts as a repeating motif.

A personal aside, and my own opinion only: I HATE those cut-away side shots of the talent from a b-roll camera where the eye-line is off to one side for absolutely no reason. I see this kind of shot misused a lot, and I think it makes your work look less professional than a more conventional use of shots. This cut-away is being used in improper context, IMO.

The absolute masters of great cooking shots are Alton Brown and his DP. They make the conventional shots perfect,a dn their highly imaginative POV shots and cut-aways are great because as wacky as they can get, they are ALWAYS well-motivated.

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John Trefry
Re: Background for Cooking Series
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:14:01 pm

Great suggestions and very keen observations! Especially astute into the use of the Bcam off center shot being out of place. It has always felt a bit jarring to me and was only used as a cut point. I've since employed using a quick push that does the job just fine.

Could you elaborate a bit about using wooden slats in place of a paper background? I am very intrigued by the idea of a Shoji screen type look, although I'm not quite sure how to achieve that. The basic set up at the location are the large, industrial-looking white shades that hang in front of the window. As mentioned in the previous post, those shades are quite see-through and require some sort of diffusion behind (or in front). I'm curious how you would recommend using the Shoji screen look:


Staying focused is key...

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