Posts Tagged ‘tone’

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.

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Help Your Editor – Tape Preparation

Monday, May 11th, 2009

It can be incredibly monotonous to sort through raw footage, especially if the director of photography has failed to properly prep and label the tapes. Imagine sitting at your work station trying to organize footage that has broken time code, mismatched labels (or worse yet, no labels at all), or labels with incredbily vague information (like “Tape 1.”) Any good cinematographer should always think of the editor when prepping for a shoot. It will make post-production a much more efficient process. Here are some important tips to remember:

  1. Pack Each Tape – When you unwrap a brand new tape, fast-forward all the way to the end, then rewind all the way to the beginning. This method of “packing” the tape is much like an athlete stretching before an event. It will help prevent drop-out and digital artifacting.
  2. Stripe Each Tape – Pop the tape into the camera and roll about 15-30 seconds of color bars and 1KHz audio tone. This will help the editor calibrate his/her equipment before capturing the footage.
  3. Label Each Tape – It’s amazing how often people simply forget to label the tape, or they neglect to put enough information on the label. Always label both the case and the tape itself. On the label I like to write the client’s name, the project name (and a project number, if applicable), the date, and the tape number.
  4. Preset the Timecode – Set the “hours” mark of your timecode to correspond with the tape number. Tape #1 should be, “1:00:00:00,” Tape #2 should be, “2:00:00:00,” and so on. That way, when the editor is looking at the footage in studio, he/she can tell instantly from which tape a particular scene came. Also, if someone ignores tip #3, an editor will know instantly what number tape he/she has in the deck.

Video Production is a collaborative process and a professional courtesy is always appreciated.

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