“Through The Lens” & Combining Film/TV Continuous Lights With Flash Photography

// April 20th, 2014 // On Assignment, Technique, Television, Video

On the DSLR camera I use for most of my photos and video work, it’s possible to shoot video and hit the shutter button to take a photo while the video is recording. So that’s exactly what I did, to make a fun little ‘through the lens’ video.

(Note – as this post is about lighting I haven’t edited any of these photos – what you see is what you get).

I was shooting with the Canon 5d mk3 and for this video using a loupe to use the screen on the back of the camera as an EVF (Electronic View Finder). It’s a setup I use a lot for video, but not so much for stills. In this mode the autofocus is slow, in fact the camera can’t autofocus while video is running at all, and there’s a noticeable delay between photos – my shoots usually run much faster than this! The video locks up while the still photo is written to memory card, and there’s a loud click of the shutter, but in this case it gives a really neat effect.

The brief was to shoot photos of two new presenters of TAG, part of the Stwnsh brand of young people’s TV shows on S4C. The photos would be used in marketing, to make a poster that’s distributed to schools and at Eisteddfods etc.

The look book S4C provided had lots of photos on white or grey backgrounds and the producer wanted almost all the shots to have film or photography lights in the frame.

We shot in Hayes Road studio which was perfect as half their business is supplying lighting for film shoots so they had a lot of equipment on hand to use as lighting and props.

I set up initially using just film lights in a fairly classical Hollywood way to light portraits, using lots of backlight (from the lights in the frame) and a single redhead as a three quarter front light. I really like the way the light falls off from redheads and the small Arri film lights with fresnel lenses and barn doors.

It’s quite unusual to use film lights for still photos, but I’ve used them a lot for film work. Film lights are very weak compared to the output of a flash, but they’re continuous wheras flash has a very short duration, typically 1/100th a second or so, and can’t be used for video.

Another reason I started out with a continuous lighting setup is because S4C were filming a short behind the scenes TV spot about the photo shoot, and I wanted that program to look good on air. With continuous lights I could light for the TV crew, and make the room look like the end result photos. With flash you only get the final look for the brief instant of the flash which is when the camera takes the shot.

I like moody look this gave but after a discussion with the producer it became clear that S4C wanted at least the option of having a near-white background. I thought it was worth doing both, so I added two flash lights in such a way that I could easily switch them on and off from camera so I could alternate between darker look and a much lighter overall feel.

The film lights I used are tungsten balanced but flash is daylight colour temperature, so I had to gel the flash with full CTO to warm them up. I wanted the light the flash added to be very soft, go everywhere and be very non-directional, primarily to avoid harsh, distracting shadows being added to what the film lights were already giving. My solution to this was to bounce the lights off something so I used another film lighting trick – use foam core flats as huge bounce cards.

I could then mix the relative amounts of flash and tungsten by changing the camera shutter time. The flash duration is so fast that changing the shutter speed up to as far as the max camera synch speed of 1/200 has no effect on the flash light in the image, but it does effect the contribution of the continuous light.

Here are the dark (just continuous lights) and light (continuous + flash) looks:

The effect was very flat front light with a slight ring flash feel to it.

Everyone’s got a camera nowadays 😉


Hayes Studio
S4C Tag