Category Archives: Lighting

DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

For German DP Markus Förderer, BVK, quickly developed an impressive resume of visually unique and critically acclaimed feature films. His feature film debut, Hell, earned Förderer a number of awards. He went on to shoot Mike Cahill‘s sci-fi drama, I Origins, which was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that with I Remember, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and won the 2016 German Camera Award for Best Cinematography.

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

His early work got him earmarked as one of Variety’s 2015 Up Next cinematographers. Most recently, Förderer collaborated with director Roland Emmerich on Stonewall and Independence Day: Resurgence and shot the pilot for Rise. He also recently shot the pilot for the highly anticipated sci-fi series Nightflyers by Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, setting the look for the show’s DPs Gavin Struthers and Peter Robertson.

We reached out to him about his work…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I was always fascinated by cinema and visual storytelling, watching movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien. David Fincher’s early films had a big influence on me. When I learned how to use Photoshop during my time in high school in Germany, a new world of possibilities opened up. I experimented with how to manipulate the mood of images by adjusting colors, brightness and contrast.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and access to digital images online was quite limited then. There were simply not many images in decent resolution and quality on the web for me to play with. This is why I started taking my own stills with an early digital camera. It was a Fujifilm camera that had a 1.3-megapixel sensor. Hard to believe from today’s perspective, but this camera opened my eyes to the world of photography, lighting and composition.

Nightflyers

I felt limited, though, by still images and became determined to become a filmmaker to tell visual stories. Before going to film school, I started reading about filmmaking techniques and interviews with famous DPs and directors and realized that it was the DP’s role that interested me the most — the creation of a certain mood and tone that helps to tell the story and puts the audience in the character’s shoes.

What inspires you artistically?
I am most inspired by reading the scripts and talking to the director. I think each project has to have its own visual identity, and for me it all comes from the script and the director’s initial ideas. Sometimes they come with crazy ambitious ideas, and I see it as the DP’s responsibility to figure out a way to make it work. I believe in naturalism; using single sources and available light whenever possible to create cinematic images that don’t feel overly stylized. New technologies sometimes spark ideas for new or more efficient ways to create interesting shots.

You’ve shot Meridian for Netflix as a test film for 4K and Megan as a concept film for 8K. What new technology has had the most impact on the way you work?
Shooting for HDR with high dynamic range sensors has a big impact on the way I light a scene. I think you can be more extreme and explore low-light photography with very rich detail in the blacks, for example. It is tricky, though, to shoot for SDR and HDR distribution at the same time. The viewing experience is vastly different, especially in extreme lighting scenarios, like very low light or very bright scenes.

Nightflyers

Exploring larger, high-resolution sensors, gives me more freedom when capturing extreme lighting conditions and preserving natural detail the way my eyes see it. Shooting with the right combination of low-contrast lenses with a high-resolution sensor gives me very natural detail in actors’ eyes. It is amazing how much of the performance can be seen in the eyes, when projected properly in 4K.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I think it is most important to create an environment of respectful and polite collaboration between all departments and crewmembers. Filmmaking is a team discipline and it shows if you listen to your crew’s input. I always try to listen closely to the director’s vision and find the right cinematic techniques to realize that vision.

However, following a storyboard or preplanned ideas step by step leads to a sterile movie, in my opinion. It is important to be prepared, but it is crucial to watch the actors carefully on the day and react to the rehearsal. The best days are the ones on which I was surprised by the performance of the actors in a way that inspired me to change the planned blocking and get to the core of the scene in a simple and elegant way.

I like to be surprised (in a good way) by the end results. There’s nothing more boring to me than watching dailies and having the images turn out exactly the way I imagined it beforehand. There is a richness in life that is hard to create in front of the camera, but it is always my goal to strive for that.

Nightflyers

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is great to get involved early on and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the director. Each collaboration is different, and it’s great to work with a director who trusts you and values your input, but I also love working with directors who have a very strong vision and have developed their own visual style over the years.

Tell us about Nightflyers. How would you describe the overarching look of the series pilot? Is there an example of a scene in the pilot that emphasizes this?
Nightflyers is a story about a spaceship and its crew on a very exciting mission to the edge of the solar system. The ship has very dark secrets that are revealed bit by bit. Director Mike Cahill and I focused on creating a specific atmosphere that is scary and leaves room for the audience’s imagination. It was important to us to avoid sci-fi clichés and rather focus on the characters and the way they experience the events on the ship.

The memory suite is an interesting example. It is a room that allows the crew to relive memories in a very visual way. The room by its design looks almost hostile. The first memory we experience, however, is very emotional, portraying the main character’s daughter. Mike was very specific with composition of these shots to create a sense of visual déjà vu, something we explored on a previous feature.

The framing of D’Branin’s character inside the memory suite and inside his memory is exactly the same. We replicated camera moves and used the same focal lengths. Every movement of the actors in the memory was staged, so we could recreate the same shots inside the spherical memory suite. At some point, the barrier between memory and reality starts to dissolve, and the contrast of the cold ship and the content of the memory start to collide in an interesting and scary way.

Nightflyers

How early did you get involved in the production?
Mike Cahill brought up the project quite early, and we flew to Ireland for an initial scout. The team there was fantastic, and everyone from the producers and network’s side wanted to create something really special. Production designer David Sandefur and his team designed amazing sets that gave us great flexibility to come up with interesting shots. This collaboration early on was crucial, as we integrated all the lighting into the ship. It had to be versatile enough to allow for different lighting scenarios for multiple episodes. My gaffer James McGuire did a fantastic job integrating miles of LED light strips. In the end, we could control it from his iPad, which would allow for last-minute tweaks without slowing down the shooting day for the actors and director.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Nightflyers?
For me, it usually starts with the lens. Mike and I love the claustrophobic look you can achieve with anamorphic lenses in small contained spaces, like a spaceship. We tested a small number of lenses that would give us the desired qualities, and we decided that Panavision’s C-Series lenses would be the right choice for this. Also, I have shot many projects on Red cameras over the years, starting back on the Red-MX sensor. I had tested the Monstro 8K VV sensor from Red and felt it would open up many opportunities with its larger sensor size and incredible sensitivity.

Panavision’s Michael Cioni showed me the latest advances in the DXL camera, and I was sold when I saw how well it sits on your shoulder. We shot a lot of handheld on the pilot and contrasted it with some smooth Steadicam and gimbal shots. The ability to shoot large format and capture amazing images in low light were key for us. We employed Panavision’s DXL and a Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for tight spaces and lightweight rigs.

Nightflyers

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Shooting the scenes in the biodome was quite challenging. The spaceship is carrying several cargo domes — one of them is a biodome with living trees and a small forest inside. The domes are spinning around the ship’s center to create artificial gravity. We shot the majority in a nearby forest and some shots on stage. To connect the biodome structure with the forest, our art department built an elevator exit and airlock in the forest. The scenes in the dome take place during the day close to earth. We tested many options for lighting, but I found it most interesting to shoot the scenes at night and light them with strong daylight sources to convey the illusion of being in space during the day.

The little atmosphere in the biodome would make the sky outside the windows appear black, yet the inside would be flooded with light. In order to convey the spinning motion of the domes, we mounted a 9K HMI on a telescopic crane and moved it constantly in a circular pattern. This caused the shadows in the forest to move around. It was quite an astonishing experience to be in that forest at night and hear all the birds chirping because they must have thought it was day all of the sudden.

What’s your go-to gear that you can’t live without?
I try to be open to new gear, and I like to mix things up quite a bit from project to project. I find it hard though to go back to shooting Super 35-sized sensors, after working with the Red DSMC2 Monstro; it hits quite a sweet spot between sensor size, resolution and compact size.

Review: Zylight’s IS3 LED lights

By Brady Betzel

I see a lot of footage from all over the world captured on all sorts of cameras and shot in good and bad lighting conditions. Besides camera types and lenses, proper lighting is consistently an area that needs the most attention.

If you troll around YouTube, you will see all sorts of lighting tutorials (some awful, but some outstanding) — some tutorials offer rundowns on what lighting you can get for your budget, from the clamp-style garage lights with LED bulbs that can be purchased at your local Lowe’s, a standard three-piece lighting kit, or even the ever-trendy Kino Flo lights. There are so many choices it’s hard to know what you should be looking at or even why you are choosing things like LED over tungsten or fluorescent.

In this review, I am going to go over the Zylight IS3/c LED light. The “c” in IS3/c stands for the Chimera softbox, which can be purchased with the light.

Recently, I have really been interested in lighting, and a few months back Zylight sent me the IS3/c to try out. Admittedly, I am not a world-famous DP or photographer with extensive experience in lighting. I know my way around a mid-level lighting setup and can get my way through a decent-looking three-light setup, so my apologies if I don’t touch on the difference between the daylight and tungsten foot candle output. Not that footcandles are not interesting subjects, but those can take a while to figure out and are probably best left to a good Lynda.com tutorial, or better yet a physics class on optics and lighting like the one I took in college.

Diving In
The Zylight IS3/c comes with the light head itself, Yoke bar with 5/8-inch baby pin-adapter, some knobs and washers, AC adapter and hanging pouch, safety cable, guide and the Chimera softbox (if you purchased the IS3/c package). Before reading the manual, which would have been the proper thing to do, I immediately opened the box and plugged in the light. It lit up the whole interior of my house at night — think Christmas Vacation when Clark plugged in the Christmas lights (good movie). I saw, in one second, how I could immediately paint a wall (or all of my walls) with the IS3.

The beauty of LED lights is that they are typically lightweight and some can reproduce any color you can dream of while staying cool to the touch. So I wanted to see if I could paint a 15-foot wall chromakey green. With little effort I switched into color mode by flipping the rocker switch on the back of the light, turned the Hue knob until I hit green, and adjusted the saturation to 100% to try and literally paint my wall green with light. It was pretty incredible and dead simple.

The IS3 has a 90-degree beam angle on center with a 120-degree beam angle total (I found multiple specs on this like 95/115-degree beam angle, so this is approximate), has a power consumption of 220 watts max, can be purchased in black and white and is made in the USA. The IS3 has two presets for white light and two presets for color. In white mode the IS3 can output any color temperature between 2500K and 10,000K. The Kelvin range is adjusted in 50K steps. Because LEDs are known for giving off a green tint, there is an adjustment knob to lower or raise the green adjustment. There is also a dimmer knob that allows for dimming with little color shift. In color mode, there are three adjustments: hue, saturation and dimming.

One of the big features among IS3 lights, and Zylight lights in general, is the built-in wireless transmitter that can talk to the Zylink bridge and Zylink iOs app. You can link multiple lights together and control them simultaneously. With the iOs app you can set hue values and even color presets like crossfade, strobe, police and flame. You can run the Zylight by either the AC adapter or rechargeable battery. The outside of the light is built sturdy with a rubberized front and a metal back that doubles as heat dissipation as well. In addition to the Zylink wireless connection, you can use the DMX connection to connect to and control the Zylight.

In the end, the Zylight IS3/c is the soft light as well as wall wash light that I’ve been dreaming of. I was even thinking I could use the IS3 as Christmas lights. I could get a couple IS3s to paint the house red and green.

The Zylight is as easy to configure as any light I have ever used; unfortunately the price doesn’t match its ease of use. It’s pricey. The IS3/c is currently listed on Adorama.com for $2,699, and just the IS3 is $2,389. But you get what you pay for — it’s a professional light that will run 50,000 hours without needing calibration, it weighs 11 pounds and measures 18.5” x 10.75” x 1.9” — and you will most likely not need to replace this light.

If you run a stage show and need to control multiple lights with multiple color combinations quickly, the Zylink wireless bridge and iOs app may be just for you.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

DigitalGlue 3.7

Rotolight Anova Pro LEDs shipping with updated feature set

The Anova Pro, from British LED lighting company Rotolight, is now shipping with an enhanced feature set for use in studios and on location. Featuring five patented effects, the Anova Pro includes CineSFX, which provides customizable cinematic lighting, including common effects like fire, lightning, TV, film, neon and spark simulation, and more novel effects, such as police, paparazzi and gunshot visual effects. CineSFX can now be used with a wired remote trigger for wireless as well.

The light also includes FX Slave, enabling CineSFX effects to be slaved to up to 512 third-party light sources in realtime with zero latency; True Aperture Dimming, which calculates and displays F-stop for a subject at a given distance; Designer Fade, which provides custom fade up/down production effects; and High Speed Sync Flash, providing a powerful HSS flash with zero recycle time at 150 percent of the maximum continuous light output for traditional photographic workflows.

DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, on set, with the Rotolight, and his dog!

Recently, DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, (Ray Donovan, Elementary, House) met a long-term goal using a Rotolight system. “I’ve often spoken of simplicity of image creation and had wished to do a feature with just one light and one lens. Of course, this seldom happens, but I was given the encouragement to do just that on an independent feature, Trouble Sleeping. I chose the Rotolight system to pursue this goal for it had proven to me that it could accurately reproduce the color and power that I needed.

“It survived the rough handling of the everyday professional production crews who have very little time to ‘baby’ any equipment, and it was easily controllable from the back of the unit or from my iPhone,” he continues. “LED lighting is also very tough on actors’ eyes, but Rotolight has found a way of filtering that notch of blue wavelength that is harsh and difficult on the eyes. My crew was also pleased with how easily controlled and mounted the units are.”


Review: Polaroid’s GoPro 3-way stabilizer and 350 LED light

By Brady Betzel

We’ve all seen the trend: technology has started to take off exponentially and give everyday people access to professional-level equipment and software for semi-affordable prices. It also allows professionals to capture images in a way they might not have considered in the past.

For example, you can buy a GoPro Hero4 and create your own stunning timelapses in 4K, or even add dramatic lighting to your independent Etsy-style boutique iPhone photos for a few hundred bucks. Something I find infinitely valuable is the ability to watch other people’s successes, failures and instruction on YouTube for free. What I’m trying to say is that with a few affordable pieces of production gear, you can take average looking footage or stills to the next level.

A few months ago I saw a press release for a 3-axis GoPro gimbal and a high-powered, dimmable LED light made by, of all companies, Polaroid! I was immediately interested, mainly because I chase my sons around with a GoPro and get shaky footage that makes my professional video editor brain cringe — don’t even get me started on the lighting!
Polaroid was nice enough to send over some sample products that I have started to fall in love with — not only for the technology they pack but for the price they sell for.

Stabilizing Your GoPro
Up first in this two product review is the Polaroid Handheld 3-Axis Electronic Gimbal Stabilizer for GoPro Hero 3/3+/4 Action cameras. For months I had seen examples of gimbal stabilizers for the GoPro, but was always left second-guessing an over-$300 price tag for an accessory that was basically the same price as the main camera itself. Then I saw that Polaroid’s stabilizer cost $180 (with free shipping on Amazon) and realized that this technology wasn’t out of my price range anymore.

I opened the slick packaging and charged the three proprietary batteries for an hour. I was pleasantly surprised that I was ready to fly around. To strap your camera to the stabilizer there are two options: with the GoPro LCD Bacpac attached or without the LCD Bacpac. It’s a little clunky to outfit your stabilizer for the GoPro without the Bacpac (i.e. the GoPro Hero 4 with built in LCD), but once you are thumb-screwed into place, your camera isn’t going anywhere. One thing I learned was that you must start the stabilizer on a level surface like a tabletop. So place it on the handle on a level surface, push the power button on the handle and let the stabilizer balance itself for a second or two.

Putting the GoPro on the stabilizer wasn’t as easy as I thought it should have been, but it only took 10 minutes, so not all that life-altering. In addition, strapping the GoPro to the stabilizer is a semi-permanent thing, as it involves thumbscrews. On the bottom of the stabilizer there is a threaded ¼-inch mount that can be used to attach to a tripod or monopod. I even tried it out on a tripod, using two of the legs as my fulcrum points and creating a pseudo jib to get some real long and smooth tilts with the GoPro and it was pretty fun.

I had both a GoPro 3 and 4 lying around so I tried both, and they fit snugly. One complaint I had was that the ring used to secure the GoPro to the stabilizer goes around the lens and feels real tight — I had to twist and turn to get it on which left me feeling like I might rip my lens off — but it is definitely secure when it is screwed on. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing and I would be hard pressed to find anything in the GoPro Hero 3/4 stabilizer category that is so low priced.

To test it out I told my son Atticus to get on his bike and ride. I ran after him with little to no training other than spinning around the garage a little bit. You can check it out on YouTube.

I started off walking but then picked up speed and ran a little (if you call that running). With GoPro videos, you definitely get better quality footage with good lighting and as little bouncing around as possible. The more stable your footage the less work the compression has to do, which basically means better detail and color fidelity in your video.

It doesn’t take long to get a handle on the 3-axis electronic stabilizer; it just takes a little practice time and patience to get the moves and footage you want. You’ll find out which ways the gimbal will and, more importantly, will not go when it starts to shake and go a little crazy (not limited to just this Polaroid stabilizer). This is a great accessory for anyone using GoPros in their work, and at under 10 inches long it can fit in a backpack when you go hiking! It gives you a real smooth and epic feel to your otherwise shaky action footage, and like I said, for $180 it’s a great price.

Dimmable Super Bright LED
Up next is the Polaroid 350 High-Powered Variable Dimmable Super Bright LED Light with Barn Door. After I played with the GoPro gimbal I saw that Polaroid also made lighting equipment that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and could really pump up my iPhoneography. What really got me thinking was the cold shoe adapters on top of my iPhone iOgrapher. The iOgrapher is a way to help stabilize your iPhone footage while adding options like tripod mounts, cold shoe adapters for accessories and even handles to even out your shaky footage. So why not use the iOgrapher mounts with the Polaroid 350 to make some stunning footage?

good lighting shotIf you’ve ever shot video or stills with your iPhone you know that you can get some incredible images. With the right lighting and stabilization, you can achieve looks that rival many professionally shot television shows airing today.

Earlier I mentioned an Etsy-like photo, and I really meant that you could bring your photos and video up to a pro level with just the addition of lighting. My wife recently got a lot of people asking her to make hair bows and bowties, so she opened an Etsy store. She had been taking photos with her iPhone 6s+ and they were good, but when we created a DIY lightbox (from instructions we found on Pinterest) and added the Polaroid 350 light her pictures really started to get that professional feel.

It was truly amazing at how improved the quality and most of all the color fidelity was just from using a little light. You can check out her Etsy store.

The Polaroid 350 is very easy to use. Inside the box you will find the physical light head, two lithium-ion type batteries (think older Sony camcorder batteries), a dual battery charger, swivel head mounting adapter, barn door with diffusion filter, carrying case, AC & DC adapter, UK- and EU-style plug adapters and a little manual. I let the batteries charge overnight, put them both on the back of the light and began lighting my wife’s bows and bowties.

I immediately noticed some lines on my wife’s pictures; it looked like something out of “Stranger Things” was going on. So I quickly ran out of the house… well, maybe not, but we added the diffusion and noticed a drastic diminishment of the line pattern. Later when we created the DIY lightbox with some tissue paper as diffusion we noticed the light pattern disappeared. We played around with the rotary knob that let us smoothly change the color temperature from a warm 3200 degrees Kelvin up to a cool 5600 degrees Kelvin, and the flicker-free LED brightness that goes from 10% up to 100%. Other than that the Polaroid light was an awesome way to add a level of professionalism to our iPhone footage and stills for $160.

There are a few other versions of this light offered by Polaroid, like one with an LCD monitor on the back to see the exact color temperature and battery-life left but you also pay an extra $20. There are a few versions under the $160 price tag, but a dual-battery operated light is really key when doing a lot of work without the want or need to stop a shoot and swap out batteries. I do wish I had two more lights to create a three-point lighting set-up!

Summing Up
In the end, I was really impressed with both of Polaroid’s products that I was testing, the Polaroid 350 LED light and the Polaroid Electronic GoPro 3-way Stabilizer. I was even more impressed with the prices!

The stabilizer really adds a smooth high-level production value to the GoPro. It is simple to set up, easy to use and with practice you will get some amazing GoPro shots. The Polaroid 350 LED light with variable color temperature and brightness along with dual battery ports really makes a shot jump off the screen. If you’ve never used external lighting in your shots before, now is the time.

Pick yourself up a Polaroid 350 LED Light — it is a portable, dimmable and lightweight LED powered light that will relieve the strain on your camera and give you more flexibility in post production (your colorist will thank you).

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.