Commercial Risks


I've a question about shooting a commercial at Dusk. Do you bring lights and pre-light it expecting to run out of light and having it end up being night, or accept that you've got a very short window of shootable light, and you may not get the take the director needs, and force production to schedule a second day.

I guess this really goes to how much risk as a D.P. you can take on a commercial. I recently shot a spec spot, and it came out great, and beautiful, ended up a stop and a half under by the last take, but it transferred beautifully (share credit with Tim Bond, the colourist here and throw some to Kodak's '45). However had it been a paying job, would it have been appropriate to risk it? What with the costs of having to do it again?

Looking for some input. I know that some members have some interesting stories about having to wait for the right light.


Steven Gladstone
Cinematographer - Gladstone Films
Cinematography Mailing List - East Coast List Administrator
Better off Broadcast (B.O.B.)
New York, U.S.A.

Shooting at dusk is one of those situations where having a camera operator really helps.

As a DOP (not operating) you can work very fast with your gaffer to get as much coverage as possible before the light goes.

Always remember wide shots then closer stuff with land or seascape behind then last shots can be close-ups looking up into the sky which stays brighter longer than thought. I would concur on the lighting package and having ND's and colors ready by each lamp, without it your window is very very tight.

I tend to require at least six scrims for each lamp, plus frames, plus CTB and CTO orange of all grades. the moment an electrician or grips is running to the truck for something you've lost the shot. Also light for five minutes ahead. Remember when the DOP says he is ready production has AT LEAST a five minute lag before action is called . Think ahead is the rule. shoot till its so dark you cant see anything. Warn the producers you are going to the limit and publicize the fact that you are taking risks and IRT may not work. Telecine will help a great deal. oh and enjoy the buzz

Mike Southon BSC

Mike Southon BSC wrote :

>I tend to require at least six scrims for each lamp, plus frames, plus CTB >and CTO orange of all grades.

The only reasons I prefer the ND gel frame method are twofold.

I find it faster with the ability to prep the next ND on a second frame. Getting 6 scrims into a head is nearly impossible, time consuming and creates a situation where the head can be moved off position. Even spring clamping them onto the ones in the head is clumsy. The gel in an open frame on a grip stand is quick and easy.

More importantly, anything over 2 metal scrims tend to start to change the quality of the light and has a strange, nearly polarizing effect. Try this by inserting several scrims into a head and then rotating one or two and notice how the light changes both in quality and output.

As we all realize, it is most important that we are well prepared for this feat and there is a very limited window of time. But everyone has their own method of accomplishing this quick change show and we need comfortable and confident with whatever preparations we take.

Best Regards,

Jim Sofranko

I have often lit with maxi's and Dino’s through big diffusion frames for MV's and commercials at dusk and sunset. The tungsten source exaggerates the blue of dusk and the use of these type of sources allow me to just turn bulbs off as the light drops.

David Waterston

On "Far and Away" Mikael Solomon (sp?) did the magic hour thing by coming back to the same place at the same time each evening to pick up where they left off the day before (the duel sequence). It was like having an extra long magic hour-course it must of been expensive. It was my swan song as an A.C.

Steve Slocomb
film/video shooter

David Campbell wrote :

>he ended with a Panavision 50mm T/1 prime the widest aperture lens

On a feature (Season of Change -with Michael Madsen) I shot up here several years ago, we ended each days shooting when outside using the Panavision 50mm f1 lens-wide open. One night the director insisted we keep going and it was almost totally dark. The assistant couldn't read the markings on the lens. We where up to a 2 stop push process and all the lights were visible in the distant houses by then. The stuff was unusable by that point of course, but it somehow made the director feel good that he tried.

BTW, another thing on Far and Away was that Mikael had all the foam core bounce cards painted a light shade of blue -----to better match open sky fill I presumed.

My friend Paul Ryan and also Haskell Wexler both shot second unit on “Days of Heaven” and I am sure their work must have contributed to the academy award that Nestor received.

Steve Slocomb
Looking Glass Films
video/film shooter
Big Sky country-Montana


I would have to ask if the producers are experienced and know the risks. So many things can ultimately delay you and prevent you from getting what you want.

The other issue is this: Will you be satisfied? Where I work, we've had to wait for the light many times. The only problem is that you get one shot at it and if you don't get it, the backlash from the producers is sometimes quite unpleasant. The crew wasn't fast enough, the AD scheduled to many shots, the director was unclear about what he wanted etc, etc.

If you have a good gig going and can afford the lighting, take it with you and be ready. Get your big wide shots as the light is perfect and any close ups can be matched with your lighting package. If the production needs to save money by losing the package and the techs that go with it, insist on a cover day in case something goes wrong.

Maybe I've become paranoid in recent years, but the finger of blame gets pointed way to often in the DP's or Gaffer's direction when it doesn't look right or doesn't get done.

Cover your ass!


Andrew Gordon
Regina, Saskatchewan

"...a question about shooting at dusk"

This one situation can really tax the most experienced DP. On big shows
they call it 'panic vision'.

Andrew Gordon's advice to get the wide shots first is good. To fake dusk for medium and close ups you need a few big silks and heavy bouncers. A small hard light can be sun.

Edwin Myers, Atlanta dp

Steven Gladstone wrote :

>I've a question about shooting a commercial at Dusk...

When I was a gaffer the trick was to do all the wide shots and save the close-ups for last as previously suggested. But inevitably, something takes longer and lighting becomes a quick balancing act for light intensity and color balance.

What we used to do to prepare for these situations is to have a full set of scrims for each light to progressively reduce the light level. This would be 2 full doubles and one single. Once you get to the point of the 2 doubles in the light, you're better off with ND gels. We would have two open frames with ND .15, .3, .6, 9 and 1.2 clearly marked and standing by to be clothes-pinned onto the frame. In addition we would have 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and full CTO clearly marked and standing by for each light. Most often the changes were for ND's and occasionally a 1/4 or 1/2 CTO. Two frames help as one can be prepped, while the other works, in order to make the change quicker.

The deal is to be thoroughly prepared to make the change quickly and most efficiently. Electricians and grips need to be standing by the lights to make the change.

Another suggestion is to measure and record the contrast ratios and color temps well before you get into this situation. Then just try to maintain the correct ratios. Be sure to include the ambient light reading and prepare a light if it seems as if it can be used when the ambient falls. The ambient light may often dictate and end the shoot when it falls below an acceptable level. Of course, many people change the ratios for close-ups and such but having the numbers is helpful especially for foreground/background such as sky. This situation is much more controllable if the sky is not in the shot.

Hope this helps. I find it very helpful to recall the tricks and share the techniques of dusk shooting with each other. Sort of refreshes the memory as often these shots can be far and few between shoots.

Best Regards,

Jim Sofranko

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