It’s the Lighting that make DSLRs look GREAT…

by fletch murray8 Comments

Are you disappointed in the looks you’re getting with your DSLR?  Lighting like the Masters is the key to great films. Period!  You can buy the latest, best digital camera and the best glass, but if you don’t know how to light you may as well be shooting with an iPhone. So, we’ve launched a “Lighting like the Masters for DSLRs” workshop. How did my epiphany come about? Here’s the play by play.

(Sometime in December) So Vermeer and I are having a beer at the Tam O’Shanter pub where Walt Disney used to grab lunch back in the day.  (“The Tam” is a great to go after a tough shoot. The muses are imbedded in the wood. It’s been there since 1922, which for L.A. is like Plymouth Rock.)

The Tam O'Shanter Pub, Los Angeles, Ca

The Tam O’Shanter Pub, Los Angeles, Ca

So, Vermeer’s having a Heineken and I’m having a Guinness. Rembrandt is telling jokes in the corner and Caravaggio is in a fight in the next room.

So, Johannes, dressed in some pretty impressive duds, leans over and says to me, “You modern boys have it so easy. I had to sketch, mix paint,  paint and fix.  All you have to do is press a button.”

“Johannes, you’re right,” I reply. “But one thing remains. One thing.”

“What’s that?” he says.

“The light.  It doesn’t matter how great a camera or how great the lens or how beautiful the model – if you don’t know how to light it, the shot is poop.”

“Poop?” he asks.

“Merde! Stront!” I retort.

I lean forward, “You guys knew lighting.  Our generation thinks it’s how many pixels you’ve got or what’s the bitrate.  It’s the light, Johannes, the LIGHT!”

So Johannes says to me, “Why don’t you have a lighting workshop? You show them how to use the Canon DSLR, but you don’t show them enough lighting!”

“You’re right, Johnny. Dammit, you’re right.”

(Sometime in February) So, we launch our Masters Lighting Workshop. Our first challenge to our students is to replicate Vermeer’s ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’. (We were going to do a Rembrandt painting but ‘The Girl’ won out.

(below) Our actress, Rachel with no makeup, no period costume – just a pretty model, china blue eyes, the sun, and a reflector.

A model, the sun and one reflector.

A model, the sun and one reflector….just great light.

To “rebuild” Rembrandt’s studio lighting we used as a reference an article by Bill Bennett, ASC, from the September 2012 issue of Film & Digital Times. There was an old sketch and a photo Bill had taken when he visited Rembrandt’s actual studio.

Fletch, Graham and Tom repilcate the lighting in an old sketch and photos Bill Bennet, ASC took for an article in Sept. 2012 issue of Film & Digital Times.

Tom, Graham and Fletch repilcate Rembrandt’s lighting in an old sketch and photos Bill Bennet, ASC took for an article in Sept. 2012 issue of Film & Digital Times.

We put Rachel in the Rembrandt light…with no period costume yet. Stunning.

Model in 'north light'

Rachel, ‘The Girl – 2013″ in ‘north light’. (un-retouched)

And now in period costume, using the same north light. Gasp.  That’s pretty.

"The Girl with the Pearl Earring" v.2013

“The Girl with the Pearl Earring” v.2013

Then our class blocked off the north light from the window and replaced it with Alzo’s Pan – L lites, (see below) to see if electricity could emulate the master’s look.

Skylight versus Alzo PAN-L Lites

5D Mk III. Neutral. Skylight on left is probably higher than 5600K versus Alzo Pan-L Lites (5600 K)

Then, we challenged the class to do variations on “The Girl with the Pearl” theme (below) with lights Vermeer never had – Pan-L lites, China Ball, MR 16s, LED Ultra Slim Wire Light Set (those are the out of focus dots about eight feet in the distance.) You can order them here

The new micro-min LEDs bring a subtle to the moonlight look or our Girl with the Pearl.

The LED “Ultra Slim” lights bring a kiss of background to the moonlight look or our Girl with the Pearl.

(below) And now a warm look with with china ball, the ever reliable Mini-Mole raking the background, the Pan-L lites rimming her, and an MR16 (desk lamp) bouncing on a white oval to create that pool of light in the eyes.

'The Girl with the Pearl Earring' - warm look. China ball, Alzo PAN-L lite rime, and an MR16 bouncing off white oval.

‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ – warm look.

SUMMARY – Lighting like the Masters is the key to great films. Period!  You can buy the best digital camera and the best glass, but if you don’t know how to light you’re wasting your money.   The scenes that blew us away in Vincent LaForet‘s ‘Reverie‘ and  Shane Hurlbut‘s ‘The Last Three Minutes’ and Gale Tattersall’s Season Six Finale of ‘House, M.D.’ were beautifully lit. The camera just took the picture. And I deeply love and nearly worship the creamy magic the 5D’s massive sensor brings to the party. But to make that camera sing you MUST learn to light.  And I’m not a lighting expert. But I know merde when I see it, and most DSLR filmmakers expect the camera to create a film look. No. The great DPs know how to paint with light. That’s why we’re emphasizing lighting like the Masters.  And that includes the “modern” Masters as well, i.e. Roger Deakins, Janusz Kaminski, Wally Pfister, Gregg Toland, Freddie Young, James Wong Howe, and so many more.

I guarantee you, they’re way past three-point lighting. You should be too if you want your films to blow people away.

(Fletch and his crew of Hollywood DPs will conduct two-day workshops (Basic DSLR and Advanced DSLR filmmaking) at the Palm Springs Photo Festival April 28 – May 2, 2013.  Register on the link below.

If PSPF workshop slots are filled (or you’re not available for the PSPF), there is a Lighting Workshop for DSLRs May 25th and 26th at The Association’s studios near Warner Brothers in Burbank, Ca at a slightly higher price. For more info on that click here.)

For a behind the scenes video of the Lighting for DSLRs workshop click HERE.)

 Comment on this story in the new planet5D forums 
 Registration with Facebook or Twitter is as simple as 2 clicks – click the icons and find out! 

(cover photo credit: snap from Fletch)

Gear Guide - Pop up- v2

Free Essential Gear Guide

It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex that is “gear.” In this definitive guide, we share some pretty solid gear that is professional enough to take a client’s location without being embarrassed and won’t put you in massive debit. 

Your download will be available after you confirm - see your inbox!