Suggestions to light up a rectangular-shaped Chinatown store
Hi I would appreciate some suggestions how to set up lighting in a Chinatown-based appliance and electrical supply store that will be the set of an episode of "consumer-sense" infomercials. The location is mainly lit with fluorescent lights with tracked lights on the sides to add "neatness" to the products. The store itself is narrow(about 12 feet wide), but its depth is quite deep (maybe 25 feet deep or so). This is typical of many Chinatown stores in Vancouver. As with many Chinatown stores here in Vancouver, the store is cramped full of products and little room to put up even a stand for the camera. This production is none-to-low budget for equipment (all the cheap lighting equipment is owned by the cameraman, I'm just the lighting coordinator). We will feature a host and the products that are environmentally-friendly in the store. What are some options to light up the scene without getting harsh on the shadows? Or is lighting needed at all?
You are describing a classic problem. Hopefully, those overhead fluorescents as well as the display ones are all of the same type. All of them will have a green spike. And most of them are overhead, which means your talent needs some side/front fill. Two of many solutions:
--take along a plain old fluorescent fixture and tube it with the same bulbs used in the shop. Then white balance your camera to these. Be sure to place the front fill around 45 degrees to the right or left of the talent so there is some modeling of his/her face. However, if you are trying to hid wrinkles, place the light directly over the camera.
--take alone some lighting unit that you can make into a soft light (with diffusion); if the bulbs in the shop are cool white, you are dealing with "daylight" and a green spike. If the bulbs in the shop are warm white, you are dealing with "tungsten" and a green spike. I presume since you have no budget, you will have something like a 1K open-faced tungsten unit. Place some diffusion such as 1/2 grid on the barn doors, or even better, fly it out in front of the light. If the fluorescents are "daylight", add 1/2 CTB gel AND ALSO 1/4 to 1/2 plus-green to the barndoors. If the fluorescents are "tungsten" then add only the plus-green to the unit.
director of photography
Hi thanks so much for the tips.
Unfortunately the lights in the shop are a mix of cool fluorescents overhead and hot warm display incandescent. The cameraman does own 2 small tungsten (I believe) open-faced barndoors (and as you know are harsh lights even when diffused with frosted translucent wax-like paper [ a preferred use for the cameraman although your input seems alot better])The camera itself is a Sony 3CCD camera which should handle light tones well (sorry don't know the model, but not as important I guess). Is this the same problem as you put forward solutions for?
Regarding the 1/2 grids, what types (are they chimera screens?) and/or brands do you usually use? Or am I able to make one myself?
I know the cameraman does have some gels but I guess they're just transparent coloured plastic sheets :P , but I don't know about the 1/2 plus green.... if not then are there any alternatives to this? Just in case...... :) Thanks for tips!! :)
For a start, at least relamp the store with all of the same kind of tubes. They are cheap and it will only take a few minutes to do. If there's daylight coming into the shop (either from windows or skylight) I'd get cool whites or preferably daylight balanced (6000 degree Kelvin) photo grade fluoros or if not them 3200 degree photo grade tubes. Gelling with plus green never seems to work from my experience as you're making a green light not a green spike. The best solution and most elegant is as was suggested in the first reply, namely to "poison" a flour set of lights, usually four-foot kinos with the same globes as are in the overheads and white balance. Voila, no gels, no mismatch and very little fuss and bother.
Don't think the owners of the store (who kindly offered their shop without charge for this non-profit project) would want to mess around changing the lights. :P
We're gonna have to mess around with the equipment that we have, and that's all we can do. It may or may not be possible to spend another couple of dollars to get the kinos as you described. I'm just a person that has to keep my lid shut and follow instructions, but again I just wanted to double-check with you guys and see what you think about it (since I have no right to suggest anything since I'm still learning the ropes :o) ).
Do a little searching on the Lee and Rosco web sites for information about 1/2 grid, and minus green. (Probably 1/2 green is too strong -- go with 1/4). You can also look this up on BhPhotovideo.com.
I don't understand why the DP isn't doing this search. What's a "lighting coordinator"? That's a new title to me.
If you have a mixture of fluorescents, your best bet is to decide which type is most prevalent, and then replace the non-conforming ones with tubes that match the majority. If there are only a few that don't match, don't sweat it.
Open faced lights are harsh. However, when put through relatively thick diffusion set well in front of the light, the harshness goes away. Your DP will need to either place the lights at a distance that they are not too strong, or else scrim them down. He will be trying to sweeten the available light, not overpower it.
director of photography
Haha, I'm sorry to confuse you guys with "lighting coordinator", as I just made it up. In other words I am just a newbie to real-life, on the job film-making, although my mother is a TV and film veteran producer and director from Hong Kong of many years experience herself (I've been on made-in-Vancouver-for-Hong Kong TV series sets when I was a toddler). But I am overall the lighting guy sort of learning the ropes under the cameraman (there is only a crew of 3 people here, the cameraman, me as the lighting kid, and my mother who's directing the 15-20 minute episodes- and we're doing these consumer videos for a Chinese-Canadian consumer association here in Vancouver).
Put it this way, I "pull stress" off the cameraman while still learning-- or getting work experience-- from people regarding the technical stuff. I am still responsible for assisting in setting up and packing up the equipment as well as assist in determining the proper lighting since there is only a crew of 3. I guess you could say that I have the last of the backseat so far in terms of being part of the crew.
You guys are right in the sense that there is no person responsible for lighting and no properly trained lighting guy, so the cameraman makes me responsible for the lighting gear so he can focus on filming. :P I believe the cameraman may have filters although I need to check. And yes you guys are correct in terms of spending money. These episodes are funded by the government through film grants, and I don't know exactly how much but I do know some of these usually have budget limitations and aren't flexible enough to suit the wildest dreams a crew wants. So it's a small project but yet of great viewing value-- at least to consumers in this sense.
The lighting equipment themselves are personally owned by the cameraman and he determines what gear to use. I just wanted to double-check with you guys to see if there are solutions to enhance lighting under these situations (and as a suggestion to the cameraman himself).
But I do appreciate and thanks for your comments!!
Regarding the most prevalent lights, it seems (based on my first location visit) that the cool fluorescents are the prevalent ones, that is, directly under the areas that we're going to film in, since we're going to go along the aisles of products to be showcased. There will be some parts of the store that will have pockets of tracked lights filling in to mix with the overhead lights.....
We may as well, as per your suggestion, to move away the lights to soften the harshness (as we did in an earlier episode where we were filming in a car repair shop) and also apply diffusion with frosted plastic paper.
Please explain "I'm just the lighting coordinator.".
It appears there's no money to rent the proper lighting fixtures, or even buy color correction media or diffusion, let alone bring in an LD or gaffer. Yet, there is a "lighting coordinator"?
Yes sorry to confuse you... as stated in my response to Rick, there isn't enough manpower for a LD or trained gaffer. But you could say that I am the gaffer-in-training, as this is a small, easy project, but with the more difficult lighting situations. Now I realise that working in the field brings more stuff to learn about and get to appreciate what challenges this may bring.
Well, you can make some nice but cheap light off the 0ne-k's by adding a home-made soft box to the front. I stole this trick from Bill Holshevnikov (sp?) a long time ago and it works great.
Take your 1K open faced light, lay it out on a concrete floor or something and turn it on just long enough to mark out the angles of the cone of light it emits. Note the angle and add a 3-5 degrees more to it. Trace those angles onto four pieces of white foam core board, so that when cut out, you get four identical trapezoids. The short ends should measure the same size as the square opening defined by your barn doors. Lengthwise, try to make them as long as your arm or the size of the board will allow. We're using standard sized foam core panels like you can get at any art store or craft store. Tape the pieces together with gaffer tape or metal aluminum gutter/duct tape, to make a truncated 4-sided pyramid. I only ever used white gaffer tape and never had an issue with heat. I attribute that to the next step:
The foam core pyramid is attached to the outside of the barn doors with either wooden clothes pins or metal "bulldog" binder clips, but it is VITAL that you keep an air gap around the edge of the barn doors and the instrument for cooling. The unit is finished off with a sheet of diffusion on the front, attached with push pins thru the foamcore or whatever's handy. I use Rosco tough-spun for this, but opal frost is nice too.
Our chief engineer said this thing was a fire trap when he saw it. To settle the bet, we turned it on and left it running for four hours. The foam core barely got warm. I attribute this to the air cooling but also to the idea that the cone of the box is a little bigger/wider than the cone of light the fixture normally emits, so the hottest part of the beam does not impinge directly on the barn doors or the foamcore. If you pointed a 1 K six inches from a sheet of foam core head-on, it would melt pretty fast I think. The walls of foam core on this fixture however are not so much being used as reflectors, but only to trap stray light that's not hitting the diffusion sheet on the far end, so you can point the diffuse end at targets and not spill uncontrolled light everywhere you don't want it.
In any case, these fixtures will give you much the same effect and control as a Chimera or Rifa, but on a micro scale budget. Maybe ten dollars or less except for the tough spun. You can get single sheets of real diffusion cheap from Markertek.com and other places online. Some organza or tulle fabric from the local sewing supply store can also work in a pinch but lacks the fireproof qualities of real toughspun, which is actually a spun glass cloth. When the shoot is over, you can throw the softbox away, or slit one tape joint and fold it flat to travel with or store away for another time. The first one I made lasted eight years before the gaffer tape dried up and I had to re-tape it.
What you're doing when you make a soft box is taking the harsh and tiny point source of the glowing lamp filament, and making it into a large, diffuse source. This makes a light that flatters people's faces and doesn't cast harsh shadows. Try using the fixture at a distance of around ten feet, and an angle of 45 degrees off the camera's lens axis as a starting point, then play with it, adjusting to taste. Extra sheets of diffusion will dampen it as will more distance from the subject, or using a lower-wattage bulb.
An even simpler thing to do is just bounce the 1K you have off a white reflector like the sheet of foam core or some kitchen foil, first crumpled then flattend out and glued to cardboard, and use the reflected light to light your talent, but this is harder to control with exactitude, gives off spill that must be flagged off, and requires more room which is tough in your cramped location.
Other diffuse lighting tools you might try involve the traditional paper and bamboo or wire-braced "ball" type lamp, you can find at import type stores like Pier-One; hang them on a stick and hold them nearby out of shot. Be very careful though, these paper lamps are not treated for the heat of our tungsten instruments and can poof into flame instantly if precautions are not taken. In fact, forget I even mentined them, they are that dangerous. Chimera makes a heat-proof version of the same light in a nomex diffusion cloth that's safer, called a "China Ball".
I think if you try one of the softboxes I just described, that's a good mix of safety and effectiveness on a very low budget. It can work with even home depot-type work lights, but is better with a real video light.