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February 10, 2011 / nicotvandenberg

Scouting the Location before Scouting the Location

Knowing your location before stepping foot on set is half the battle. More importantly as a cinematographer or DP there are key pieces of information that can be useful to know before arriving in order to efficiently execute that days worth of shots. I recent sat in on a seminar from the DP of Saturday Night Live Film Unit, Alex Buono. Alex has been embracing and utilizing HDSLR’s on the set of SNL. His most recognized piece of the late night show being, the intro title sequence. Shot entirely on the both the Canon 5D mkii and 7D, using available light, and the aid of a LED Litepanel for particular shots.

During the seminar Alex Buono touched on scouting the location without requiring a site visit. He gave two tools to add to a filmmakers toolkit that I wanted to share with everyone. The first of the two is an iPhone app entitled “Sun Seeker: 3D Augmented Reality Viewer.” What this application allows you to do is, track the path of the sun for the location you are shooting at. The app uses two different modes. One being a compass view that displays the path of the sun for the entire day. The second mode which admittedly is one of the coolest features I have seen in an app. Switching over to live camera view, requiring you to be at the location you would want to shoot, applies an overlay to the image, showing the path of the sun in one hour increments. Now this is an extremely powerful tool specifically for HDSLR filmmakers looking to use available light only. With ease, you can know when the opportune moment of the day to shoot a scene with daylight pouring through windows. Alex, also shooting many time-lapses for other projects says that this tool is invaluable in timing the perfect time-lapse. I see this tool coming in handy for interviews. Knowledge is power, and in filmmaking also money. Time is money and having to wait or pause, because of the sun’s movement is costly. With this app planning accordingly wont be an issue.

The second tool, which I’m sure most of us are familiar with, but overlook, is the power of google earth. Google Earth now incorporates 3D street view. Giving you the opportunity to see the landscape of a city or rural environment before even traveling to the set. More importantly, if you don’t even have a location yet this tool can be extremely helpful in deciding where you should be looking. Google Earth is a robust tool that I still haven’t completely uncovered all of the features useful to us filmmakers. Alex Buono pointed out on of the more useful features, similar to Sun Seeker, showing where the sun will be, at a time you request. Not only does it provide the path of the sun, but effects the lighting on the buildings. Giving you have a very close to accurate view of how the sun will interact with the environment at that exact moment of the.

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