August 14, 2017

Watch: How to Light a Romantic New York City Night Exterior

Lighting city streets at night can be complex and chaotic. Here are some ground rules. 

Ah, New York at twilight: the romantic setting to end all others. There's nothing quite like our city as a backdrop for stories of young love laced with pretentious neurosis.

If you ever get a chance to shoot here in the Big Apple, the fine educators at Cinematography Database have put together a little video with some helpful tips to do it low-budget.

A key tactic in doing NYC night exteriors: keep the light sources in rigs that don’t require stands. 

Cinematography Database's test shoot—a story about a pair of lovers who like to giggle and touch each other—was shot on a Sony A7SII with Rokinon primes. For those unfamiliar with the camera, the Sony A7S is known for shooting well in low-light situations. On this night shoot, however, the camera still wasn’t quite sensitive enough, so the CD production team had to bring in some extra help in the form of Aputure lights. Specifically, the production team used the Aputure 120d, Aputure 120tAputure Tri 8, Aputure Light Dome, and the Aputure 300d. (The former has yet to be commercially released.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qz2gq3frA8

The biggest challenge in pulling off a production like this is using lighting as minimally as possible without permits or obstructing pedestrian or automobile traffic. In other words, your lighting setup has to be bare bones enough that it won't attract the attention of NYPD's finest. Essentially, this comes down to the director and DP's choice in blending practical streetlight with fixed lighting.

For this night shoot, the CD production team used streetlight as the key light and the Apurture models for edge lighting. Lights were powered by batteries, which allowed them to stay mobile and eliminated the generator sound.

Another key tactic in doing NYC night exteriors: keep the light sources in rigs that don’t require stands. For example, you could hang them from boom poles operated by one of your crew members. This was crucial in CD's effort to "keep things indie and moving quickly."

As for those quintessential "New York City walk-and-talk" scenes, you used to need a Steadicam or dolly. Now, however, you can use a gimbal to get the same result. On CD's production, they used the Easy Rig Vario 5 and Flow Cine Kit    

Your Comment

9 Comments

Nice techniques... although this did seem like one big equipment commercial. On a side note, so you can "run and gun" around NY with a group of around 7 people and a bunch of equipment in the dark and no body says anything? ....

August 14, 2017 at 3:38PM

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Yeah, you just run around and shoot what you need to. If someone, who has authority, tells you to leave then you just find another place. I guess that goes for any place, really. It seems like what they were shooting wasn't exactly location dependent so that's probably why they did that

August 14, 2017 at 4:52PM, Edited August 14, 4:53PM

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bp
459

A trick I use too - the larger the crew, the less someone will question you.

August 14, 2017 at 6:38PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1704

If only these techniques worked in another city!

August 14, 2017 at 6:38PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
683

This is great - having a $50 spacelight that is an led and battery powered is incredible!!!! Before I would have to try to do a china ball w leds which is darn hard. Really interesting stuff.

August 14, 2017 at 6:38PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1704

I, too, like the $50 spacelight...it's the $600 light attached to it with the $200 battery that runs it that gave me pause. LOL!

All jokes aside, I like the look of a portable china ball for run & gun.

August 14, 2017 at 11:49PM

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LOL ... exactly my thoughts

August 15, 2017 at 10:25AM

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Ad post, but, nonetheless great techniques, and easily replicable in any city.
Light light light! And don't rely on just whats available.

August 14, 2017 at 6:42PM

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Justin Batchelor
Director, D.O.P.
154

When soneone says that A7S2 isn't sensitive enough, I can only imagine them shooting a scene inside a coffin.

August 16, 2017 at 5:48AM

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