In this post I'll be talking about a narrative short I shot in January 2016 called  Olvidadizo. I think that this can be a good learning material for those who are new to film since the lighting setups are quite simple. The film was shot in Spain over the course of 10 days. It was directed by Arturo Alanis and gaffed by a Ilia Maskileison. 

For better understanding of this post, I recommend watching the film first.

Click HERE to watch it online.


Here are some technical specs for all the nerds out there. 

Camera: Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

Format: 4000x2160 Cinema DNG RAW

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 (crop) 4000x1666

Lenses: Canon C-NE (Cinema Primes) - 14mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm, Rokinon 10mm.

Filters: ND.6, ND.9, Polarizer, BMP 1/4, Soft Horizontal ND.6 grad.

MB: Arri MB-20

Support: Manfrotto 504HD, Dana Dolly, Ronin.

Lighting: Arri 2Ks, 1Ks, & 650 fresnels, Kino 4x4s


Part 1/8 - Lighting the space vs actors

After looking through the lighting setups that we did on this film I realized how much of them were about lighting the space rather than lighting the actors. It's a different approach to lighting that, to my eye, results in more realistic look. This waltz scene was a pretty good example of that technique.

We wanted this scene to look grandiose and royal. So we created a lot of soft light coming from above, as if the ceiling was covered with large chandeliers. This was a pretty High-Key look. 

I was using a Ronin to get the whole scene in one long tracking shot. Because the shot was 360° and we were shooting in every direction we mostly lit with practicals and overheads that we hid above the frame.

Here's the final result of what we shot on the day (the color is not final): 

Here's the whole floorplan with lights on it:

Luckily for us, the main room had a staircase that was going up to the second floor - opening up the space above. Here are the location pictures.

I wanted to put our lights on the 2nd floor pointing down. To get the units far enough over the railing, we had to do some sketchy rigging. Ilya - the gaffer, came up with an interesting solution - to lean our junior combo stands on the railing so the unit itself is over the edge. Below are some drawings that illustrate this part of the setup. 

Moving on.
The next room was lit mostly by practicals. one of the practical lamps was so bright that we had to put ND gel around the bulbs. To light the area around the circular table we put 2 Tungsten balanced Kino bulbs right above the practical lamps. To kill some of the unwanted spill we covered the bulbs with a towel.

And for the final part - we put another 4x4 Kino in the red room to backlight the woman in the silver dress when she enters the scene.


Part 2/8 - Mixing Daylight and Tungsten

This sequence of scenes was shot in a garage. I wanted to light from overhead as much as possible to get the scenes lit once, and only do small adjustments from shot to shot. I wanted it to look like the scene is lit by fluorescent lights common to garages. But in order to create some contrast I decided to flag the light off the walls with duvetyne+trash bags combo.

We taped four 4' daylight Kino bulbs above the area where the main action happens. And another four bulbs were taped to the ceiling above the car seat. All 8 bulbs were lined up pointing towards the same direction as the car in order to cover the rectangular room evenly. I believe we had either 216 or 250 diffusion on the bulbs, but can't quite remember now.

After all the taping and skirting was done, we had two evenly lit areas, and some contrast with the darker background.

Next, we added some warm tungsten bulbs (nostalgia bulbs) hanging down from the ceiling.

Some bulbs were hanging so low that the characters occasionally hit the lamps with their heads. It was a bit unrealistic and in a different script this idea would not have worked. But the film's magic-realism style allowed us to go a little crazy with the scenery.

We had two bulbs above the car engine and one above the table near the far wall of the garage - that bulb gave our characters a pretty nice orange edge at certain parts of the scene. 

As you can see, we were mixing daylight balanced units together with tungsten based bulbs that were even warmer than 3200K. I was going to put 1/2 CTO gel on the Kino bulbs to bring them closer to the nostalgia bulbs' color temperature. However, when I looked at the scene through the camera, I liked the intense color contrast between the different units. I decided to leave the kinos blasting at 5600K and play around the white balance in post.

We were shooting Raw, so the white balance could have been changed in post. I was balanced to 4000K for monitoring.  But here's a comparison of what the colors would look like if we were balanced to 3200K vs 4000K vs 5600K.

And after the color grade was done, here's what we ended up with:

This 360° lighting setup allowed us to move through the scene fast and get multiple angles in one take.

In retrospect, I feel like this scene could have looked better if we spent more time shaping out lights. But I think it was more important to give more time to the director and the actors to  play out the scene the way we wanted. 


Part 3/8 - Salt & Pepper

In this scene our lighting setup was quite simple. 

We were shooting this scene at night, but our main motivation was the daylight and the sunlight coming through windows. Above the red bathtub we rigged the 4x4 kinoflo. With two bulbs (salt & pepper) providing main exposure on the person in the tub. An two other bulbs (also salt & pepper) were rigged above the kino flo case in order to bounce from the ceiling and come down as a softer and bigger source that fills up the shadows. That helped the overall exposure in the room to make it look more like daylight is filling up the room. To get the Kino above the bathtub, Ilya built a C-boom rig. Below I drew the rig and it's parts separated.

Then we put out an Arri T1 outside the window - emulating sun rays hitting the character on the bed. I believe we put either 1/4 or 1/2 CTS and some diffusion.
We also rigged two 4' kino bulbs above the actress - to light up the curtains in the back and add a soft backlight on her head and shoulders.

We also had a fresnel unit shooting from afar at those Cyan glass windows. With a mix cocktail of Cyan and green gels we got the color we wanted.


Part 4/8 - Natural Daylight

The following scene was shot completely with natural light. We we shooting in a location where we couldn't afford to put lights or flags due to the terrain and high wind. We scheduled to shoot this scene around 10 - 11AM, when the sun rays were shooting down at around 15-25°. We also positioned our characters, so they are both side lit equally. I positioned the camera on the "fill" side of the characters to get that " far side key" throughout the scene.

Far side key basically means that the key (or main) light is coming from the farther side of the character's face. And the camera is pointed towards the darker side of the face. In most cases far side key provides a more cinematic look. (but that's just an opinion)

A big part of this scene was the framing. We put some thought into shooting this very normal shot-reverse-shot scene. When we scouted the location for this scene, we came up with the idea to position the characters, so their backgrounds were wastly different - to visually symbolize their characters' personalities we chose to always frame our protagonist, so his background was solid stone. And frame Sofia with moving water in the background.
I don't know if that did what we intended, or affected the scene at all, but I hope that this choice will have a subconscious effect on the audience.



Part 5/8 - "Healthy negative"

In this post I wanted to talk about a concept I call a "healthy negative". I did not come up with this title, a friend of mine used it on set once and I thought it described the concept really well.

We were using the Blackmagic Production camera 4K. This camera is known for it's poor performance in low light and a pretty high noise floor. So to avoid noise, you have to overexpose the image a bit, so only the darkest shadows fall under 10 IRE. And in color grade you bring down the whole image - also known as "crushing the blacks". 

Another common method to save the shadows from noise is to rate the camera at a lower ISO setting. This will shift the latitude of the sensor lower. To describe this better, here's a chart form ARRI website that shows how the latitude shifts at each ISO setting for Arri Alexa:

But this method is only good when you can add enough light to have a good exposure at a lower EI. In my case, I already used almost all of my lights, so I kept shooting at the camera's native ISO - 800. I was shooting this scene mostly wide open (T1.4), and I opened up the shutter angle to 360° for several shots to get an extra stop of light. 

I also used a lot of haze to bring up the shadows even before the light hits the lens and I used a 1/4 BPM filter that also brought up the blacks a bit. Here's a drawing that sums up all the factors I used to achieve the healthiest negative I could. 

Here are two images (Left - log, Right - Rec709 LUT) that show how bright the "negative" was before we brought it down in the color grade.

In color grade, we pushed the image down like we planned and shifted the shadows to have some green tint. 

Here's a brief summary of the lighting for this scene:

I wanted to motivate the majority of the light in the scene by streetlights from outside and practicals inside. 
The scene opens with the wide shot of the protagonist running in the rain at night. To see the rain better, I decided to use a very hard backlight. To fake the rain, one of our producers was standing on the 2nd floor with a garden hose pointed up - watering the walkway. This was enough to cover the area we saw in frame. 

We positioned two 2K fresnels about 17 meters away from the character, cross-shooting at his back. And we put up a 4x4 Kino that was lighting him at the house entrance. And to make the background a bit more interesting we added some haze...a lot of haze:

The rest of the scene was lit in a similar fashion. We positioned out fresnel units - Arri T2s and T1s outside each window. The motivation for those were the sodium vapor street lamps, but less yellow and more orange colored. So instead of using an industrial vapor gel we decided to put the Roscosun 85 ND.3 gel.

This shot was lit by just one Arri T2 shooting from top stick through the windows

Below is the lightplan for the main part of the scene. 


Part 6/8 - "Augmenting Daylight"

This scene was a nightmare for coverage. I didn't have a lot of experience shooting scenes with so many people talking simultaneously, so I was worried that we won't have enough coverage. We ended up shooting 15 shots for a 2-page scene. Many of which didn't make it into the film. However, some angles that I added on top of what we planned actually worked out really well, so having this extra coverage was definitely a plus.

I wasn't joking when I said it was a nightmare. 


In order to move through the scene quickly, we decided to light it from above, so we didn't need to move around stands out of frame from shot to shot.

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We took 8 of our daylight Kino bulbs and rigged them above the table. This evenly filled up all the characters with an extra stop of daylight. Then, we added an Arri T2 imitating the morning sun rays peaking through the curtains on one side.

This was another case when were mixing daylight and tungsten units in the same scene. but this time I decided to balance to 5600°K and have a very orange sunlight, as if the sun just came out. In the color grade the sunlight color was shifted to a less saturated peachy color, and the daylight color hue was shifted slightly.


Part 7/8 - "Kinos Everywhere"

This was one of my favorite lighting setups of the whole film. I loved the simplicity of it

Here is the lighting plan

The location had two windows that had some sort of frost on them. This acted as a very heavy diffusion for our lights.


First thing I did was to put up two 2Ks outside those windows. Maybe 1.5 meters away from the glass, shooting straight in. With that much effort we got this beautiful soft warm and controlled light coming from one side of the room.

Then we put up a 4x4 KinoFlo with daylight bulbs on a C-boom rig above the "bed". And lastly, we put up another 4x4 Kinoflo with salt and pepper on another C-boom rig. Both kinos had a layer of 250 or 216 diffusion on them. The second kino rig moved around the set to adjust for each shot, but that was pretty much the only thing that changed from shot to shot.

Lastly, we put up another 1K fresnel outside the doorway, shooting down on a pretty sharp angle. It was just a small touch for the final part of the scene when the character leaves the room - he's hit by "sunlight"


Part 8/8 - "Church"

This was my favorite location to shoot in.We spent a good amount of time figuring out the lighting and laying down all the cable. We only had one working outlet, but we wanted to put lights outside and inside the church, so it took us about 2 hours just running lines and putting up our units.

Our main source was the tungsten kino with 216 diffusion rigged on a C-boom above the coffin. It provided us with a soft overhead source for both - the character in the coffin and the protagonist as well. I can't say there was a motivation in mind when we decided to light the main part of the scene this way. But I knew I wanted an overhead light, that almost looks like a theatrical spot light on the coffin.

And then we added two 2Ks and one 1K outside the windows of the church along one wall. This was our attempt to match the lighting  to the scene before where the protagonist enters the church during daytime. 

Below is a shot from the prior scene that we were matching to. 

Here's the lighting plan

The weirdest part was the electrical situation for this scene. If you paid attention and you're fast at math you're probably thinking right now: how did they put all those units on ONE CIRCUIT?

So we were 4 Amps over, and that is without taking into account the voltage drop from like 100 meters of cable. 

How did we manage to shoot this scene? I still don't know. Divine intervention?

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