Lighting Series: LOW BUDGET, LOW KEY

Welcome to the first part of my new lighting series, where I focus on breakdowns and setups from past films and commercials.

First up is a scene from a feature I DP'd called 'Vote Debra Gray'.

This particular scene takes place in a dark, industrial space where an interrogation is taking place. We wanted to isolate the subject and make it feel as if he was alone and far away from anywhere or anyone safe and to do this I wanted to use high contrast, low key lighting. I'm a fan of this particular look and was eager to see what we could achieve with minimal resources.

Our location was the top floor in an old warehouse in Salford. This warehouse is populated with creative pods and a corner of the top floor had been partitioned off and isolated which gave us the middle of nowhere and far away from anything feel we wanted. Bare concrete floors also added to the industrial texture we were looking for.

To light this I wanted to keep it simple as we were shooting 2 different versions of the scene with multiple angles and make up changes so I didn't want to over complicate things for fear of continuity errors. Of course I have my light meter to help me, but just having one or two lights to think about meant we also had less setup time holding us back.

The first light to go up was an overhead spot, 2k Arri. This was our 'interrogation light', I would have left it at that but it was too low key and a second source was needed to bring some shape into the face. I decided on a kinoflo placed camera right as this was the direction from which the other characters entered. I could use it as an external source showing that there is something else close, but still out of reach for the main character.

This kino was used as a side light on the subject and gave me the high contrast I was looking for. For the close ups I only needed some white polyboard for fill to achieve the key to fill ratio I like and with such a simple setup wherever we positioned the subject later, it was easy to keep the ratios and look consistent.

Mike Staniforth Cinematography Manchester

I pre-visualised the scene in Cinema 4D, this gave me a pretty accurate example to show the director before we set foot on set. I then rendered a blueprint for my gaffer to ensure we were all on the same page before shoot day. 

That about wraps it up for part 1. Please let me know if there is any more info you would like me to include in the next part by leaving a comment or contacting me directly.

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