Roll Your Own Lighting

Recently, I had the chance to work with a client who needed someone to shoot "around" a film they were producing to promote FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a program that introduces kids to the world of technology through robotics. The client has been an ardent supporter of the program, both through generous financial contributions as well as employees donating their personal time to help mentor the kids. It probably goes without saying that it was a great experience to be around all of that positive energy. Everyone, kids and mentors alike, seemed to genuinely enjoy the entire process, shrugging off the long hours after class (and work).

The film crew was shooting over a Friday and Saturday, and I was tasked with getting what I could around them. Sure, the objectives for the still images went deeper than that, but it was clear that the main thing was the film crew’s needs, and rightfully so. They had a big crew, a ton of equipment, and very specific goals. My directive was more along the lines of "Let’s stay out of the way and try to get something for social media. And if we can’t grab images that align with our style guide for other assets, so much the better."

As you might expect in an older high school, the lighting was all over the place. We alternated between an old-school (ha!) shop area with about 14 different eras of fluorescent tubes hanging high overhead, a small space outside for testing robots, and the bane of public schools everywhere—a portable classroom. There were enough different light temperatures and fast enough changes that I just stuck my camera in auto-white balance mode and went for it. Even so, with guidance from the art director, we were able to capture still images that conveyed what the people and the program were about, all without getting in the way of the film crew’s work—win!

Towards the end of day one, while we were beginning to wind down and the film crew was really cranking, I thought of something. Not really knowing what to expect ahead of time (I had gotten the call literally the day before the gig), I had brought along a C-stand, an Einstein, a Vagabond Lithium Extreme, and an Octobox—just in case. The film crew had set up in a classroom within the larger shop area and were bringing students and mentors in one by one to capture testimonials about the FIRST program. While they were in there, they were running subjects through a light hair and make up touch. So, what if we set up and lit the scene ahead of time in a spot where we can catch folks on their way out of the filming area as they made their way back to the portable classroom? Essentially, a quick environmental portrait station. The art director was game and willing to be my test subject to help nail down light placement and exposure. I decided to have the kids and mentors hop up and sit on a big work bench so lighting and the background would remain relatively consistent from subject to subject, no matter their height.

The next day, we set up again and finished getting the people who weren’t available Friday, then we decided to light a scene or two with a couple of students, a mentor, and the robot that had been used in competition the year before. The idea was to get the light set up and out of the way, then dial in on the people in the scene. The client was happy with the results, eventually using one of the shots for a print ad.