Theater Shoot: Motivated Lighting Considerations
This is the first shot that we tried to create, and so, we will go ahead and show you what that begins to look like. So we're here at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle, and we've run the hazer for a little bit, so you should be able to see a little bit of the atmosphere and the lights, to a degree. But I do wanna take you through a little bit of my considerations as far as kind of what I'm thinking, where the lights are going, how things are gonna be placed, and how we're actually trying to create this motivated light. So, when we came into the theater, obviously, it's an incredibly beautiful space, and we have some practical lights already in place. We have a little bit on the ceiling to a degree, a little bit on the walls, and a little bit on the far back of the wall. And those are the things that I really like. I think they add character to the space. And so I wanna, I wanna keep those. I wanna utilize those. We also have a few lights in this backstage area around as well, and som...
e of them were already on. We've turned a few of them off because they were starting to interfere a little bit with how it was gonna shape the light in the image. So, I came in, I saw the space, and the first thing that I did was I set down my tripod, and I tried to figure out roughly what I wanted the shot to look like, and I tried from a few different angles. The first one that we were gonna go with is the corner shot where we see a little bit of the backstage space, and we see, we are shooting out at the theater, and so we have the theater in the background. That said, there are a few different considerations that I've gotta contend with from a photography standpoint and some obstacles that I've gotta overcome; specifically, this is a very dark space. I'm gonna be shooting at a pretty high ISO, probably something like a 1600 or a 2000. I'm also gonna be shooting at a very low aperture, like a 2.8 to a four, and I'm gonna be probably shooting at a pretty low shutter speed so that I can drag it and I can get a lot of these ambient lights in the shot. That being said, I am still using strobes with that, so we have to make some considerations for that. So the bulbs that are already in place are tungsten bulbs, they're very, very warm, so for the most part, all of the strobes that I'm using to balance to it, I've added a CTO gel to all of the strobes on the set so that they balance together a little bit more consistently. We're not really creating a totally different color temperature of light, so it doesn't jump out in any kind of unusual way. We want them all to blend together. So I set it down, I used my tripod, and I could start balancing the scene. So in the background, I really wanted to have spotlights in the shot. Several of the inspiration images have spotlights, and so I really loved like, the whole idea of shooting in a theater. We can create that entire theatricality, the cinematic, cinematic style. So I wanted to get some lights in place. Now, there are some considerations that we have to make for that. For example, we can't get into the catwalk. We can't put things up particularly high. So, what we've done as kind of a, kind of a compromise, we've set up lights across the mezzanine and the back, and I've got two lights back there. For the two lights in the background, we're gonna be using two multi-spot heads, which are Fresnel heads for the Profoto Pack. We're gonna be using the multi-spots with a Dedolight attachment, so it's a lens on the front of it. It basically gives us that spotlight effect, gives us a little bit of a harder edge and a little bit more shape to the light, which you're gonna see. You'll also notice, as I mentioned earlier, we have the haze machine going that's adding a little bit of an atmosphere. We don't wanna go too much, 'cause obviously, when you turn it on crazy, it makes the whole thing really smokey and foggy. We just want atmosphere. And so we run it for a bit, and we turn it off, and we kind of cycle and work our ways through that. Now, the subject is gonna be facing the audience, the audience, and what we're gonna do is for the most part light her in that way. So her back's gonna be to me, and I'm gonna have a little bit of fill, but I'm also gonna add a key light over to one side. I'm gonna add the key light to the side of the face in which she's turned, in which case, it's gonna be the right-hand side, so that's where the light's gonna be. That being said, I'm still gonna put it a little bit more to the side, so it feels almost like it's the spotlight wrapping around a little bit. It doesn't feel like I'm adding too much of a drastically different light source. We've also added a couple of lights across the seats so that it rakes across the seats and gives us a little bit of texture to the environment in the back. We also are gonna add one to the stage left side of the stage, which is gonna be the audience right side of the stage, so that it also gives us a little bit of interest from, from the left side. I actually like how the current backstage lights have that, and so I wanted to built up on that a little bit more and really augment that. That being said, I think that generally covers the lights as we are aiming to have them done today. So, for the most part, it's not so much about lighting the subject as the main, the main light. It's about building this environment of lighting. And so we've added spotlights. We've added the backstage light, and it's really all about just trying to build that. We also had the models try on a few different dresses that they're gonna be wearing today, and I had to make a few different decisions based on that. So, the ones that we are likely leaning toward are gonna be the ones that are a little bit shinier and show a little bit more texture. So we have a white/gold very sparkly dress which is gonna pick up a lot of the light, and she's gonna kind of glow. It's gonna be really beautiful. And the other one was we were looking at a couple of red dress options, and one of them was a little bit more burgundy and had a little bit more of a satin finish. And so it didn't quite pick up on light as much, and I thought she blended, would have blended in a little bit to the background too much. And so what we ended up opting for is something that's a little bit of a shinier satin. And so she's going to pop out a little bit more. I came into the space, I put my tripod down, and I really loved the frame of the stage as a frame of the shot, almost like a frame within a frame, and so we're gonna use the proscenium as a way to, to give a little bit of depth to the image. Now, unfortunately, the only way I can capture that in the shot is to use either a very wide angle lens, which I have with me, or I can use kind of like a medium length lens, and I can stitch images together. Each lens has its own benefits and negatives. So, for example, my wide angle lens allows me to get that wide perspective in the shot, but it's only an f/4, and so it means I, it's something I have to consider when I'm in this very low light environment. I'm also not gonna get as much compression between background and the subject. So what's way back there is gonna look even smaller. With the medium length lens, and I'm using a 55 millimeter on a medium format, so it's about a 40 millimeter on, on a full frame. So, so what I'm gonna do is shoot, shoot this as a stitch. So I'm gonna shoot my model and subject as the main frame, and then I'm gonna go off on both sides to fill it out a little bit more, and it's gonna give me the perspective of the wider, the wider angle lens, but I'm gonna get the compression of the 55, and I'm gonna be able to use the lower aperture. This particular lens is a 2.8. And so, that's what I'm gonna be using for the lens choice. In addition to that, I am also likely gonna be taking several plates of this scene. I'm gonna do shots without lights. I'm gonna do shots without the stage lights on, so that I have everything that I need when it comes to bringing this into post-production, and I can very easily layer stuff on top, and I'm not worried about trying to reconstruct things that I don't have, have parts for. So the first shot is always, by far, the longest one to try to set up and achieve, because we have to build an environment before we can really get things rolling with a lot of the other shots. The rest will be much, much faster, but know that going into it, the first one always takes quite a while. And when I'm doing a really big environment, something like this, it generally will take several hours to get this set up, fine-tune how I want it, and all of the different ingredients and the elements are working together in a way that just really feels complete. So don't necessarily think that you're gonna come into a shoot like this, spend 10 minutes, and it's gonna be ready to go. This is a very long and involved process. Let's take a question from online. Let's start there.
Do you go into the shoot, like this theater shoot, with the expectation of getting three shots? How many shots did you take to get those three? You said, I don't shoot a whole bunch. I focus on the setup. But can you talk us through sort of that process?
Sure, yeah, of course. So it really depends on what, what the need of this shoot is. So, we were relatively comfortable in terms of the amount of shots we needed to get for this. We originally had aimed for two. I wanted to push that a little bit and get to three. With the other shoot that we're doing, we ended up doing two because the logistics of moving the planes around was way more complicated. Here, it's just a matter of making a few tweaks to the lighting to maybe hide things, adjust some things based on the angle. So once it was set up from the get-go, we knew that, you know, there was, you know, it was for the most part ready to go. And so, this allowed me to get through three different shoots. Again, it's totally about what you need to get from, from, from the series of images. So if someone were to say, hey, in the same amount of space, I need you to get eight different looks, I can do that. I'm not gonna do as drastic of changes. I'm gonna be able to just shift a little bit, change some outfits a little bit, try for a different shot based on a slightly different location or a slightly different version of one location. But know that it's really a matter of just how much time you can dedicate to any one, any one setup. We have to always be aware of time, and so I'm a big, big stickler for staying on time, and like, when I'm doing, all right, how much time do we have left, how much time do we have left? Always staying on top of that, because it's the one thing you can kind of never get back, especially when you're working outside. Like, once time of day hits a certain place, you're like, I got it, like, there's nothing else we can do once maybe we lose daylight behind the building or something. So, always, always, always be cognizant of what your schedule is like, what you have to get through by when through the course of the day, and then know reasonably how quickly you're able to move. So, if you've got 45 minutes left, yeah, you could squeeze off one more setup in 45 minutes, as long as you're not doing something that's a massive, drastic change, but just small shifts are good, or maybe one light or two lights over here, so. I mean, we spent three hours setting up I think the first shot, and the last shot was set up, shot, and wrapped in 45 minutes. And it was a totally different lighting setup. So know that like, you're able to uncomplicate what you're doing, like, the idea of timing is obviously, you can make certain considerations across the board.
Is there a best starting point to begin with when considering how to create motivated lighting in a space that big with so many practicals?
Oh, man, I mean, I'll be honest. Like, it was a challenge. It was a huge challenge. I don't think I've ever lit a space that big. But, you know, that's kind of entirely the point, is the methodology is the same, no matter if you're using a space that's a quarter of that size or one that's even bigger, is you just have to pay attention to what the light is going to look like, needs to look like, and where you need to put them. And so, it's, like, I would approach a room like this no different in terms of scale. Obviously, I get to use fewer lights, and it would take me way less time. With the theater, there is obviously certain things that we, we can use or cannot use. So, the ceiling, which looks great and I needed that to be lit up, 'cause that's, I think, one of the main, most beautiful pieces of, of the environment. Actually, you know what? Can we switch over to the laptop really quick, and I'll show you the, okay. So this is a straight out of camera shot of what the space looked like with no lights. This is it. This is what I walked into. This was my frame. And so I'm walking around, I'm scouting the space, I've got my lens on, and I'm seeing what the space looks like through the lens. And this is my wide angle lens, and this is really close to what that final shot ended up looking like. Also, really close to what my scout shot looked like as well. And so, you look at the out space, and this is really bright up here. The stage itself is really bright. This I think has a really interesting look, especially when it goes out of focus. I've got this light up here, which is nice. But for the most part, there's not really a whole lot of lighting dimension to the scene. It's relatively flat, and I'm also missing the spotlights that I wanted. So, I said, all right. Well, I need the spotlights. They gotta be behind my subject. They have to frame my, I wanted to frame my subject on both sides. So what I ended up doing was we put a light here, okay? And I put a light somewhere over here, because there is actually a string of lighting here across the middle of that mezzanine that we obviously couldn't use, but I know that's where the theater would light it. Also way up here at the top, but in no way, shape, or form were we getting access to that. So, I knew that realistically, if this were gonna be lit in a way that was somewhat similar, yeah, the lights are gonna be kind of around this string right here, 'cause it's relatively high up without being unrealistic. And so, we got 'em kind of over here and over here. And that was basically me saying, all right, if there were lights on here, what would they look like? And so that's where I plugged those in. You'll also kinda see back here, it's kind of a little bit challenging, but there are like, pieces of light on the seats. And I actually really liked how that looked. But, I didn't have it across anything in the front. So I had to add that, a little bit in the front to add some texture across the tops of those seats to give it a little bit of dimension. Also, this is really bright, and if you remember from step one of what do we gotta do, it's, you gotta darken it down. And so as soon as you darken it down, this all goes to almost a void of darkness. This gets a little bit darker, but the whole stage becomes very dark. So the whole, the whole house becomes a little bit dark. The stage is really bright, so I had to turn that off. Again, about controlling the light. So, we basically turned off all of the backstage lights except this one over here in the corner, which I liked. I thought it added a little bit of visual interest to that left-hand side. So that was really what I had to consider when I was building this particular scene. I thought, what would this look like if it were a show? And I've seen a lot of shows. I've done a lot of stage work at theaters, so I kind of know what it looks like from that perspective. You've got lights blaring at your face. It's very glowy. And so that was what I wanted to try to create, and during a show, this would of course be off. I also don't want it to draw a lot of attention. It's lit. That's not, I want it to be, like, that's a frame. I want it to be a dark frame that you just don't think about. I wanted it to frame the subject and the attention to go here. And so that was my goal for, for trying to light a scene like this. How do I create texture across the environment, so if it's dark and it's flat, let's throw some light across the tops of the chairs to break that up, or let's create some spotlights that create a rim, like an angelic rim around my subject. And then, how do I kind of draw the eye around through these different light sources? And that's kind of the considerations that I'm thinking about. I start with the main ones, and then I just sort of look and I go, how would it look if there was light over there? Like, maybe there's a space in the scene that's just kind of dark, and it's almost like a hole of attention, H-O-L-E, right? So you just don't, you just, it's a void. Like, there's nothing there. It's like, okay, great, let's throw a light across it to create something visually interesting in the back. That's generally how I'm looking at it. It's the same way I would compose. If you, you know, if you're composing a scene, you wanna have things that are interesting in the frame and create balance, create visual balance. And so that was really what I was trying to create as I was building the practicals or the environmentals of the scene. How do I create visual balance with light? And so, it's like, hey, this area over here is not giving me enough attention. Great, let's pop something on over there. Hey, this area is giving me too much attention. Great, let's turn the power down. It would be things like that.
Do you use a colorimeter? How did you know which gels to choose, and what was your process there?
That's a very good question, and I'm gonna give you a not particularly exacting answer as I'm sure people would like. I had a handful of warm gels, and I tried to keep 'em as consistent as possible, but there was a point in which I ran out of the same thing. And so I used ones that were close, because it was better than nothing. So, I did not use a colorimeter. I know that a strobe to a tungsten, especially in a room like this where the walls are very warm, and there's a lot of red tones and orange tones and yellow tones across this whole space, I knew approximately that a full CTO on a strobe was probably more or less gonna get me really close to something consistent, and so, if I'm looking at going a full change, I'll start there, and then I'll look and I'll go, you know what, it's a little too orange. Let's put a half on it, or a quarter, or whatever it is. And so I'll usually, I'm looking at the image, and I go, ah, that one over there, it's a little bit too red. What do we gotta do? Well, let's swap it out or let's put a half on it or let's change the power of it. Like, there are all different ways you can kind of tweak the density of these colors. And so, that's why it's so important to me that I tether and I sit on a tripod. 'Cause when the cinematographers do it, they are looking at a video monitor as they put it together, and they have the benefit of it being constant. And so I'm either gonna check how it looks with the strobes firing, or if I can use constant lights, I'm gonna get away with that. Constant lights, the benefit, obviously they're not as powerful, but you get to see what you're doing, which is really nice. This is also one of the very rare instances that I use my live view screen. I'm not, I don't usually use it, but because it was so low to the ground, it was just easier, 'cause I was shooting low. I could, you know, and again, you get to see what it looks like, which is really nice. And so, that was kind of where that began for me, and then really paying attention to what each light is doing. So, once it's there, then I go, okay, how's that one? Good, how's that one, how's that one, how's that one, and I just kind of systematically go across everything that I can change. And I wanna make sure that it's looking as close as I can get it to look.
So you use your eyes and your experience and software to help the light or the tether. Do you use Lightroom for shooting?
I use Lightroom, yeah.
Yes. I have to use Lightroom. My camera doesn't work with Capture One.
So my other question was, I didn't notice in the video a lot of people around. How big was your crew, and what were their roles?
Good question. So, I have, I had two assistants. Lindsey, Lindsey was an assistant. She was helping out as an assistant. She's also a creative, a creative assistant, so she's very helpful in that way, and then I had another photo assistant named Jonathan who was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for things. So, I recommend for something like with this, like, two would be minimum that I would try to execute this with. One would be a nightmare, and in no way, shape, or form could I do this by myself. You can't. You have to depend on other people for stuff like this. So, general, like, I mean, carrying things, setting lights up, putting Octaboxes together, I would say, all right, we gotta go, we gotta go rearrange these spotlights in the back. Go run to the mezzanine. You stay up there, and okay, now turn it, turn it to the left a little bit. Turn it, point it down a little bit. All right, and you try and see how it works, and then once you get that done, all right, let's go to the next one. Okay, move it over three feet. Turn it a little more to me. Face it down. Like, and it's just having that communication and, you know, people, assistants have to wear a lot of hats. It's very, it's very humbling work. I recommend that if you've never assisted, you should, because you'll learn how different people work, and everyone works a little bit differently. And that also helps when they can anticipate your needs before, before you're able to, to let them know what they are, and that's always really handy in a good assistant, yeah. Mmhmm, yeah.
So, you said you didn't take a whole lot of shots to get these three shots, but I do notice there's 690 photos on there.
So that seems to me that there, like, how many shots do you get?
That was 690 over two days.
It's about half that.
So then like, for any individual shot, like, of the person, the actor, how many shots are you thinking about?
I will tell you, so, so, what'll also makes this a little bit more, to answer the question a little bit better, so, I've got probably, (Chris sighs) let's see, so, just setting stuff up, taking test shots, I'm at, I'm at 100 test shots, just kind of getting stuff warmed up. I take it back; no, this was one day here. I was, I was lying to you. 670 shots in one day. But I also have a lot of stitches in here, and so I would, you know, I did several versions of the plates, so that also, you know, adds a whole lot of images to it. But, the other thing is, you know, to be perfectly honest, when you are shooting video, for educational content, it's helpful when you have a lot to work with. So I shoot more than I do when I'm doing it personally. Okay, so, so just to kind of give you a little bit of an idea, once we, oops, once we started shooting was, probably somewhere around, around here, right? That was about when we started shooting. And that, by the time it was actually shot, 139 frames, including plates, including some of her plates. So, not that much. That's probably about double what I would normally shoot. But there's not a whole lot of variety. I mean, there's different poses, and I was also shooting on two different formats. So I mentioned I shot it in, with a wide angle to make sure that I got it in one shot, but I also did a lot of, I did plate, I thought I would go with the plates, because I liked the compression on it better. But because it introduces a whole lot of other variables and potential problems, I wanted to make sure I got it in one shot as well. And so, it was just a safety net for me, and that was really my, my main reason. So that's why there's twice as many frames, is so that I have it in two different formats, just in case.
With the, when you're taking plates for something like this, how do you, I know you went with the, the 55 or 50, but were you concerned at all with distortion when you're moving back and forth, and were you okay warping that back in?
So here's the thing. Lightroom can do a really good job of stitching sometimes. Not all the time, but like sometimes, it's, I always try to get it in Lightroom first, and if Lightroom can't handle it, I try to stitch it in Photoshop. But, but Lightroom is surprisingly good at the stitch, and based on the method that you use, 'cause there's, and I'm gonna talk about this when we do the post-production portion of it, but based upon, like, the mapping method, it's not bad. Like, you can, you can make it so it looks, distortion-wise, really similar to the wide angle lens, just with more of a compression and more scope. And so it's really close. And it's, it's a lot better, like, than people, and you can even like, on tripod, it's even easier. I've freehanded stuff, and it stitches fine. (Chris imitates shutter click) And it works. And what we did here was, yeah, no, the 40-mil was good enough that you didn't really have, I didn't really have a huge issue with distortion. I had it a little bit more in, in the second shoot, the airfield shoot when I was doing some really closer, wider stuff, but because she's relatively far away in the scene, because she's relatively far away, I didn't really get it as much. But I did wanna show, before we actually jump into the lighting diagram, this is what the light looked like when we arrived. This is what it just looked like as-is. So, obviously, the house is quite a bit brighter. It's exposed a little bit more properly. And the light on her face, not great looking. I changed her, I changed her dress. This was just to kind of test and see how, how the dressed looked in the space, everything else, but man, the light was not super great, as a, you know, as a flattering light. It's just, it's harsh, it's aggressive. It's mixing the backstage lights with the house lights, and so some are warmer, some are colder. It's creating, like, all kinds of weird shadows on the neck. Just, not, not having it, not happy with it. I got, by the time, like this was when we, when I darkened it down and I was shooting in a more shallow depth of field, something that was a little bit closer to what the image was going to look like in actuality. So you can, you know, this is obviously bright or darker than what this is. This looks a lot darker. The background looks a little bit more appropriate to what the final product ended up being, but she looks, like the lighting is just not great. So, this is where it began, and then those were the considerations in the video that I was working through as we were trying to solve the problem, right? I always, I always like to say that we as photographers are, we're visual problem-solvers. And so it's like, how do you, how do you execute, like, how do you creatively think through this? How do you figure out, you know, how to solve the problem?