The Wandering DP Podcast: Episode #67 – Lighting on the Cheap


In today’s episode of the podcast we breakdown a recent tvc campaign where budget limited our resources and ultimately shaped the look and feel of the project.

We talk about techniques you can use outside to make sure you are getting interesting layers, how a good schedule can keep costs down, and how keeping it simple can be challenging

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The Commercial – Stills

This commercial was shot over two days and the brief required us to work very quickly.  We shot a big number of set ups and from a cinematography standpoint the main challenge was in keeping the look shaped and consistent.

The commercial was a series of moving portraits of young students.

The budget restrictions meant we had to work without a generator.  This severley limited our options but we knew this going in to the tech scout so we planned accordingly.  When budget and man power are fighting against you it is even more important to nail the scheduling to give yourself a fighting chance.

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The Lighting Breakdown

Image #1 Cheap Lighting:

We scheduled this shot first up on the day.  We didn’t want any hard shadows so we used the position of the pool to find a dark background then we used the ambient dawn sky to give us our overhead level.

The combination of soft sky light and dark background got us almost all the way there.  All we had to do was create a bit of contrast on the talent’s fill side with an 8×8 Black and then fill in the eyes with a 4×4 poly bounce.

Job done.


Image #2 Cheap Lighting:

This shot was a bit trickier.  We were under some tree canopy so we had to position the talent in a way to get just the right amount peaking through in the background.

We angled the talent so he got a bit of backy side light from the sun.  The light was too strong from the sun so we knocked it down and softened it to create the key from camera left.

Then we used the same floppy technique as in image #1 but we left a small gap at the back to let a bit of the ambient light leak through to separate his fill side cheek from the background.

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Image #3 – Cheap Lighting:

This was a classroom set up with white walls, ceilings, and even a white board.  To counteract all of the white we wrapped the entire fill side of the room in black.

Doing so sucked up all the ambient light.  We then put up a 12×12 textile loosely hung and put our biggest lamp (an M18) through it.  The key light was born.  It gave us a nice side-y wrapping light that wasn’t to soft.

For the background we knocked down the level by using 4×4 floppies to cut the light coming from the 12×12.


Image #4 – Cheap Lighting:

We shifted locations and were now in a house.  There was a set of double doors we wanted to key from.  We used the same m18 through a 8×8 of 1/4 grid to give us our key levels.

Then the pattern of contrast management repeated itself.  Get the key, bring in the floppies for fill side shadow, figure out an edge light, then finish up on the background.


Image #5 – Cheap Lighting:

This last image is an example of what to do in the worst light possible.  Front lit and overhead.

We started by finding an interesting background that had a bit of light and shadown to it.  Finding the background showed us the ambient we couldn’t control and let us know what we had to balance the key and fill to.

We brought in a 12×12 overhead to soften off the sun then again pushed in the 4×4 floppies in to provide some contrast.

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The Behind the Scenes – Lighting Cheap

The forest canopy location.

Episode 67-12

The pool location:Episode 67-13

Inside the classroom:Episode 67-14

Leica still as we are in setting up the classroom lights:
Episode 67-15

A wider look at the house location:Episode 67-16

Outside before the overhead shot of Image #5.Episode 67-17

The 12×12 edging in there as we set up the lighting for our soft overhead look.Episode 67-18

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6 Responses

  1. Santiago

    Is it realistic that you talk to Roger Deakins for the 100episode?
    Love the podcast!
    #Rogerforthe100th 🙂

  2. Julian

    Awesome episode! Very useful to me. Any quick notes on ND used? About to get a couple NiSi’s myself, but can only get 2 for now. Wondering what 2 I should get first to maximize functionality.

  3. Michael

    Great episode! Would love to watch the commercial if available!

  4. Tarik

    Great post! where were the floppies relative to the 12×12 in the classroom scene?