Jump to content
EthanAlexander

How to Take Advantage of Our Entirely Saturated Market and Make Money

Recommended Posts

Couple weeks back I read a blog post by Alister Chapman about how the term DP has become meaningless now that anyone with a $1000 or even less can buy a camera and advertise as being one. (http://www.xdcam-user.com/2017/08/when-is-a-dp-not-a-dp/) and it got me thinking. I started paying attention to the people I'm seeing on social media in a different way, and noticed that damn near three quarters of the work I see involves no lighting. I see productions with UMPs, matte boxes, cinema glass, huge monitors, etc., but not a light to be found!

I mean, hell, I had one client not too long ago who was surprised I had any lights at all, which says a lot.

In fact, I think it's reasonable to say that the huge dynamic range and great low light ability we can get on cameras these days is killing the "need" to learn any kind of lighting. In many ways, I find this frustrating, simply because I've been trying to learn as much as I can about lighting for narratives and there's very little to be found on youtube and the like, at least compared to the billion videos entitled "how to make your videos look cinematic - Use these camera settings." The videos I do find are limited mostly to "3 point interview lighting."

But here's the good thing - Because there are so many people who know NOTHING about lighting, it's not hard at all to stand out! I'm sharing this post because for the past couple month I've been doing all kinds of tests with lighting setups while I've been learning from Shane Hurlbut's Inner Circle site and it's already made me stand out to one of my clients and gotten me in with a group of filmmakers I've been wanting to team up with for a while.

I hope that anyone on this forum that is looking to make money with video buys some lights and learns and experiments as much as they can. It's really the best way to stay ahead of the curve in this super-low-barrier-to-entry world.

(ALSO, I'd love if we could have a lighting section of the forum. Or at least a thread in the shooting section. Would that be acceptable?)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

In my eyes, it's all about light - direction and quality of light, depending on the look & feel you want to get. Diffusors, reflectors etc. are not the most expensive, but they will make the difference.

Sure, good low light capabilities are very important for a camera setup, when you don't want to miss a moment. But the light makes at the end of the day the difference.

47 minutes ago, EthanAlexander said:

The videos I do find are limited mostly to "3 point interview lighting."

Most self proclaimed DP are too lazy, even for this...They call their work "available light photography/videography"...For "never miss a moment" style it's OK - but not generally.

My mentors teached me to work with off camera flash (in photography) and to use sophisticated setups for getting great results - every little shadow and every even small movement of light and subject counts. Most "filming entuasiasts" don't care about light? Great for those who do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been pondering over the thought that a better path to becoming a high quality DoP in the future is not by struggling up through the camera department, but instead via the lighting path. 

And on a related point, perhaps there is a better opportunity to make money as a gaffer than a camera op? (as cameraman is such an oversaturated area, especially at the low end)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, HockeyFan12 said:

I haven't noticed this to be the case at all. Most sets I end up with are overlit, if anything.

Probably you misunderstood my claim...Let me give you an example, of what I want to say:

About 1,5 years ago, I did an (for me) very revelating experiment: I shot a comparison with the very good Canon EF 60mm F2.8 + NX1 under different lighting conditions during daylight for finding out image rendition. It was a kind of portrait shooting to get knowledge about color, detail and "sharpness" rendition (texture)...

Without additional lighting, with soft lighting (A. increasing distance from light to subject and B. lighting through a diffusor), with harsh lighting, with 1,2 and 3 lights setups.  The results were quite shocking: The image quality was VERY different from setup to setup, quality, softness and direction of light influenced tremendously the look of images (video AND photo)...

This was from very soft to tack sharp (some guys would probably call it "oversharpened")...Completely different results, only with different lighting scenarios...I got softer skin textures with the right lighting setup than with a tiffen pro mist...Same camera, same lens - but completely different image characteristics...When harsh lighting (without overclipping) the skin structure was way too sharp for a "cinematic" look, but with soft lighting - wow, it was a revelation....And remember, it was an ADDITIONAL LIGHTING SETUP, as shot by daylight....

I learned very much by practicing street (people) photography (by night) - I learned to use EVERY (additional or natural) source of light and every lamp to get some source of lighting as great advantage for photographing my subjects...

It's not about the amount of light - it's about quality, direction and Camera+Lens setup. A week ago, I shot 2 hours in Frankfurt - about 1 hour before and after sunset - to test my new Zeiss Otus vs. NX1 16-50mm S OIS (the NX1 is known as miserable failure in low light but as a resolution monster for S35) and there are huge diffrences in image quality for same lighting scenarios - there are differences in color and detail rendition, microcontrast, etc....VISIBLE differences, not pixel peeper and crybabe armchair talk...

Test for yourself (even by daylight) different lighting setups with the same camera+lens combination and settings and you will see decissive differences...Digital "oversharpening" seems sometimes to be gone (even when using some of the sharpest and fastest lenses possible), only when doing a different light setup...

Try even diffusors and reflectors whithout any additional artificial light and you will see important differences in image rendition, quality, look & feel, etc....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, EthanAlexander said:

In many ways, I find this frustrating, simply because I've been trying to learn as much as I can about lighting for narratives and there's very little to be found on youtube and the like, at least compared to the billion videos entitled "how to make your videos look cinematic - Use these camera settings." The videos I do find are limited mostly to "3 point interview lighting."

I really like Matt Workmans channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/cinematographydb Unfortunately a lot of his old "The Cinematography of... " videos got taken down, but there is still a lot of good content there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, IronFilm said:

I've been pondering over the thought that a better path to becoming a high quality DoP in the future is not by struggling up through the camera department, but instead via the lighting path. 

And on a related point, perhaps there is a better opportunity to make money as a gaffer than a camera op? (as cameraman is such an oversaturated area, especially at the low end)

It'd certainly be a great way to learn and make contacts!

6 hours ago, dbp said:

It's very confusing to me that some people think low light performance = no need for lights.  As if the only thing lights do is provide exposure levels?

Honestly, light is pretty much everything. Way more important than any camera.

I think marketing has been a driving point behind this. It's very easy for Sony, Canon, etc. to advertise the number of pixels, outrageous ISO levels, and eye bleeding saturation. And people want to believe that with one camera and nothing else they can become the next Spielberg. Plus, to most people, new tech is sexy, whereas clamps, muslin, gaffer tape, and heavy steel C stands are very un-sexy lol.

5 hours ago, UncleBobsPhotography said:

I really like Matt Workmans channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/cinematographydb Unfortunately a lot of his old "The Cinematography of... " videos got taken down, but there is still a lot of good content there.

Awesome channel. If you know any others like this, please let me know.

4 hours ago, TwoScoops said:

This site is from the perspective of a commercial/fashion photographer, but you can learn a ton about lighting:

http://guessthelighting.com/

Nice!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, UncleBobsPhotography said:

I really like Matt Workmans channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/cinematographydb Unfortunately a lot of his old "The Cinematography of... " videos got taken down, but there is still a lot of good content there.

Hey! Someone created a new channel with those vids. They call it cinematography database fan: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtTjh6GOn218KbjhF8mtFLA/videos  :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Arikhan said:

Probably you misunderstood my claim...Let me give you an example, of what I want to say:

About 1,5 years ago, I did an (for me) very revelating experiment: I shot a comparison with the very good Canon EF 60mm F2.8 + NX1 under different lighting conditions during daylight for finding out image rendition. It was a kind of portrait shooting to get knowledge about color, detail and "sharpness" rendition (texture)...

Without additional lighting, with soft lighting (A. increasing distance from light to subject and B. lighting through a diffusor), with harsh lighting, with 1,2 and 3 lights setups.  The results were quite shocking: The image quality was VERY different from setup to setup, quality, softness and direction of light influenced tremendously the look of images (video AND photo)...

This was from very soft to tack sharp (some guys would probably call it "oversharpened")...Completely different results, only with different lighting scenarios...I got softer skin textures with the right lighting setup than with a tiffen pro mist...Same camera, same lens - but completely different image characteristics...When harsh lighting (without overclipping) the skin structure was way too sharp for a "cinematic" look, but with soft lighting - wow, it was a revelation....And remember, it was an ADDITIONAL LIGHTING SETUP, as shot by daylight....

I learned very much by practicing street (people) photography (by night) - I learned to use EVERY (additional or natural) source of light and every lamp to get some source of lighting as great advantage for photographing my subjects...

It's not about the amount of light - it's about quality, direction and Camera+Lens setup. A week ago, I shot 2 hours in Frankfurt - about 1 hour before and after sunset - to test my new Zeiss Otus vs. NX1 16-50mm S OIS (the NX1 is known as miserable failure in low light but as a resolution monster for S35) and there are huge diffrences in image quality for same lighting scenarios - there are differences in color and detail rendition, microcontrast, etc....VISIBLE differences, not pixel peeper and crybabe armchair talk...

Test for yourself (even by daylight) different lighting setups with the same camera+lens combination and settings and you will see decissive differences...Digital "oversharpening" seems sometimes to be gone (even when using some of the sharpest and fastest lenses possible), only when doing a different light setup...

Try even diffusors and reflectors whithout any additional artificial light and you will see important differences in image rendition, quality, look & feel, etc....

I guess it's my misunderstanding then. What I mean is that I've noticed a trend toward over-lighting and using power windows to cut the image rather than flags and negative fill. I blame it more on fast schedules and recent trends toward soft light (and an over-reliance on power windows) than on bad DPs... after all, often it's the gaffer, not the DP, designing the set up, and everyone seems to light like this these days so of course they're gonna approach things this way. And to be fair to DPs, if that's the look clients want, it's what they're going to try to get. But I do agree that setting yourself apart from that is a great idea.

IMO, if you have an M18 out every window or a soft M90 or Mach Tech on every corner of the room, which is what most people seem to do these days, everything will look pretty good and you can make minimal adjustments, but it will always look a little "flat"and indecisive. Not that it looks bad, just that it looks a little "safe." But to me that's over-lit, not underlit, even if there's a lack of contrast. IMO it's a trend toward "lighting the space" rather than "lighting the frame."

I agree with you to the extent that I prefer the 1980s hard light look, artificial as it was. But it was a lot slower and required vastly more preparation.

For certain scenarios, though, it's unavoidable. As much as I criticize the approach, sometimes it's easier to blast a space with light than it is to gel every window and approach it more "artistically" and selectively.

I have a few techniques I've learned that I think are helpful to avoid this tendency but it's not worth getting into them here.

One area I do agree that there's too little lighting is in day exteriors. Contrast the look of Jurassic Park's exteriors to anything today. But I can't say I really miss this style as much. It looks a little cheesy and that was a product of older film stocks lacking shadow detail. I do agree that day exteriors are if anything, often underlit, today. But imo unless your budget is pushing you to move like crazy, it's easier to just schedule around the best light and use negative fill and bounce rather than setting up an 18K HMI or something, plus who can afford that on a small budget? 

I did work with one DP who just surrounded dialogue scenes during the day with huge diffused HMIs. There was one tucked in every corner, including a 12k. I'm not sure he placed them very carefully but I have to admit it looked great. Sure, it was over-lit, but it worked, and made the faces sort of pop and shine and you got nice catch lights, too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eep, I’m not sure exactly what to write. A lot of this is on a case-by-case basis.

A few things I’ve found useful for corporate work are:

When shooting talking heads, light primarily with an offside 3/4 book light close to camera that serves as both eye light and key and then put some negative fill on the other side of the face just off-camera. That way you can get both soft light and contrast and dial in any skin correction in post or with a promist filter. If you do choose to use a fill light (a hair light, diffused of course, could also help) keep it very soft and from camera direction, not 180º away from the key, to maintain shape. Keep both lights approximately at camera height to avoid raccoon eyes.

Overlighting is fine... if you're then removing light–doing the HMI through every window thing or Kino Flo in every corner and then turning off or dimming anything that’s behind the camera so you’re always working with a backlit scene or an offside key. I spoke extensively with Phil Abraham about how he lit the Sopranos and the approach to many interiors was rather DIY. On sets they had huge banks of dozens if not hundreds of 60w incandescent lights above the stage (facing 40º down toward the talent) that functioned as soft backlights and offside keys. Each corner of the room had one pointed toward the middle of the room. Only the lights in front of the camera were turned on. Anything behind the camera was turned off. Of course, there were also practicals and bounce cards for fill. When they turned around, they’d just flip which lights were on and which were off so it was always backlit/side-lit. At least that was the basic approach that was fined tuned with smaller units. That's for the interior sets but you can use the same techniques on locations with high ceilings.

You can do the same thing even in a corporate setting even for b roll even when you see the ceilings. Cameras are so sensitive these days and color correction so powerful that lighting with practicals is fine. Say you have a room being lit with overhead fluorescent lights. If you want some shape to the room, just use the switches in the room or flags or trash bags or whatever to turn off or flag off all the lights behind the camera. Then you’ll get the natural light working as a soft offside key. If you want to light talent standing in front of that so that their faces aren't dim, just use the same principles as the book light/negative fill combo (maybe a lone LED heavily diffused and as close to the talent as you can bring it, dimmed down a lot, and then negative fill on the other side just off camera). Bring CTO/CTB and plus and minus green to match the LED to the practical lights. 

Remember, the softness of the light correlates with its perceived size by the subject. A 4’x4’ light at 4 feet will be as soft as a 1’x1’ light at one foot (though the falloff will be quite different). One good trick to get a DIY book light for interviews is to first take a 1x1 LED panel and diffuse it with a piece of 216. And then gel it to match the color temperature of the space. Set is aside. Then take a c-stand and hang a 4’x4’ piece of diffusion (I like 216 or half grid cloth) and bring that wherever you’d want your book light to be. This will be the front of your “DIY” book light. You can easily hang 4’x4’ diffusion that functions just like a 4’x4’ frame just by keeping cuts of it around rolled up in a trash can or box and then extending the c stand's gobo arm so it's parallel with the floor and raising it up and then hanging the cut of diff from number 2 clamps at the top corners. You’ll have to weigh down the bottom corners with a clamp at each corner, too (number 2 clamps). Then position the LED behind the DIY frame and use barn doors to reduce spill (a true book light would have a tent of flags around it, but that’s slow) and turn it on. Move the light until the LED is just far enough to evenly illuminate the 4’x4’ frame. Then dim the LED to adjust brightness. Quick and easy book light and you can store that all in a small car.

Don’t be afraid to use flags and nets. If you’re using soft light, just bring flags. You can dim soft light with solid flags and it won't change the shape too much. 

Buy lights and play with them. Learn on set, but just shoot stuff for fun whenever you want to try a new technique. 

For narrative, if not storyboarding then at least defining the axis of action clearly can help. As far in advance as possible. Because this will let you place your key light for most of the scene (in theory). My friend who worked with Deakins described his approach as being too time-intensive to replicate on an indie scale, so I won’t bother describing it. One approach he really liked that can be replicated on a small scale is Elswit’s. He would often have a hard key light or back light 3/4 to camera then carry that with a much softer source that blended into it in terms of color temperature and direction, maybe 45º or less rotated toward camera. So he could get a lot of contrast in a scene and always get an exposure on the face by sort of modifying the Ridley Scott Blade Runner look of using a single source, but then sort of softening that source by using it to motived the fill. Filling from key direction, not from the opposite side. (But still tweaking with bounce boards etc. for the close ups).

That also lets you do fewer light changes between set ups if you basically only have one direction where the lights are visible and you can’t point the camera. Then you can use a common technique for exteriors and cheat your close ups by rotating the actors rather than moving the lights. This technique is of course great for day exteriors. Shoot with the sun behind you. Rotate actors a bit so the backlight then becomes an offside key for their CUs. You can use bounce cards etc. too. If there’s not too much wind and you’re shooting really close like CU or XCU or something, you can do the c stand trick to hang a weaker diffusion (251 or something) between the subject and the sun to soften the sun light a bit. 

Or for overcast days, bounce light using a 4x4 bead board silver side (or silver reflector) to create a subtle offside key and use negative fill camera side, for instance, to shape the key further. Or bring a battery-powered LED with you.

Scout. Mirror boards are brighter than 18k HMIs. They’re fairly expensive to buy and heavy as hell, but on an indie budget they’re very affordable. Bounce one of those through a window and move it. Maybe put some diffusion against the window. Easy way to get a cheap big gun in day interiors. But you need to time things up so the sun is in the right approximate place.

So always scout the sun path for day exteriors and even interiors if you have time. There are apps like Helios that help. That can save you money. But of course if you’re not set on shooting in one direction or the other you can follow the same principles on the fly.

I dunno, that’s about it. Also, when in doubt, diffuse your light. Especially lights behind the camera. I like hard light but if I see more than one hard shadow on a wall I know someone screwed up. One hard light is usually enough, but since so few people use hard light these days it can be cool.

Oh, and look for darker walls to shoot against. White walls make lighting so much harder.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
35 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

He would often have a hard key light or back light 3/4 to camera then carry that with a much softer source that blended into it in terms of color temperature and direction, maybe 45º or less rotated toward camera. So he could get a lot of contrast in a scene and always get an exposure on the face by sort of modifying the Ridley Scott Blade Runner look of using a single source, but then sort of softening that source by using it to motived the fill. Filling from key direction, not from the opposite side. (But still tweaking with bounce boards etc. for the close ups).

This is new to me. Def want to try!

Thanks for taking the time to write that all. Lots of great info!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A really great resource for learning lighting is cinesummit.  Working DPs show music videos, commercials, etc, and break down the lighting.

http://cinesummit.com/

Is good to see how to light cars, beauty commercials, as well as natural lighting, and what they do.

Also there is Shane Hurlbut's videos that walk you extensively through lighting scenes.  This is also a good resource.

Cinematography.com is an excellent resource as well - a lot of top DPs will answer questions about lighting scenes.

As well as the cinematography mailing list.  

And of course all the great books written about lighting and cinematographers.

"Young Cinematographers" is incredibly inspiring, with amazing DPs like Darius Khondji, Lance Accord, and Harry Savides walking though lighting setups and their lives.

American Cinematographer can also be useful, albeit it's more about gear and tech.

And Roger Deakins answers a ton of great questions and walks through his setups.  That man has zero ego - he's an amazing figure in the cinema world. 

Matt Workman is super great (old friend of mine) when he looks at a film and literally breaks down the lighting in the scenes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for those references, Ed. Deakins is amazing and his forum is incredible. I look forward to checking out the other links.

Also if what I wrote above wasn't clear or is too verbose, the basics of what Elswit is doing is setting up the key and fill near each other, so that the fill (soft source) carries a 3/4 backlight or backlight key onto people's faces, etc. This creates a look with tons of contrast, but you still get beauty light on faces and you get eye lights so that eyes read. He's creating sort of a gradient of light starting with an intense hard single source key and then feathering it into softer light sources as it wraps around the subject just enough to illuminate faces. Super cool and practical to do.

The basics of what Abraham is doing is turning off all lights behind the camera so that whatever sources you do have (be they practical or lights on a stage) are working as part of an effective large backlight/offside key schema. He approaches day exteriors the same way, only there he's moving the subjects relative to the lights (including rotating the talent during their CUs) rather than moving the light relative to the subject.

Obviously other techniques work. It's not like an on-side key is the worst thing in the world. But these are simple approaches to get a good look, even on a budget.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Practice shooting stills in black and white to learn light and shadow. Also indoors against black backdrops where all the light is controlled- ideally with point light sources so you can do every kind of light (bounce/diffuse to get bigger sources), plus flags etc. Start with just one light.  I read a lot and prefer doing my own experiments to really learn things, vs memorizing and not really understanding how things work.

I learned a lot from this guy when doing still photography: https://peterhurley.com/

Sometimes we learn after the shot. Couple seconds lined up shot on iPhone, noticed amazing lighting on face later (positioned her quickly, just one photo. Quick edit in Snapseed; all on phone):

IMG_0959.thumb.JPG.e2e32a426acd973c761f98fbb4c739b4.JPG

IMG_0960.thumb.JPG.bde1cc68f31e3bed1ec5f4e53efea84c.JPG

You can practice with your phone anywhere anytime. Positioning the subject(s) and camera in natural/practical light is also part of the craft.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My goal was "Hollywood" in my 20s (did work there a bit) but ended up in financial software/data for the past 30+ years. My guess is DP work is similar. My experience.

1. Film/Photography/Video, has always been a near impossible field to make a living in.  My observation 30+ years.  Unless you specialize in a very complex area where a shortage of talent develops.  In photography and film, bad news, those areas DO NOT EXIST ;)  There is always an excess supply of talent.

2. One's availability today is worth more to a prospective client than someone else's genius available tomorrow.  Don't kid yourself.  Whatever the client says, you're replaceable and a minor part of their world.  You can be a raving egomaniac in your domain, but get in the way of someone signing your check and no amount of genius will save you.  Make yourself available.  

3. A client only needs 10% of your skill.  When you try to give them more, it confuses them and can work against you when they want to hire again.  Understanding and matching a client's priorities, which will ALWAYS be slightly different than your expertise, is paramount.  Anticipating the client's needs, which may be some form of "cleaning the windows" is 90% of completing a success project.  Keep your head out of your head out of your ass.

Does all this mean you shouldn't become the most skillful DP possible?  No, but you learn for YOU, for your pride in your work.  Do not connect skill with ability to get work.  It will have very little to do with what work you get.  I know that sounds unbelievable.  I don't quite believe it myself.  Yet if I objectively look at all the work done out there, it seems random, the scale of stuff, from bad to great.  In other words, the quality should be better IF THERE was a meritocracy.  There is simply too much poorly done stuff, in my eyes, in all areas of tech, to indicate that quality is the prime factor to employment.  Good quality stuff is there by luck.

Human endeavors are complex, emotionally laden efforts to give meaning to our lives.  What gives you meaning, say great lighting, doesn't give the actor meaning, or the producer, etc.  Be compassionate to others.

Bottom line, if you're thrilled to have the opportunity to even get coffee on the set you'll find a place.  If you're thinking about "saturated markets" and "making money" clients will pick up on that and get someone they think will work for free, because yeah, we all just suck!  It's just a job.  Money is always an issue.  9 out 10 pats on the back you must give yourself.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Totally agree, @maxotics ;) These are great points.

2 hours ago, maxotics said:

One's availability today is worth more to a prospective client than someone else's genius available tomorrow.  Don't kid yourself.  Whatever the client says, you're replaceable and a minor part of their world.  You can be a raving egomaniac in your domain, but get in the way of someone signing your check and no amount of genius will save you.  Make yourself available.  

Be compassionate to others.

Bottom line, if you're thrilled to have the opportunity to even get coffee on the set you'll find a place. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...