Twice this week I have been up all night working as the DP for Filament Artists’ latest short film, entitled “Love at the Grocery Store.” The screenplay was selected as the winner of the Production Prize at the 2008 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival and will premiere at this year’s festival on September 26.
Shooting inside a grocery store has its particular set of challenges and so I wanted to pass along some things to remember if any of your projects take you inside the same environment.
LIGHTING & TONE
Most grocery stores are lit with fluorescents, meaning that everything will be washed with a flat, even, diffused light. If the tone of your piece calls for high-contrast lighting, you might want to see if the grocery store manager will allow you to turn off the overheads, giving you more freedom to light as you see fit. If this isn’t possible and you still want to create a surreal look with high-contrast, you can always light your subject with hard, direct light, that comes from the side, creating harsh shadows. The hard light will force you to stop down your f-stop. This should darken the background, while leaving your subject properly exposed.
Since fluorescent bulbs cast an even, diffused light, your subjects can come out looking drab, flat, and uninteresting. You will need some additional light to help create more natural skin tones and make colors that pop just a little more. However, reflectors alone won’t get the job done. They just won’t provide enough reflected light underneath fluorescent bulbs. And aiming a 1Kw or 650w tungsten at your actors will create an obvious difference in color and tone.
To give your shots a warmer look under fluorescent lighting, start by using your tungsten lamps and reflectors together. Mount a large piece of white foam core onto a c-stand and then bounce light from a 1Kw lamp onto your subject. The result is a soft, diffused light that isn’t overbearing, and yet one that warms up the scene a bit more. And I always recommend a little rim lighting to help your subjects stand out more from the background.
Bear in mind that the above solution assumes that you want a natural, warm tone for your project. If the mood of your film is a bit darker and somber, then you might like the sterile, flat, “blue” tone that the existing lights create.
LIGHTING & COLOR
Shooting under fluorescent lights can affect the white balance of your shot. If not properly monitored, the lights may cause the color of your shot to drift slowly from a cool tone to a warm tone, then back again.
However, I’d advise you to look back at our previous post for a more extensive look at shooting under fluorescents. To that article let me add that using a Kino light bank will be a big help. Kino’s do use fluorescent bulbs, but unlike the bulbs installed overhead in a grocery store, these bulbs burn at a constant color temperature. This will give your shots more accurate color representation while maintaining a consistent look with the rest of the lighting in the store.
Fluorescent lights might also appear green on camera. A green tone might work well for your project if the mood is more sinister and the location of your story more urban, decayed, or threatening.
Look for the comedy, “Love at a Grocery Store” at this year’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The screening is tentatively set for 9pm at the Alabama Power Building.