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March 9, 2011 / nicotvandenberg

“Painting With Light” In A DSLR World

Inspired by John Alton’s book, “Painting With Light,” which addressed lighting from a standpoint of working with film or larger prosumer ENG style cameras. The wheels began to start turning about how to gap the bridge between “Painting With Light” for a HDSLR director of photography. Catch the Clock, the latest film I have DP’d for, written and directed by Jaena Sta. Ana, has elevated my knowledge and awareness to adapt when shooting in a cinematic fashion.

Does size matter? It’s not about the size, but how you use it. It is no secret that the HDSLR chip size has opened the flood gates for incredible low light shooting. However what does this mean for the lighting department? Can we let the gaffer go? Absolutely not. The statement, “It’s not about the size, but how you use it,” really applies to a HDSLR cinematographer. The tools are essentially staying the same, but the size is changing. Once where we use to need 2k Light we can now get away with a 1K or even smaller. Now it may be true that less light is required, but if you are expecting to flick the power switch and have  that perfect ratio on your subjects face, 99% of the time you will be sadly disappointed. Plan out your lighting grid because you will still be need it.

Practicals reborn! Previously throwing a lamp in the shot to justify a source of where the light would be coming from, has and can become a part of your grid. Practical lights are more powerful than ever, serving as backlights, kickers, and if were getting crazy maybe even a key. Don’t be shy or hesitant to use them because often times the are more successful than using another source, in an addition they can add a beautiful dynamic to your composition.

Dynamic range is often a hot topic of debate when discussing to shoot with a HDSLR camera. This too is no secret that these cameras are not built to handle the latitude that a higher end digital camera can handle such as a RED or an ALEXA. Those camera’s you are paying for the premium quality that they produce. With that being said, there are a number of way to squeeze as much range and latitude out of a DSLR. Starting right at the source, the camera. Shooting with a picture style that will preserve as much data in the highlights and blacks. Shane Hurlbut ASC, has developed his own styles such as, “Zeiss RAW, Canon7D RAW, Canon5D RAW,” pushing the camera to output an image with a fantastic range.

Translating dynamic range  into the lighting department, there are a few suggestions I can make from my own experiences. Shooting cinematically often calls for high contrast, low-key lighting. Shooting in this style takes time to master with these cameras, highlights will clip easily and blacks will wash out. So painting with light becomes an art form with these camera’s in order preserve the image data for the post-production color grading. It is easier to pull data from the shadows than it is to pull from the highlights. Once the highlights clip there is no data to come back from. If your production can accommodate it is best to have a larger monitor to preview, calling out any potential problem areas that may not be visible on the camera LCD.

Please comment and share any experience you may have.



Leave a Comment
  1. Rob / Mar 12 2011 9:05 am

    Hey man great post. Love reading about lighting for these cameras. What is your current set up for the 7d/5d? You using the redrock cage a lot? looking to get one and wondering how you like it

    • nicotvandenberg / Mar 12 2011 6:51 pm

      I pretty much use the RedRock Micro Cinema Bundle for everything, with both 5D mkii and 7D. I just started investing in filters for the matte box which has probably been the best thing I have invested in so far. But I would definitely recommend this rig. It does take away from being inconspicuous on the go, but I love the extra weight. It feels likes I am using a camera.

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