Lighting Series: Kino flo's, light levels and noise

Next up in the lighting series I'm looking at another scene I shot in the feature film 'Vote Debra Gray'.

Vote Debra Gray was a low budget feature I shot in October 2016. Shot on RED and with a small crew and planning was key to making the most out of what we had. This particular location was in the methodist church building in Northern Quarter, Manchester.

This building had another location inside we were using, so we thought it would be best to try and find a suitable room for this scene that was pretty much the backbone of the film. Having two locations under one roof meant we could block the shoot days together and keep bits of kit secure there over night.


The scene in question see's our protagonist coming to terms with his loss and discussing the knock on effect of his actions to a politician on the phone. This conversation is an insight into the psyche of our subject and gives us the backstory to all the characters. As with the interrogation scene (see here), we wanted to show the characters vulnerability and how alone he is, not only in the room he was in, but also in his mind. I worked closely with the director and art department to make sure we were all on the same page with the look we were going for, de-saturated and muted colours. There is no timestamp on this movie, but it looks like something you'd see on Cracker in the early to mid-nineties.

The director gave me some references to go off for this particular look. It needed a de-saturated, cold, bleak type of feel. Our character was alone and hiding; against the rest of the world almost. Muted colours were used by art department, dark blues and reds. Single light source to help with contrast on the face. Getting all these things right in pre-production, then we get to push and pull the look in post as much as we want. At no stage did we ever consider that we can fix anything in post, just that we can modify what we decided on.


The room we found was a combination of decent sound proofing and location in relation to the sun. We wanted natural light but no direct sunlight as we were in there for long days and dramatic light changes were not needed, something very common in the UK with the ever changing weather.. The room was not very exciting, it was a standard square room with two windows on one wall and a door on the opposite wall.


With minimal space and resources, we needed to keep this scene looking as natural as possible. The only light in this room was coming from the two windows; there were no practicals as this was a hiding place for our main character.

To start we completely blocked out the windows. As we were there all day, blocking out the natural light and replacing it with something controllable meant we didn't have to worry about any fluctuations in the levels of light. The space was tight and on the 3rd floor of the building, so no room for any sort of bounce or budget for a condor outside. A couple of kino's placed inside the window frames would work fine and the soft light would look great as our side light and get the lighting ratio I like to work with.

Even with the kino's in the window, the light levels were not high enough to keep the noise in the RED Dragon at an acceptable level. So we bounced one of our 2k's into the ceiling just to lift it enough.

Even though our space was tight, the peewee dolly still managed to squeeze in and give us some movement in the scenes.


I just want to touch a little on exposing with the RED Dragon. I've shot with the RED quite a bit in the last 12 months, but never in situations with such low light. So it did surprise me at how much noise you get when recording in RAW's native ISO of 800. If you expose in RAW, you might think your image looks fine, your histogram levels look good, goal posts are non-existent (or at least at an acceptable level), but get the R3D files on your computer and suddenly you're faced with some pretty ugly looking noise in the darkest areas of your image.

I know this because I made the mistake of overestimating how much I could push those shadows in post. To get through shooting in low light, I suggest not judging the levels on your camera in RAW, but with a LUT on. That way you can adjust your ISO to 320 and then read the levels on the RED screen, if your goal posts are clean at ISO 320 with the LUT ON, then you're going to be a lot happier when you get those R3D's in your NLE later.

Don't be worried about too much light in your scene; as long as you keep your ratios consistent, bringing it down in post is going to get you cleaner results than increasing the exposure. At least that has been my experience with the Dragon sensor.


Again, I used Cine designer to help with the planning. I'd already got the measurements of the room from the recce, all ready pretty much decided how to approach the lighting in the room. Put all the data into C4D and then saw what was feasible and what wouldn't work out. Bigger budget, bigger lights on a condor outside. So drawing up alternatives in the software before hand helped immensely with the flow of the day. Finding the correct placement for the setup was all done inside the software, down to the placement of the subject and the props. This saved a day of pre-production. Instead of going in to set up and decide on the placement, I did it within C4D with the hep of cine designer.

Mike Staniforth Previs Manchester UK
Mike Staniforth Previs Manchester UK

That just about wraps up this breakdown, remember to leave a comment either on here or on Facebook if you feel I have missed any information you feel needs including. I am also looking for feedback to better improve this series.

Follow me on Facebook here and Instagram here.

Also, please consider supporting me on Patreon so I can continue improving these blog posts. I have plans to release some how-to lighting videos in the coming months. There is a lot more in the pipeline and with your support I can get this content out at a more consistent rate.