September 29, 2014

Case Study: Lighting for Commercials

Lighting for commercials

About 2 months ago, I had the opportunity to work on four very different commercials, within about a 1-month span. Two fashion spots, one spot for Sesame Street and finally a sneaker commercial with a cross marketing twist. I found these four commercials very interesting as they were each so different. Different styles, directors, locations and circumstances. It was really fun to shoot with so much variety.

Lets take a look at the lighting setups for each. We'll start with the first fashion spot.

1: “Ties That Bind”

For Bradford and Young, Luxury accessory maker; directed by Jennifer Massaux

Shot on Alexa Studio with Zeiss Super Speed MK I lenses. This is the Alexa with the optical viewfinder and Spinning mirror shutter.  It’s wonderful having an optical viewfinder, feels so much better than an EVF.

This shoot really is a great culmination of many elements. We shot in the Presidential suite of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with Victoria’s Secret model Sarah Stephens. How could we go wrong? Beautiful talent, beautiful location, beautiful camera and lenses.  Jennifer, our director, is one of the fastest and best prepared directors I have had the pleasure of working with. She got access to the location weeks before the shoot, and shot an iPhone previs with Artemis shot by shot, then animated it so it had a sense of pacing. This meant that I had the advantage of being able to know exactly how long each shot needed to be. Thus, we could focus on making each of those moments as perfect as possible. The catch on this shoot was the fact that we only had 6 hours to shoot the whole thing, load in to tail lights. Having concise shots, and frames already established just let us focus so intensely on exactly what we needed and nothing else. I used the latitude of the Alexa to its fullest using the natural sunlight, and shaping the contrast in the room with black floppies and a 1.8K ARRI M18 with a Chimera as selective fill.

Take this shot for example:

Credit: Timur Civan

The main ambient is sunlight, with a side kick from the M18. Lighting Diagram from below. I rated the camera at 800, and then dropped in an ND .9 and on some shots an ND .3 to keep the lens around a T2.8. There was also a 1/8th Hollywood Black Magic Filter in play as well as a 1/4 Pearl Filter. The HBM filter is a combination of 1/8th Classic HD Soft, and 1/8th Black Promist. It softens the already soft highlights, and helps keep the models skin looking completely flawless. The pearl filter is similar to the Blackmagic, but includes white diffusion, making it glow a bit. The Pearl was used in the bedroom; the HBM was used in the darker scenes.

Credit: Timur Civan
Credit: Timur Civan
Credit: Timur Civan
Credit: Timur Civan

I am very happy with how this piece came out. It goes to show, putting amazing things in front of the camera is far more important than the camera itself.

Tom Wong IATSE lcl600 DIT did the grade in DaVinci. He is a stellar colorist, and really knocked it out of the park.

Credit: Timur Civan

In reality this was a fashion shoot, but it was 90% beauty, the direction I really want to go in.

2: “Fall Fashion”

For HSN; directed by Little Marvin

This was more or less a classic commercial. Big studio, big lights, crafty table, canvas chairs and 10 monitors -- 

Over the course of the last few years, the Home Shopping Network has been trying to freshen up their look while retaining their signature style. The challenge on this shoot was time management. We had three models, and 10 looks each, all shot in 60Fps 6K HD. It worked out to about 15 minutes per look, and we had 30 looks to get in the can. We shot 27 128GIG mags that day. 3 TB of footage.  The only way we’d make it out alive was to have our media workflow down pat. I purchased a USB3 Redmag reader, and two 4TB G-RAID thunderbolt HDDs daisy-chained to my MacBook. I had to use my own computer cause I know it worked; I had ample time to test it. Each card was offloaded and double backed up in 21 Minutes. It fit perfectly in the 10-hour day. It worked out to about 3 cards per hour, and the loader was running cards back the instant they came out of the camera. The RED mags were hot when they left the camera and still warm when they came back.

The director Little Marvin (that's his legal name) asked for a contradiction -- He wanted a soft, yet hard light. I knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted a Briese light look. However, there were none in Tampa at the time. So, I did my best to improvise. I used a single source 10k Fresnel, pushed it through a 4×4 frame of 250 Diffusion with a 1ft hole in the middle, and over that hole I had the gaffer tape a scrap of opal diffusion. Then, that was cut into the vignette you see by taking two 4×8′ black foamcore boards with two semi circles cut into the center, when placed side by side it creates a circle about 6 feet across. That was placed just out of frame, and the result is a small bit of hard light punching through the opal, mixed with the broad soft light of the 250 around it, then cut into a theatre spot light like circle by the foam core. (See below for a diagram.) You get the clarity and specular highlights in jewelry, while still being kind to the model. In fact, I find hard lights on truly beautiful faces accentuate the features. Just look to old Hollywood. Softer lighting is kinder to faces that are not “perfect”, though still looks great on anyone.

Credit: Timur Civan

Credit: Timur Civan
Credit: Timur Civan

I rated the V2 OLPF RED Epic Dragon at ISO 800 and used a Formatt 1/2 CTB filter in the matte box. (Read more about why I used the Blue filter here.) I also installed a Red Cine X replication of Juan Melara’s KODAK 2393 LUT. We shot on a Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 and I allowed the image to slightly overexpose. The dragon has so much dynamic range I was never in danger of clipping the skin tones. I did this to help soften the skin. As the LUT compressed the highlights, it flattens out the brighter tones, in effect clarifying the variations in the models skin. Plus since we were using a single source, it helped me get a bit extra light into the shadows to retain a bit of the information.

I find the RED Dragon sensor to behave much more like photochemical film than video. It's much more “Alexa” than MX chip. Its dynamic range is way up top. Especially with the new V2 OLPF. Just like 35, the best way to get a thick negative is to open up a half stop or stop, then “print” down in development. Or in the Dragon’s case, RCX.

The nearly 15 hours of footage boiled down to what you see. A 30 second spot

3: “Come Play”

For Sesame Street; directed by Koyalee Chandra

I have had the fortune to shoot a full on broadcast spot for Sesame Street. It was for their new show in an after school time slot.

The main challenge on this shoot was working with the Muppets; there are so many constraints to framing, camera height and special needs to the Muppeteers. That said, Koyalee, our director, envisioned a moving camera, and some “stunts” -- This means special setups. My favorite thing in the world!!! We built for the shots of Grover a dual dolly that moved together, parallel, so the Muppeteers could operate Grover on one dolly with their monitors and tools, while the camera was bolted to that dolly on a perfectly parallel track with speed rails, and the camera can maintain the appropriate frame.

We shot in Carroll Park in Brooklyn. The day was sunny, and utilising the dynamic range of the Dragon (I keep talking about it because it's such an important and freeing aspect of the camera), all we needed was a bit of fill light bring up the character, without having to worry about a forest of flags and nets. Outdoors in direct sun, a 4K par HMI with 1/4 CTO and some opal diffusion provided us with enough punch to lift the shadows against a back lit sun. The highlight retention keeps the image looking natural, while saving us time and effort. We planned the day so that as the sun moved across the sky, we shot the different pieces so all the scenes were back lit then filled in, maintaining a consistent look, despite a constantly changing sky.

Credit: Timur Civan
Credit: Timur Civan

 We shot with a custom look, based on REDLOGFILM that I built in RCX to give the post team a nice starting place from which to work. A simple 709 look.

I enjoyed the technical challenge of making simple camera moves cater to the complexity of working with the Muppets.

4: “TMNT Crossover Shoe”

For FILA; directed by the Diamond Brothers

(Shot on RED Dragon V1 OLPF (for low light sensitivity) with Fujinon Cabrio and Duclos 11-16.)

This was my first Shoe commercial. Working again with the Diamond Bros., we had a very fun shoot, albeit short cause the final spot is only 15 seconds. We needed the look and feel of Sodium vapor lamps, so we used a 9K Maxi Brute, placed relatively far from the set, at the same height as the actual streetlights on the street we shot on. This ensured the angle, and shadows would fall naturally, while giving us the output we needed to achieve the slow motion shots and wide shots equally well. I skinned the Maxi in Urban Vapor 2, a somewhat green/yellow gel that matches Sodium vapor while maintaining a degree of color accuracy. Roger Deakins used these gels on Tungsten lights for In Time to make the film feel like Los Angeles at night. It pays to read American Cinematographer; it's full of great information. For the overhead shots we rigged the camera to the Condor, and raised it up to the appropriate height with a “grip saver” offset.

Credit: Timur Civan

(Again, sorry for the lack of pictures of the setups -- damn phone.)

The Condor was then repurposed to a lighting platform after that shot was completed. To prevent too many shadows from crossing the set at various intensities, we black wrapped the streetlights selectively to build the ambient light level we wanted, and it really helped to balance the scene. We also used the Low Angle Prism again, to get the camera appear to be nearly floor level for the dolly shots and shoe shots. I love shooting night exteriors; sadly we had to buy stock footage of the city for the night aerials. Budget didn’t allow for a chopper shoot.

All in all it was a crazy few weeks, but I got to try so many new tools, techniques and lighting styles.

Thanks for reading!


[This article was originally published on Timur Civan's website.]     

UPDATE: we had to remove one of the commercials as the client did not want any BTS details shared. Sorry!

Your Comment

63 Comments

Great post! More articles like this, please. Very informative!

September 29, 2014 at 9:04AM, Edited September 29, 9:04AM

11
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Ditto. Short sharp, informative. Thanks for pulling this together TC.

September 29, 2014 at 9:06AM

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Robin Schmidt
Director
285

Agreed, thanks for sharing all this info!

September 29, 2014 at 9:08AM

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Jack Hextall
Videographer
159

Timur, this was awesome. Thanks for putting this together and sharing.

September 29, 2014 at 9:24AM, Edited September 29, 9:24AM

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David S.
2975

amazinggg...

September 29, 2014 at 9:52AM, Edited September 29, 9:52AM

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fernanda ciribelli
video editor
1

Great post. Love seeing stuff break down the process. Nice and punchy. More like this please!

September 29, 2014 at 9:56AM, Edited September 29, 9:56AM

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Ben Howling
Writer / Director
656

Brilliant post - plenty of food for thought. Thanks!

September 29, 2014 at 10:08AM, Edited September 29, 10:08AM

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Sean Breathnach
Writer\Director\Editor
88

Uowww!
MORE articles like this please!!!
Thanks.

September 29, 2014 at 10:20AM, Edited September 29, 10:20AM

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theuerweirich@me.com
Director of Fotography
322

Gem of an "Article" more like a free online workflow session/tutorial/lecture

September 29, 2014 at 10:32AM, Edited September 29, 10:32AM

2
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Timur very impressive stuff and thanks for sharing. How did you get install the Kodak LUT into RCX? I've been using it in Davinci, but DEB has become part of my workflow and I would like to keep more in R\CX.

September 29, 2014 at 11:12AM, Edited September 29, 11:12AM

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Indie Guy
830

great work...great article and a great community...keep it coming...we love it!

September 29, 2014 at 12:02PM

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Drazen Stader
Director, director of photography
223

Someone made an .RDM emulation. Its pretty close. But no secondaries. Still looks great.

September 29, 2014 at 12:31PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

Amazing post!! Very informative and well structured. Thanks a lot Timur!

September 29, 2014 at 11:30AM, Edited September 29, 11:30AM

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A lot of good tips... This post it's wonderful. :D

September 29, 2014 at 12:03PM, Edited September 29, 12:03PM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7535

Glad you guys liked it.

Thank you for the kind words.

September 29, 2014 at 12:30PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

I think Im in love with that actress. She is stunning!

September 29, 2014 at 12:34PM, Edited September 29, 12:34PM

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Caleb Rasak
Camera Operator / AC
360

Sarah Stephens. Victorias Secret model.

September 29, 2014 at 1:01PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

Fantastic write up! These are the kind of articles I come to NFS for!

September 29, 2014 at 12:38PM, Edited September 29, 12:38PM

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Alex Enman
Filmist/Colormaker
290

Fantastic article, this is the type of stuff we want to see :)

September 29, 2014 at 12:39PM, Edited September 29, 12:39PM

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Vladimir Druts
Founder & Director at Intangible.co
293

Best article on the NoFilmSchool.com in long time. Great breakdowns and insight.

Thanks Mr. Civan!

September 29, 2014 at 1:14PM, Edited September 29, 1:14PM

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Jesse Tobler
Cinematographer/AC/Editor
89

Great Job Timur!!! Thank you for sharing!!! :)

September 29, 2014 at 1:17PM, Edited September 29, 1:17PM

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Kevin Davidson
Director / Cinematographer / Editor
130

Really enjoyed this article.

September 29, 2014 at 1:27PM, Edited September 29, 1:27PM

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Alex Keerma
Writer & Director
98

I registered after reading this site for a couple years to say thank you for this. This is informative and detailed, but you still broke everything down enough to be understandable.

September 29, 2014 at 2:18PM, Edited September 29, 2:18PM

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Harley Jelis
US Army, Public Affairs Photographer
81

Thank you Harley.

October 1, 2014 at 9:01PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

this may be the best article ive read on this site the last 5 years. this is definitely geared more towards pros. I like the fact that the community has also grown together with us

September 29, 2014 at 2:20PM

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Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1433

I saw that Sesame Street spot being filmed in Carroll Park! Wondered what was up with that dual dolly... thanks for sharing this great info.

September 29, 2014 at 2:26PM, Edited September 29, 2:26PM

16
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:)

September 29, 2014 at 5:16PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

Awesome! The lighting layouts you drew out made this a very informative post. *Was just a little hard to concentrate on the lighting in the first video ;-)

September 29, 2014 at 2:36PM

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Philip Bradley
DP | Editor
143

Great insight, this post just opened my eyes even more... It made me realize that in shoot everything is important!!! Tank you for sharing!

September 29, 2014 at 5:08PM

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Hafid Davila
Director of Photography and video editor / Producer assistan
175

Great insight, this post just opened my eyes even more... It made me realize that in shoot everything is important!!! Tank you for sharing!

September 29, 2014 at 5:09PM

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Hafid Davila
Director of Photography and video editor / Producer assistan
175

This was amazing! Especially loved the first one, the use of diffusion filters really made it look amazing.
And just like everyone else said, more posts like this :D

September 29, 2014 at 5:34PM, Edited September 29, 5:34PM

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Dominik Belancic
Cinematographer/Director
282

Thanks for this inspiring and educational case study! It made me feel like I don't know a thing when I read this for such a pro :)

September 29, 2014 at 5:48PM, Edited September 29, 5:48PM

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Bojan Andrejek
DP / Cinematographer / Producer
229

Thank-you awesome stuff

September 29, 2014 at 6:08PM, Edited September 29, 6:08PM

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Ryan Desjardins
Vidiot.
303

Never imagine like that! Android and iPhone Stuff

October 5, 2014 at 1:35AM

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Awesome, great write up Timur! Thanks for sharing, love your work.

NFS: more articles like this!

September 29, 2014 at 6:49PM, Edited September 29, 6:49PM

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Tyran Nosaur
DP/Director - lots to learn
168

What is a Chimera? Is it just a larger softbox right? I'm curious about how it was balanced so well in the room in the first video. I used a 2K arri light and it overpowered everything, even with difusion. Unless he shot it away from the talent and bounced it back to them?

September 29, 2014 at 6:51PM, Edited September 29, 6:51PM

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Tyran Nosaur
DP/Director - lots to learn
168

Timur, as a man-to-man -- you know your light and your camera, and probably have better idea of what is going on the set than many directors.

So, why haven't you made a director?

Much love <3

September 29, 2014 at 8:51PM, Edited September 29, 8:51PM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3812

No desire to work with actors. I like lights and Lenses.

I can direct, and am asked to often, but turn down the jobs and give them to people who want to direct.

September 30, 2014 at 10:56AM, Edited September 30, 10:56AM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

On a separate note regarding director's contradiction:

"The director Little Marvin (that's his legal name) asked for a contradiction -- He wanted a soft, yet hard light."

If I was a producer I'd fire Marvin on the spot for incompetence. The statement above is not an instruction to a professional, this is what a bored girlfriend asks her financial investment banker boyfriend for.

The soft light was not even necessary at that point -- the diffused "opal" "hard light" arched the entire model.

This request from the little, no pun intended, brat was not worth the time on the set as it did not translate into anything tangible. As I look at the finished production I see nothing but hard light.

The king is naked.

Much love <3

September 29, 2014 at 10:47PM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3812

I should have mentioned, LM and i go WAAAAAY back. So i know what he means when he asks for something like that.

He's a visionary person in general, and is the VP of the company, so no one is firing him. :)

September 30, 2014 at 10:57AM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

Cool! Thanks!

October 1, 2014 at 1:41AM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3812

Hey Timur! I really appreciate the effort you put into sharing your knowledge! If I could share I little bit myself, I found out trough some tests myself, that the V2 OLPF (now known as Skin Tone Highlight Optimized) performs best in terms of noise with tungsten color lights rather the daylight, I would also add Blue filters when shooting MX in tungsten light, but I don't Dragon needs it anymore. Cheers

September 29, 2014 at 11:34PM

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Rodrigo Prata
Director of Photography
187

I've seen less noise in tungsten light as well. Even though the sensor is cmos it has trouble with the red channel not the blue channel so tungsten will help boost that channel, but colors are more saturated in daylight, if muted colors are ok and less noise is desired, tungsten might be right on Dragon.

September 30, 2014 at 10:32AM

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Indie Guy
830

Yea i think youre right. It sort of does well under most conditions now.

September 30, 2014 at 10:53AM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

Fantastic stuff, Timur. Thanks for sharing! Hope to get a chance to work with you again soon :)

September 29, 2014 at 11:36PM, Edited September 29, 11:36PM

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Oren Soffer
Director of Photography
1981

Yea dude. More 3D!!!!!

September 30, 2014 at 11:01AM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

The diagrams were so insightful! Need more of this!

September 29, 2014 at 11:50PM, Edited September 29, 11:50PM

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Miguel Sotto
Cinematographer
262

This article is great, please keep them coming!

September 30, 2014 at 7:01AM

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David Mosquera
Editor-Motion. Videographer.
81

October 5, 2014 at 1:38AM

1
Reply

That's the stuff I want. Tnx a lot

September 30, 2014 at 10:30PM, Edited September 30, 10:30PM

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Mattia Campo
Photogapher
81

This is easily one of my favorite posts. informative and right up my alley.

September 30, 2014 at 11:53PM, Edited September 30, 11:53PM

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PinZ
Director / Writer / Producer
248

I think to listen how awesome that you made is good, but useless.

everything in your film / commercial / etc has to tell a story and make an atmosphere. many colorists don't even know what they're trying to achieve.
they scared of everything. to use their tools. to understand what shadows their best friend. to stop heavily breathing on Alexa, F65, film, or they just never worked with it and etc.
she woke up. he's sleeping. you have to express - it's still very much morning.
it's still too early to be up, but she walks very quiet, which means the scene should be dark enough to give an atmosphere.
we barely see her silhouette, we don't see any parasite light on the bed itself, only she. she is mysterious. dp had to think about shadows it but he didn't so you can fix it.
http://www.homeyfilms.com/sample5.jpg

second shot, she is in the bathroom. she is sexy, sensual.. her lips. you have to underline it. via mix of unnatural and natural light, make it darker, it will pop up her skin tones, so lips will be main there. shadows, shadows, shadows.
http://www.homeyfilms.com/sample2.jpg

third shot, early morning, all of them ready to leave but she is sensual, bright, loving. way brighter shot, colorful, rich brown and black, neutral green white make us stack on her, will make her skin shine. she is beautiful.
http://www.homeyfilms.com/sample3.jpg

other shots i didn't like too much. there's no sense for close up. detail was enough.
on medium, or even master it would be even better. and after that any detail. even just lips.

October 1, 2014 at 6:46AM, Edited October 1, 6:46AM

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Alexey Nitko
Director of Photography / VFX Artist
155

Commercials are not films. Client is paying to see the model they paid big money per day for.

They would not approve anything that dark, we are lucky they let something go dark, period.

October 1, 2014 at 9:07PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

Wel, Timur, you've convinced me to do the Dragon upgrade. Thanks! Great article, very useful! And to those second-guessing the "looks" the colorist gave the spots: in my world, the CLIENTS demand not reality, but a special take on reality. Sure the bedroom may be more 'realistic' darker, or tell a story differently, but I guarantee there was a client all the way through telling everyone to make sure we see the lingerie. Remember, commercials are commerce, man. Our job is to tell the stories creatively, keeping the client's needs (not always their wants) foremost in our minds.

October 1, 2014 at 10:58AM, Edited October 1, 10:58AM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.
740

This is easily one of my favorite posts. informative and right up my alley.

October 1, 2014 at 2:22PM, Edited October 1, 2:22PM

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PinZ
Director / Writer / Producer
248

Really useful article. Thanks and post more stuff like this.

October 1, 2014 at 2:49PM, Edited October 1, 2:49PM

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Gene Sung
DP / Director
667

I have to echo what everyone else is saying... This was an awesome post and thank you for sharing the lighting plots with us! I'm super inspired.

October 2, 2014 at 7:42AM, Edited October 2, 7:42AM

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Alex Vo
Cinematographer / Director
96

That just goes to show you how important it is to have a diverse body of work. 4 completely different commercials, each with its own set-up, look, and feel. Pretty awesome you got to do that within 1 month!

October 3, 2014 at 11:40AM, Edited October 3, 11:40AM

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Luis Garcia
Director/Editor
366

Very nice, and even more importantly, very useful! Thank you!

October 3, 2014 at 11:54PM, Edited October 3, 11:54PM

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Ed Wright
Director, DP, Writer
326

Amazing Article! I am still new to lighting so could someone explain to me why in the first lighting example, they placed the two flags either side of the camera? I'm guessing they are trying to prevent flare, but I can't see how this would fix that problem. Any answers are much appreciated :)

February 17, 2015 at 4:41PM

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Patrick Monaghan
Director / Graphic Designer / DOP / Musician
91

Some negative fill and cutoff for the lights so they didn't spread.

May 10, 2015 at 12:51AM

0
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Love it as well. Please, more like this.

May 10, 2015 at 12:51AM, Edited May 10, 12:51AM

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Absolute rubbish. You don't "light for commercials". You light to light to complete a narrative. I've been directing commercials for 28 years www.stevechasedemo.com . I choose my DP 's (all major motion picture DP's) based on how his/her visual style will compliment my story. the fact that it is 30 or 60 seconds is irrelevant. The tone of the script tells them where to put the lights. I've never once "lit for a commercial. "

May 10, 2015 at 9:25AM

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Steve chase
Director
127

Amazing post!! Very informative and well structured. Thanks a lot Timur!

January 13, 2017 at 11:57PM, Edited January 13, 11:57PM

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Aman
6