Posts Tagged ‘reflectors’

Shooting the Grocery Store

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

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.


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.


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.

Bookmark and Share

Shooting Great Exteriors

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Shooting exteriors can be tricky, because you have less control over the light falling onto your scene. It would be nice to have access to a one-ton grip truck with shiny boards, silks, butterflies, and HMI’s. But most often you won’t have the budget to acquire all that extra gear. Even without all the fancy grip and electric toys, you can still get some fantastic exteriors. Here’s how:

  1. Pay Attention to the Time of Day – Shooting in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky is ideal for exteriors. Conversely, shooting at mid-day when the sun is at its highest will produce nasty shadows on your subject, creating unwanted contrast. If you have to shoot the exterior of a building, scout the location first. Find out when the sun is hitting the front of the building. If the sun is at the back of the building and the front is in the shade, your shot won’t turn out very well.
  2. Invest in Lens Filters – Filters are great additions to your camera package and give you a little more control over the way your exteriors look. When placed over the lens, a filter will manipulate the light entering the camera. When shooting on cloudy days, the scene will look flat and gray. Adding a warming filter to the camera will improve skin tones and give more saturation to your colors. A definite must-have, in my opinion, is a circular polarizer filter. A polarizer has a number of different uses:
  • Increases the saturation of blue skies – You’ve probably seen video footage shot outdoors where the sky looks gray or even white. Adding a polarizer to your lens will block out the haziness of the sky and will intensify the blues, giving the sky a rich, natural look. You can rotate the polarizer to adjust the intesity of the color.
  • Reduces glare – If you’re shooting footage of a lake, river, or ocean, a polarizer will cut down on the amount of sun glare coming off the water, reducing intense highlights within the scene
  • Eliminates reflection – If you’re shooting through a window, or a car windshield, a polarizer will reduce reflection off the glass, allowing you to see through the window.
Scene without filter

Scene with polarizer filter

Top: Scene without filter, Bottom: Scene with polarizer filter. Photos from

3. Use Reflectors – Even if you can’t purchase large shiny boards or flex fills, sturdy foam core will do the trick. You can use the boards to reflect sunlight back toward your subject. Bear in mind that if you place your subject in the shade, you will have to contend with the contrast between the shaded foreground and sunlit background. If you expose for the background, your subject will be too dark. If you expose for your subject, the background will be over-exposed.

A shoot scheduled at the right time of day, coupled with a few well-placed reflectors and the utilization of lens filters will ensure great exterior footage, even with the smallest of crews.

Bookmark and Share