In the final episode of Lighting I Like, I discuss perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of cinematography I’ve ever seen in television: the “Dance of the Druids” from the premiere episode of Outlander. A Starz series available on Amazon Prime in the UK, Outlander tells the story of a nurse from 1945 who accidentally travels back in time to 1743 when she visits some standing stones in the Scottish Highlands.
Since making this episode, I’ve read The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett, so I now know that this scene was in fact shot on location. The book quotes director John Dahl as follows:
For the scene where Frank and Claire go out there first thing in the morning, we filmed all the stuff at dark. We actually had a gigantic light on a crane, and that’s how we made our sunrise come up. I feel like that one scene really helped us make it look more like rugged Scotland. I think it’s one of the most beautiful sequences that I’ve gotten to film in the last few years.
This week’s edition of Lighting I Like focuses on a scene from Life on Mars, my all-time favourite TV show. Broadcast on the BBC in 2006 and 2007, this was a police procedural with a twist: John Simm’s protagonist D.I. Sam Tyler had somehow travelled back in time to the 1970s… or was he just in a coma imagining it all? Each week his politically correct noughties policing style would clash with the seventies “bang ’em up first, ask questions later” approach of Philip Glenister’s iconic Gene Hunt.
I must get around to doing a proper post on colour theory one of these days, but in the meantime, there’s a bit about colour contrast in this post. And you can read more about using practicals in this post.
I hope you enjoyed the show. The sixth and final episode goes out at the same time next week: 8pm GMT on Wednesday, and will feature perhaps the most stunning scene yet, from the Starz series Outlander.Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you never miss an episode of Lighting I Like.
I hope you enjoyed the show. Episode five goes out at the same time next week: 8pm GMT on Wednesday, and will cover a scene from my all-time favourite TV series, Life on Mars.Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you never miss an episode of Lighting I Like.
The third episode of my YouTube cinematography series Lighting I Like is out now. This time I discuss a scene from the first instalment in the Harry Potter franchise, directed by Chris Columbus and photographed by John Seale, ACS, ASC.
I hope you enjoyed the show. Episode four goes out at the same time next week: 8pm GMT on Wednesday, and will cover a scene from episode two of the lavish Netflix series The Crown. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you never miss an episode.
The second episode of Lighting I Like looks at a scene from the season four premiere of Victorian crime drama Ripper Street, available on Amazon Prime in the UK.
On closer inspection, the “tungsten fill” I mention in the video is more of a soft tungsten toplight – perhaps a Chimera Pancake – rigged to the ceiling in the centre of the room. When Jackson exits at 2:00 you can see him walk under it.
Here’s some further reading if you want to know more about using practicals, and candlelight in particular:
Candlelight – how I tackled multiple candlelight scenes in my first period production, The First Musketeer, including a video blog from the set.
I hope you enjoyed the show. Episode three goes out at the same time next week: 8pm GMT on Wednesday, and will cover a scene from the 2001 movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you never miss an episode.
The first episode of my new YouTube series is out. Lighting I Like discusses some of the best and most interesting illumination I’ve seen in film and TV, including how and why I think it’s been done. The first show is about a scene from season two episode four of Daredevil – and beware there is a spoiler.
After recording these shows, and while editing them, I spotted more things about the lighting in the clips. For example, in this Daredevil scene I noticed that there is a backlight tucked just behind the building on the right of frame. This backlight isn’t hitting the actors because a fire escape is shadowing them, but it’s giving that golden glow to the rain and street in the background. It must be gelled with something like Mustard Yellow to match the existing street lamps.
I hope you enjoyed the show. Episode two goes out at the same time next week: 8pm GMT on Wednesday, and will cover a scene from the season four premiere of Ripper Street.
Nofilmschool today posted a brilliant short film called The Secret World of Foley, which inspired me to share this DVD extra from Stop/Eject. It looks at the whole sound process on this short film, from production audio, through ADR, foley, effects and music to the final mix.
And here’s The Secret World of Foley – well worth a watch.
Season one of Ren: The Girl with the Mark has come to an end, and to ease the pain a little, here’s one last video breakdown of the show’s cinematography. This week I talk about the exterior scenes from daylight through sunset to night.
Here is the lighting plan for the final scene:
Check out the article I wrote during the shoot about the sunset scene if you’re still hungry for details. And here is an unpublished blog post I wrote during the shoot about the village night exteriors…
The last two days of principal photography on Ren were actually night shoots. It was great to take the village set that I’d shot in natural light for five weeks and chuck some of my own light at it.
In his American Cinematographer interview about The Monuments Men (February 2014), Phedon Papamichael said, “My big night-exterior lighting setups usually have one source” – often a backlight, judging by the examples given in the article – “and then I use whatever practicals are in the shot.” My approach is much the same, though a big source for me is a 2.5K HMI, not an Arri T12, sadly!
I knew our key shot was going to be Ren’s POV looking up the street to the Kah’Nath Master flanked by several archers, with Karn and Baynon in the background. I set up my 2.5K dead in the back of the shot, its stand hidden by the furthest house facade.
The plan was for the archers to light their arrows from two braziers, one either side of the street, so Chris Dane and Amanda Stekly dressed these in accordingly. I set up an Arrilite 800 near each one, choosing Urban Sodium gel to give the “firelight” a grungy colour appropriate to the bad guys. (I was shooting on a tungsten white balance to turn the HMI moonlight blue.)
Chris – by this time well-attuned to my lighting needs – also rigged a third brazier to act as the key light for himself (Karn) and James Malpas (Baynon), towards the back of the set. The Arrilite for this one I gelled with full CTO for a yellower, friendlier colour.
All three Arrilites were run through in-line dimmers, and various bystanders were co-opted to flicker them throughout the evening.
I rigged a Cyclotron behind the window of the background house – four 100W bulbs under a sheet of CTO, wired to Colin’s dimmer board so they too could be flickered, suggesting firelight inside the house.
I figured that the front of this house would still be very dark, being out of range of the Arrilites and facing away from the HMI, so I had gaffer Richard Roberts rig a Celotex board to bounce some of the HMI light back onto it. As it turned out, when it got dark and we fired everything up, there was lots of bounce off the set pieces closest to the HMI anyway. This was a nice bonus that gave us more options when blocking Karn and Baynon’s actions, without having to set up extra lamps.
When the braziers were lit and the Master and soldiers strode onto the set in their awesome costumes (courtesy of Miriam Spring Davies and stand-in wardrobe supervisor Claire Finn), we all felt we had a truly epic sequence in the can.
If you’ve missed any of Lensing Ren or Ren itself, here’s a playlist featuring every episode of the fantasy series, interspersed with the corresponding cinematography breakdowns:
On Tuesday the penultimate episode of Ren: The Girl with the Mark was released and so here’s my video breaking down the cinematography of that fourth episode. This week I cover lighting the guardroom and the prison cell, and demonstrate cross-backlighting.
Here are the lighting plans for the guardroom and the cell:
You may also be interested to read the blog I wrote during the shoot about Lighting the Prison Cell, and my post explaining the technique of Cross-backlighting. And here is an unpublished post I wrote during the shoot about the guardroom….
The guard room shoot came at the end of a long and intense week of shooting interiors. By Sunday most of the lead actors had left, we had crested the hill and the end of principal photography was in sight. The atmosphere was even more relaxed and informal than usual, particularly as everyone’s favourite spouter of inappropriate comments, Richard “Squish” Roberts, was playing the lead jailor.
Ren’s bedroom had been repainted and redressed to be the Kah’Nath guard room. This meant a single, small window again, and as usual I couldn’t resist blasting a 2.5K HMI through there for a shaft of hot, smoky sunlight.
I wanted to highlight the rack of swords next to the window, which the shaft of light wasn’t catching, so I used a variant on my Window Wrap technique. I put a 2′ 4-bank kinoflo outside the window at such an angle as to light up the swords without blocking any of the HMI light.
I was interested to find that the art team had done something a bit different with the room’s candles, hanging a cluster of them from an overhead beam. I asked for the “table” (actually a barrel) – where the guards would be playing a board game – to be placed directly under that.
The candles wouldn’t shed light directly down on the game in the classic single-light-source-coming-straight-down-onto-the-poker-table style, but I felt it would give me an excuse to cross-backlight. I clamped a Dedo to the top of each side of the set, each one spotted on one of the two characters who would face each other across the barrel.
These Dedos couldn’t be flickered, being the kind which go into a single control box with only three discreet settings for brightness. So to introduce some dynamics, and soften the light a bit, I clipped a dimmable 100W bulb to either side of the beam from which the candles hung. This would also ensure that Hunter would be lit when he stood next to the barrel.
An additional light source in the set was a small brazier on the wall next to the dungeon door. This seemed bright enough to shed plenty of light by itself, particularly as Squish would be standing right next to it for a large part of the scene.
The final touch for lighting was to re-use the fake door to create the effect of daylight spilling in as characters exited and entered from off camera. This time I placed an LED fresnel behind it.
Check back next Saturday for another instalment of Lensing Ren, and meanwhile watch the next episode of Ren itself from Tuesday at 8pm GMT at rentheseries.com
It’s the mid-point of season one of Ren: The Girl with the Mark and here’s my video breaking down the cinematography of that third episode. Topics covered this week include grip equipment, aspect ratio, smoke and faking candlelight.
Here is the lighting plan for Ren’s bedroom:
There is more on simulating firelight in my First Musketeer blog post Candlelight.
For my thoughts on composing for the cinemascope aspect ratio, take a look at 2.39:1 Composition.