Tuesday, 24 May 2016

NIGHT SHOOTING : FILMING ON LOCATION AT NIGHT

Shooting at night s probably one of the toughest things you can attempt as a low budget filmmaker, this is because, no matter what you are shooting on, your camera needs a good amount of light to capture a good quality image. Shooting at night reduces your light sources drastically if you are shooting in urban areas and if you are shooting in the woods, the middle of country side or even somewhere that isn't usually accessed after dark it becomes even trickier business to get that light onto your cameras sensor.

One work around is to shoot 'Day for Night', which involves shooting the scene in sunlight (works best shooting on  cloudy/overcast day) and then grading in post to make the image look a little like twilight. I tried this early on when I started making films and really hated the results, I've always found it better to shoot in darkness and bring in whatever light I can. The result is always a far better image.

Having a budget usually solves this problem by hiring huge spotlights and generators to help make up for the lack of good light, but this is expensive and something that is usually saved for large budget productions. If you, like us, are usually make stuff on spit and buttons, then you'll need to come up with more creative solutions to work around your lack of light.

Here are 3 tips to help you get the most out of shooting at night and how to take that into account when you are looking for your location.

1. PICK YOUR LOCATION WISELY

The easiest way you can start to combat shooting at night is by picking your location wisely. A few years ago, when we were working on preproduction for Creepsville, I would wonder around at night looking for the best lit streets, alleys, carparks, you name it and once there I would look at how much light is already there from street lamps, security lights. Then I would look at what other extraneous light sources there were like shops signs, obviously the more light the better. This means less light I have to bring along with me, which in turns means less disturbing people and less drawing attention to yourself.

Legacy of Thorn (2014)
On Legacy of Thorn, when it came time to shoot the infamous 'bridge scene', I spent months looking for a bridge that we could shoot on without being disturbed that would also give us enough light to cover the action. The first one we tried, we scoped during the day, took note that it had street lights above it and figured it would give us enough light. On returning in the evening, not only did we find that most of the street lights were broken, but it was also a well known hangout for crackheads who made themselves a problem very quickly.

We eventually found something closer to home that fit perfectly and although it had some street lighting, we still had to make up the difference with our own portable flood lights.

 Get Legacy of Thorn on DVD and Digital HD now.
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2. PORTABLE LED LIGHTS

Chances are, if you are out shooting in the woods, on the street or in an abandoned factory at night, you're not going to have access to power. This always something I try to avoid, simply to make life easier for us and give us more freedom in lighting. However, if its not possible, we bring out the portable, rechargeable LED'S. These are bright flood lights that charge on the mains and give around 3 Hours + of continuous use and weigh next to nothing. They are fairly harsh, but used correctly (with gels or diffusion) are a great way to light dim sets when there is no good natural light. They cost around £45 each when I bought them in 2013, there are now better cheaper options out there too.


Cleaver : Rise of The Killer Clown (2015)
On shooting Cleaver : Rise of The Killer Clown, we were shooting a scene in a car, in the middle of the night, in a residential area. The last thing we wanted to do was pull a generator out there, or we certainly want to run cables across the road. The street lamps gave us some coverage, but nowhere near enough once our actress was in the vehicle. In stead we matched the street light colour on LED's with gels and just used whoever was free as light stands. It matched the natural light, but it gave us the extra light we needed to make the scene more visible.

Cleaver : Rise of The Killer Clown (2015)
These lights are great in place of having to drag a noisy generator down and even then it takes an expensive generator to run even our low wattage work lights, never mind our red heads or spotlights. Using these also means that should we need to, we can use a smaller generator to run other low power things like charging stations and smoke machines.

P.S. Before I could afford my own portable LED'S I made some for about £5/$7 each, find out how HERE.

3. FAST LENSES

One the best weapons to combat low light situations is using a fast lens on your camera. This is something that wasn't even really a choice when I started out filmmaking, if your camera's fixed lens sucked in low light (which they all did) then that was that. Now even the most inexpensive DSLR'S can capture great low light images with the right lens attached,  If you're shooting on an interchange lens system camera, you should try and have at least one fast lens that opens to at least f/1.8. This will help you get more light into your camera and make picking up a usable image just that little bit easier. Its best not rely on this, but it can give you that extra boost once you've done the above. There are also cameras like the Sony A7S/A7S2/A6300 that can shoot in incredibly low light with out damaging your image, but I still advise taking location and lighting into account even with miracle cameras like that available.

When shooting the infamous 'Bridge Scene' on Legacy of Thorn, even with choosing the best location for light and having the portables there, I still ended up shooting almost every shot on my Canon 50mm f/1.8 to get a better image. The downside of this is that the depth of the image was very shallow, but the upside was that I got a better image and because we were shooting in a wide open space it meant that the close focal length didn't impact what I wanted to get too much.

These days if we're shooting outdoors I try to plan my shots around the widest opening lenses that I have. Its not always possible, but its worth thinking about.

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MJ

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