My Top Ten Pro Tips
1. Live View!
In scenarios where the set is dimly lit and I can’t see what the heck I’m focusing on, I use the live view function on my Canon camera to ensure the image is razor sharp. I activate the exposure simulation feature on the camera which enables the LCD to automatically adjust for greater visibility. If the scene is dark this feature brightens the screen so I can see what I’m shooting (Voila! Best auto function ever!). Live view is also especially helpful when I am I’m far away from the subject, I use the zoom feature to get in on my subject (smile for a close up!) for tack sharp focus.
2. Cord Control
Safety is a priority for every shoot, whether in studio or on location. Practice keeping cords grouped and neatly coiled while in use and in storage. This will help prevent you or any of the crew from getting caught up and tripping (possibly taking the light with you, eeek!). Properly coiled cords will ensure a long life and prevents dangerous electronic wire malfunctions.
There have been so many instances while on set where the supplier didn’t send all of the merchandise requested. The image may call for two lamps and we only get one (oy vey!). In order to meet the deliverable and ensure we have both lamps in the shot I wave my magic wand and boom! Plating! Here is the technique: get your final image composed using the one lamp (you may want to place a “stand in” lamp where the second one will be added to see what the light is looking like there) Get your final shot (without the “stand in” lamp) and then take a second image with the lamp placed in the second position. Bring the images into Photoshop and composite using masking so your final image has both lamps! Magic!
**I had to plate the mirrors in this image**
4. CYA Shots
When in doubt… cover your a@# The CYA shot comes in handy when there are questions about the final image ask. Work with your Art Director to capture a few versions of the image, that way the client has options. It is better to take a little extra time while the set is live than to schedule a reshoot (which can be costly).
5. Maximize your pack
If using power packs to light your set, be sure to maximize their potential and get the most out of each one. Know your pack settings by heart (every manufacturer is a little different) and how to split or distribute the power output. I try to be a minimalist on-set by bringing in only what is necessary, this way there is less clutter which means less to trip over (doh!)
6. Stay organized
Things move quickly during a shoot, people coming and going, Art Directors calling out changes and adjustments, stylists moving props around, and assistants coming and going with equipment. Sometimes it feels more like a fire drill than a creative endeavor! Keeping the area and equipment organized ensures you now where things are stored for quick maneuvers. If you have a new assistant be sure to get them acquainted with where equipment lives so they can quickly access without having to pull you off set to retrieve. This is especially important for location shoots, always have a designated area or truck for staging equipment.
7. When in doubt, look for inspiration
Have you ever had a scene or set where you said to yourself “how the hell am I supposed to light this?” I sure have! In situations like that I always seek out images that are similar to the shot with natural ambient lighting. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel! Use true to life lighting situations to guide you on how to build out your lighting schematic. Even if the client has brand standards that differ from the inspirational image, it will ultimately give you a foundation to start from.
8. Key it in!
The key is key! When lighting your scene, always start with the key light source. Get the light and exposure dialed in before bringing other lights or bounce fill to the equation. If you do not have the exposure right for your key, adding more variables into the scenario will compound the effect and make it really hard to have a successful image. Once the key source is set go ahead and bring in your fill. Typically I start with white v-flats (two 4x8 foot gator boards taped together) and if that doesn’t bounce enough light back into the scene I’ll bring in another light source. For each element I add to the lighting, I always make sure to get the exposure and rato right before moving on and adding more. It’s like a cake recipe, measure out your ingredients, mix, and bake! Did someone say cake?!
9. Stand alone test
As I approach completing a shot, I will look at my final composition and mentally break it apart. I ask myself “is there an area of this image that can not stand alone?” For instance, if I am capturing a table scape I’ll look at the florals and think “is the lighting arranged well enough, that if I cropped in, this could be a great stand alone image?” I work my way through the image and adjust where I see things falling flat (not enough dimension), too dark or light, distracting shadows, etc.