Don McVey was the Director of Photography for the Blinds Direct TV advert. He’s written this in-depth blog providing fascinating insight into the lighting process!
Be sure to check out Don’s website for more cinematography insights and a closer look at his DoP work!
Working out how to light
My first thought for the Blinds Direct TV advert was that it would be relatively a straightforward thing to light. I’ve done a fair amount of work where I have to simulate natural lighting with a commercial look.
However, I soon realised that this would be a bit tricky, as we were pointing straight into windows in almost every shot.
Normally, the best way to light a room is to come in through the windows. I still wanted to do this, but the angle limited things. Also, I had to be mindful that the product is on the actual window and would be going from closed to open in many shots.
Initially, I planned on frosting all the windows, but this would be very time consuming. Furthermore, after speaking with the director Danny Lacey, we agreed that it would be good to see outside.
No recce? No problem
I couldn’t recce for the Blinds Direct TV advert beforehand because I was in London and the shoot was near Leeds. However, Saxon Rix at Stada Media sent me some great recce photos and an overhead of the property with window locations.
With this and Suncalc I was able to put together a rough plan of where I was going to fire through the main light (Arri M90). This plan actually ended up being very close to what we did on the day. Who needs recces?!
We had a lot to get through on the Blinds Direct TV advert. I was working with a new gaffer Finn Varney and lighting budget was tight. So I wanted to keep every setup as simple as possible. So we ended up keeping the lighting lean:
- Arri M90
- Cineo HS
- Arri Skypanel
- Arri M18
- LiteMat 2
- LiteMat 2L
My basic plan was big soft key with the M90. Shafts or details with the M18. Skypanel, Cineo and Panels in the room to key, fill, bring up room.
I know many will be thinking I should have ND’d or netted the windows on some of these to make lighting easier. However, we didn’t have the time, and probably not the money to ND. Netting them would have just presented more problems, hiding stands and looking straight into the nets. So those ideas went… out the window!
Keeping it natural
I’m not a fan of High-Key lighting. It’s used a lot in certain types of commercial, and I find it usually produces a very flat, somewhat cheap look. It seems a throwback to crappy video cameras with low dynamic range, but has clung on as a commercial style.
Thankfully, director Danny Lacey was in agreement with me and wanted to keep it looking natural. Of course, I was aware that the Blinds Direct TV advert still had to have that commercial cleanness. Plus, we needed to see the actual product!
We shot on the Arri Amira with Zeiss Superspeeds M2’s.
This was the first thing we shot, but it was the end shot of the Blinds Direct TV advert. It was a very overcast day, and even with the big windows of the Orangery, it was dull and dark in there. Luckily, we brought our own little sun!
We hit that in through some light diffusion, which backlit the blinds and filled the space. Then, we placed a Skypanel with a softbox screen right to to the edge of our actress’ face; furthermore, some neg fill (floppy flag) above her and down her back to darken the hair.
I really like lighting a kitchen – honest! You can get a really nice clean look, but you have to be careful of all that light bouncing around. Very easy for it to all just flatten out.
The tricky things with this shot in the Blinds Direct TV advert were lighting 4 actors; trying to keep the light ‘downside’; and allowing for the blind to be opened.
To keep the outside M90 well and truly hidden, we hit it across the window and bounced it into a 6×6 ultrabounce. This did a nice broad stroke and brought the levels up on the sink area and Mum.
Dad’s face was too dark as the light was being blocked by the blind and central column. As a result, my gaffer Finn rigged a Litemat 2L across the top with a C Stand. Then we had a Skypanel with softbox and eggcrate as a backlight/key when Mum turns, and finished it off by hitting an M18 into the Orangery through some light haze.
We moved the Skypanel into the reverse position, keying the kids.
The living room
Inside the room we did a similar trick with the Litemat 2L, and backlit the Nana with a Litemat 2, which we flagged off the wall. We also brought the room light up just a little by bouncing the Cineo HS off the opposite wall.
The kids’ room
In hindsight, would I like to go back to the Blinds Direct TV advert and perhaps try heavy ND and colour correction on the windows, so that we can see some detail outside? Yes. Was it possible to try both methods on the day? No. So I went with tenting as a ‘safe’ option that I knew would work.
We then put the practical on a dimmer and pretended that was the source by booming in a LiteMat 2L. Another LiteMat provided a soft backlight on the Dad.
Colour temp wise, we had the camera at 3400K, Skypanel at 5500K with 1/4 CTO, the LM 2L at 3200K and the LM 2 at 4300k (ish).
This was a morning shot for the Blinds Direct TV advert, done in the early evening. The sun was now on the opposite side of the house and smashing into the trees outside. The room was in complete shadow.
We had to really play with the angle of the M90 through 6×6 grid to get it into the room and onto Dad. We also did a soft rim light with a LiteMat 2.
Mum was still in complete shadow, and my plan was to bring the M18 in hard. However, on the day, it was going to be a real challenge to get that angle working. Plus, I was mindful of it then just smashing into Dad.
So, in the end, we boomed over the LiteMat 2L, which I warmed up a tad. It’s worth mentioning at this point just how incredibly useful these ultra lightweight LED mats are. In the past, this would have been something like a Diva, and there’s no way I could have double armed it over like we did here!
Last scene of the Blinds Direct TV advert, after a very long day – and thankfully, it was an easy one! The office was tiny, so we pretty much had one choice of angle.
We hit the M90 through the 6×6, which made it very film noir. So, to bring up Dad’s level, we put a Litemat 2 directly behind him, then bounced that off a polly board in front.
Overall, I’m very happy with what we got done in one day for the Blinds Direct TV advert with a small crew. As always, there’s things I’d like to go back and do a bit differently, but if there wasn’t, I’d be worried!
The client was very happy, and that’s about the best you can hope for really!
Hopefully this post has been useful to you if you are approaching a similar shoot!
Get in touch with Stada Media if you’re interested in video production as seen above for your own business. We’re video experts with a passion for WOW.