Freefly Movi Gimbal

I recently added a Freefly Movi M15 camera stabilizer to my kit, and I’m very excited about it.  It opens up a whole new world of camera movement and visual storytelling possibilities.

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What is the Movi?

The Movi is a 3-axis motorized gimbal – it takes the bumps out of handheld shots by using electronics and special motors.  Like a Steadicam, it can create dynamic moving shots without having to lay track or build a jib arm.

New technology like smaller cameras, affordable wireless HD video transmitters, wireless follow focus, and the rise of personal drones has led to amazing advancements in what we can do with camera movement today.

Here’s a demo video that shows some of the possibilities:

Another behind-the-scenes video shows some really great uses of the Movi, especially when they incorporate golf carts, Segways, and even a multi-rotor helicopter:

The Movi’s motors reduce the harsh movements, such as handheld and footsteps, horizontal rolling or vehicle bumps.  

I’m excited about the Movi because it really can enable Steadicam-style shots, Techno-crane shots, and even doing complicated shots that couldn’t easily be accomplished before.   Many years ago, I considered becoming a Steadicam operator, but I knew that it took years of practice because it’s all about how you hold the camera with your body that provides the balance and stable horizon.  With the Movi, it takes much less practice to become proficient.

In many ways, the Movi offers more freedom and versatility than a Steadicam, because it can move from very low to high angles in one move, or it can be mounted to a car, or a jib, or even rope.  It can be passed from one operator to another, and move through smaller environments.

The pan, tilt, and roll of the camera can be controlled remotely, with a joystick controller or with the new Mimic.  The Mimic is a simple, intuitive controller that looks just like the handlbars on a bike – you pan and tilt the handles, and the camera follows.  There’s even a geared-head style pan-and-tilt wheels that can be used with the Movi.

Cameras that work with the Movi:  The Red Epic\Dragon\Weapon is popular, but also the new Arri Mini is a great choice.  My 5D Mark 3 can certainly go on it, I’ve seen a C300 Mark 2 on it, and also some Sony cameras.  A lot of it has to do with powering the camera and being able to balance it.

I like to have a prep day with the camera and the Movi to make sure it’s all ready to go for the shoot.  It can take some time to strip the camera of unnecessary accessories, and also to figure out the best way to power and balance the camera, follow focus, and video transmitter.

I’ve set up my Movi kit to include a Bartech Wireless Follow focus unit, an ultra light matte box and filter holder, and a Teradek Bolt video transmitter\receiver.  I also have lightweight Zeiss Standard Speed lenses, although Ultra Primes or even Master Primes can fit the Movi.  For longer-range video transmission, a Paralynx Tomahawk or Teradek Bolt 2000 could be used.

A few other notes:

The Movi takes some experience to know how to set up, balance and troubleshoot.  It’s fairly simple to operate, but a little bit of practice goes a long way.

The Movi can be operated by a single person, but you typically need a Camera Assistant to adjust focus as the camera moves.  Dual-operator mode is also an option, where one person moves the rig while another pans and tilts the camera remotely.

I sometimes hear complaints from filmmakers who’ve used the Movi or Ronin, and find they’re slow to balance and can have problems with the motors, but I think a lot of it is down to experience.  It’s definitely something that I think works better with an owner-operator instead of just getting one from a rental house.  In my case, I have a lot of spare parts and accessories that can solve problems, and I know the rig, I know the app, and it’s much more efficient that way.

If you also need long-lens, tripod, zoom or dolly shots on the same day as the Movi, it’s best to carry a second, dedicated camera body for the gimbal because of the time it takes to convert the camera from lightweight Movi-mode to Studio-mode.

A support vest is also useful because holding the camera with your arms will get tiring very quickly.  I have a Ready Rig vest, and it enables the operator to hold the Movi up for long periods of time with less fatigue.

Overall, I’m excited about the shots that can now be easily accomplished with the Movi, and I’m looking forward to some great shoots with it.  Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about it.  


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Margaret Cho: psyCHO

I shot this Margaret Cho special for director John Asher in New York.  She’s so talented and funny!  Here’s a press release:

It premieres September 25th on Showtime.  Shot with 5 Alexas at the Gramercy Theater in New York.

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Magic Lantern RAW on a Canon 5D Mark III

I recently upgraded my 5 year old Canon 7D and bought a 5D Mark III.  I was interested in playing around with Magic Lantern’s RAW hack after seeing some examples of the improved video quality, but was a bit intimidated by stories I’d heard about it being complicated and time consuming.

I’ve read a lot of information on shooting with Magic Lantern, but I also found it hard to get detailed tips from in-the-field users, so hopefully this will shed more light on the process for you.  Included at the bottom are more links that I found helpful when testing and researching Magic Lantern, including installation guides and samples.

The 5DMark3 normally records highly-compressed H264 .mov files, but Magic Lantern allows you to record the RAW 14-bit images from the sensor.  These RAW files are called .MLV’s, and they contain both picture and sound.

Here are two screen grabs from my own testing of RAW vs H264.

H264 .mov (Canon Native Recording):


Magic Lantern RAW:


You can clearly see more highlight and shadow detail in the RAW image.  Also, the RAW image is a bit sharper than the H264s.  The RAW frame grab was made from a ProRes HQ Quicktime that I’d made via two pieces of software which I’ll talk about in a minute.

Of course, to record in RAW creates a LOT more data and requires expensive, high-speed CF Cards.  I bought 5* 64GB Lexar 1066x CF Cards and one 128GB Komputerbay 1066x card for my kit.   One 64GB Card holds about 12 minutes of RAW footage.

An opportunity to use the RAW feature on a real job presented itself in the form of a short film project titled ‘Sudden Reality’ directed by Matthan Harris.  Matthan and I looked at the examples and thought, what do we have to lose?  If it became onerous, we could switch back to shooting H264’s, but he was game to try it out and there weren’t any clients on set to embarrass ourselves in front of.  We could take some risks on this project.

The first big hurdle we ran into was on-set playback.  The camera can usually play back the last RAW file after recording, but if you want it in real-time, it’s in black and white and flickers terribly.  The director was also acting in the short, so he’d need to see playback.  We could have rented a KiPro mini or Atomos recorder to solve this by recording the HDSDI monitor (I have an on-board TV Logic monitor that converts to SDI), but we didn’t have the money for that, so we had a PA video the director’s 17” monitor with their cell phone for scenes where he needed to see playback because he was acting in the scene.  It was cheesy but worked.

We had to constantly be transferring the CF cards on-set to Hard Drive because we shot a lot of footage and went through cards pretty quickly.  With USB 3.0, we could transfer a 64GB card in 10 minutes, and since we backed up to two hard drives, needed roughly 20 minutes per card for data management.  Also, we used ML RAW Viewer (a free program) to quickly check the .MLV RAW files after transfer.

One other bit of Data Management that really helped with the post-processing:  I had the Data Manager format the cards on the computer when she was done transferring them to the two hard drives.  She formatted them as ExFat instead of Fat32, and I enabled the Magic Lantern menu feature of allowing file sizes greater than 4GB.  This kept the video clips from being broken up and DaVinci Resolve seems to really prefer this, especially when it comes to getting the picture and sound in sync.  So instead of formatting the cards in the camera, we Erased them on the computer using Disk Utility and then just inserted them in the camera and pushed record.

Another thing that threw me off at first is the yellow and red and green ‘record’ icon.  I thought it meant the camera was dropping frames until it turned green, but I later found out it indicates the status of the buffer.  So the camera is at speed, no matter the color of the indicator, even though it was taking about 20-30 seconds for the icon to go from yellow to green.  In the Magic Lantern menu, I made it so the camera would stop if it dropped frames so we would know about it.

One other ‘gotcha’ to watch out for is the 5D’s ‘Info’ button.  If you switch the LCD view to Full Screen instead of the view that has all the Magic Lantern info (audio levels, frame rate, RAW, etc.), then the camera will record H264’s and not RAW.  You may not realize this until later, so watch out for this.  I found it after a few days shooting tests.

Also make sure to keep checking your Recording settings in the Magic Lantern menu.   The Sound recording has to be enabled separately from the RAW\.MLV settings.

I found that if I ‘rolled out’ — the card filled up while recording —  I didn’t lose the last take but I had to go back and put them through the post process manually (see below for my post processing).  RAW Magic created the DNG’s, but DaVinci needed to add those clips separately because they were in folders.  They didn’t make it through the post chain automatically, so this is something you want to be careful about.  They’ll show up as Folders in DaVinci instead of Clips, and you need to ‘right click’ them and ‘Add Folder into Media Pool’.  There may be some corrupted frames, and you may lose a large part of the last take, so be very cautious when you roll out.  You might want to re-shoot the last take if that happens on set.

I was able to make the slow motion feature work and shoot 48 fps at 1600×560 resolution and then stretch it out in Resolve (1.61x Height adjustment).  This is still sharper than the camera’s 1280×720 60 fps in H264, and it’s RAW.  You have to change several settings to enable it, starting with the Camera’s H264 setting (change to 720×1280 60p), then make changes to the frame rate and resolution in the Magic Lantern RAW menu.  Don’t forget to change everything back when you’re done, and re-check your RAW Sound Recording!  Also, I suggest using separate CF Cards and create separate folders for the slow motion footage so you can deal with it separately in DaVinci Resolve and not mix it in with your real-time footage.  You have to change its frame rate as well in Resolve.

Post Processing the camera media is a two-step process.  First I used a program called RAW Magic ($30 in the App Store) that converts the camera’s .MLV files into stacks of .DNG files.  The .DNG’s are individual frames.  Raw Magic is a simple program that will automate the conversion and takes about 4 times real-time on my 15” USB 3.0 MacBook Pro, so 1 hour of footage takes about 4 hours to convert.  The .DNG’s take up a little less disc space than the .MLV’s (maybe 80%?).

Here are my RAW Magic settings that we used:


The .DNG’s created by RAW Magic are then imported into DaVinci Resolve, and I tweak a few settings (using BlackMagic curves and highlight recovery) to get a very flat, high-dynamic-range look.  Resolve then outputs ProRes HQ Quicktimes that can be sent to the editor.  My laptop converts these files at a little faster than double real-time (1 hour of footage takes about 2 hours to process).

The ProRes files are able to retain the sound from the camera so syncing sound with the Recordist’s files is easier in post (via Pluralize or Premier).

Here’s a technical walk-through of Resolve with Magic Lantern:

In DaVinci Resolve, I added all the .DNG clips created by RAW Magic to the Media Pool, then selected all clips in the Pool and Created a New Timeline based on the clips.


I checked the timeline in the Edit window, then went to the Color Window.  I selected the first clip, and changed the RAW settings to Full Resolution, Use Camera Settings for White Balance and ISO, and for Color Space and Gamma I selected ‘BMD Film’.  I also raised the Saturation from 50 to 83 in the Color Wheel window.  I saved this Grade in Memory bank A, then selected All the Clips in the sequence, and Loaded the Grade to all them.  It changed all their settings in one go.



Then I went to the Deliver Window, selected the Advanced Option, and selected ProRes 422 HQ (could have also gone 444 if we really wanted), Render as Individual Source Clips, 1920×1080, 23.976fps, Enabled the Audio as Linear PCM (for camera audio reference).  Then under File I selected Use Source Filename, Render as Unique Filenames (suffix), Force Sizing to highest Quality, Force Debayer Resolution to Highest Quality.  Selected a Render To directory, Added the Job to Render Queue, and hit Start Render.




Ultimately the editor will work with these ProRes files and we can color them directly instead of going back to the .DNG files.  I also want to try out Neat Video for noise reduction since I think the RAW files are pretty noisy, especially at 400 iso.

Overall I liked working with the RAW files and found them much less daunting after shooting a project with them.  It’s a relatively cheap way to get much better images out of a Canon 5D Mark 3.  I still think the Canon is a bit noisy and isn’t ideal for a lot of productions.  Focus- pulling is tricky and the HDMI output sucks (but I’ve found a solution that helps from Small HD — an HDMI port port protector).  Lack of decent playback is a deal-breaker for some clients unless you have a cheap outboard recorder and someone to operate it.

Here are a few more links I found useful when learning this process and prepping the project, as well as samples of H264 vs RAW comparisons.  (This one really sold me on it)


Graham Futerfas is a Los Angeles based Cinematographer.  His work can be seen at


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Making Your Shots More Interesting

I often find myself on set trying to improve a shot, to make it more dynamic and interesting.  Here are a few general tricks and techniques I use a lot.

1.  Add some movement.  I love my Dana Dolly, and I sometimes even keep a slider mounted on to a Fisher Dolly just to be able to add a small amount of movement quickly on a moment’s notice.  This makes the shot feel like it’s going somewhere and also creates a 3-dimensional effect by revealing different parts of the background.

2.  Add a foreground element.  This works really well, especially when combined with camera movement.  I’ve seen some really boring wide shots become much more interesting when we added a bit of foreground (or a lot of foreground) such as furniture or set dressing.  Also, even Close Ups can be made more interesting by adding some out-of-focus foreground element, even if it’s the back of another actor’s head.  This is why I often find over-the-shoulder shots much more interesting than clean-singles.   Usually I like darker foreground objects, so we’re often setting flags to take the light off of them. 

3.  Add a highlight to the background.  This could be a window or a practical lamp, or anything to break up a flat background.

4.  Switch to a tighter lens.  I can’t tell you how many times my AC has turned on the focus magnification on the camera to check focus between takes, and the director and I looked at it and thought — this looks so much better!  Flipping to longer lenses are one thing I think to do when a shot just isn’t quite working for me. 

There are a bunch of other things you can do to make a boring shot more interesting, but these are my more common approaches.  Not every setup is a big sweeping crane shot, and we all have to shoot Wides, Cowboys, and Close-Ups, but they can always be improved upon.  


To see more of my work or hire me for your next project, visit my website,


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Vimeo and Copyrights – a Conundrum for Demo Reels

I have a Vimeo Plus account, and I got a notice the other day that Vimeo removed a video I posted because it received a complaint from Viacom that they held the copyright and I was displaying it without permission.  Then I saw another Director friend on Facebook complaining about the same thing.

Vimeo notice


Only thing is, the video I posted was a short clip of something I’d shot and had posted it for my demo reel.  On my website, I link to Vimeo versions of my clips because it’s a convenient and fast way to provide streaming video to computers, mobile, iPads, etc.  Also, the costs of streaming large video files are put on Vimeo and not my website’s host server.

Vimeo was smart enough to not let me re-post the same video or upload it again, so I worked around it by re-compressing the video on my computer and calling it something else so Vimeo wouldn’t recognize it.  Then I set all my videos to ‘Private’ on Vimeo so it won’t happen again.  I’ve noticed a couple of Music Video directors complaining about this recently, that the parent companies of their videos are taking down their samples of work.

I can understand this from Viacom’s perspective, and I don’t want to harm their bottom line.  I always wait until after the videos are released before posting on my website.  However, I shot the video and need samples for my reel.  I couldn’t have gotten that job if I didn’t have a demo reel that the Director and Clients could see, so it becomes a Catch 22.  They expect me to have a Demo Reel with amazing work on it, but they don’t want me to have their work to show as a sample to others.

Anyway, not sure what the ultimate solution is, but I found a way around it for now.  If you’re having this same trouble, maybe this will help.  I welcome comments and other peoples’ suggestions and solutions.  I’m not trying to harm the companies that I work for, but I also need this material on my reel.

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Fluid Heads

I find one of the most over-looked pieces of camera equipment is the Fluid Head.  There are several brands and levels to choose from and if you’re not a camera operator, you might not think there’s much of a difference.   I mean, it’s just a device that holds the camera on the tripod (or dolly, slider, etc) and allows you to pan left or right, tilt up or down, right?


For me, a good fluid head allows me to be very precise about my camera moves and can be adjusted to balance the camera no matter how much we modify it throughout the day, changing lenses and accessories. Since I often operate and DP at the same time, I find I can be very distracted and have little time to rehearse a camera move, so it’s very important that the head be predictable and adjustable.

My favorite fluid head is the O’Connor 2575.  They’ve made several updates to it over the years, so there’s the 2575-B, -C, and -D.  It’s a heavy fluid head and is rated for cameras from 25 to 75 pounds, hence the name ‘2575’.  O’Connor also makes a 2060 and a 1030, which are for lighter cameras, but the 2575 is the most flexible of those designs and I’ve even used it for smaller DSLR cameras very effectively.


Sachtler makes decent heads but I’ve often found their counterbalance designs to be lacking.  There are also good heads from Miller, Cartoni and Vinten, but again, they lack the perfect balance I get with the O’Connor.

I’m going to walk you through the proper way to adjust an O’Connor head with a camera on it.  A good operator will set up his head so the camera will stop in any position without having to apply the tilt lock.  As you work with longer lenses that magnify the image (and any imprecise camera movement along with it), you need finer control of the camera.

Once you’ve got it on the tripod and the fully-built camera mounted on top, you need to balance the camera weight front to back.  Best to do this with the Tilt and Pan Tensions dialed way down (or off) and the Counterbalance dial turned down as well.  Never dial the Counterbalance to extremes (below 10 or above 90) as it can damage the internal threads.

Slide the camera back and forth on the sliding plates until it doesn’t fall forward or back.  Usually you have two sliding plates underneath the camera:  The O’Connor top plate and the Camera’s sliding base plate that holds the iris rods.


Once you’ve got it balanced front to back, the head will be really loose and unwieldy.  Add just a little bit of Pan and Tilt Tension.  You can start to adjust the Counterbalance dial by turning it up until the camera just wants to pull back up when you tilt it forward.  Meaning, the point of the Counterbalance is to spring the head back to it’s neutral position, and you want just enough of it to overcome the momentum of the camera’s tendency to fall forward or back.  Once the camera starts to return to neutral after you’ve tilted it up or down, just bring down the counterbalance a little bit.


Then set the Tilt and Pan tension dials where you like them.  For me, it’s usually between 1 and 2 on the dial — not a lot.

The camera should be able to be tilted up or down to any position and stay there with no hands on it and no lock on.  This is a perfectly balanced head, and it only takes 15-30 seconds to get it there.

If you want more information, here’s a good Operation Guide from O’Connor:

One last note, it’s always good form to store the head in the case with the Pan and Tilt locks turned off.  This way the head won’t develop bumps if it gets jostled when transported.

And that’s more than you could ever want to know about Fluid Heads, a very important tool for camera operators and DP’s.

Graham Futerfas is a Los Angeles-based DP, and his website is


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Artists, Politics, and Management

A lot of people think being a DP is all about art, composition and lighting, and sometimes forget about the Management aspect of the job.  For me, being a Manager is a task that can be the most complicated part of the job, requiring tact, decisiveness, planning, and patience.


On any given shoot, I work for the Director, and I work for the Producer, and I work for their Client.  They all have somewhat divergent interests in me and the work that I produce.  On set, I usually feel my biggest responsibility is to the Director, but on a political level, I try to keep everyone happy.  I also have to coax the best out of my crew, because they really can make me shine or slow us to a crawl.

Like everyone, I have an opinion.  That’s part of being an Artist and a Craftsman, and it’s what makes my style different than other people. On a film set, I find artists at every level and in every position, from my gaffer to the set dresser down to the PA’s and Craft Service person.  Many of them are in the film industry because they have a passion for the craft, and many are working their way up the ladder.

The way we express our opinions is where the art of politics and management come in.  I think this is a critical aspect of what makes a great Cinematographer, and why some DP’s get reputations for being arrogant or difficult to work with.  We’re in a difficult position, between the Top Brass and the Gears that make everything turn on the set.  We have to constantly make concrete decisions, and we have to understand what our bosses want, what we want, what our crew wants, and how to navigate a bunch of different personalities and relationships.

I’m very self-conscious about how I carry myself on set, and I know it’s important that I be assertive and give counsel to a Director, but at the same time maintain an open mind and an easy demeanor.  I’m not hired to be a button pusher, and I have to find a way to express myself as an artist alongside the other artists that I work with.  I just read an interview with DP Barry Ackroyd, who said “It’s about telling someone else’s story, but with your voice.”  Filmmaking has a fascinating dynamic, where artists come together to collaborate on a single project, yet at the end of the day, it’s not a Democracy — it’s a Dictatorship where the Director has the ultimate say.

For DP’s and Director’s alike, I think as a Manager, it’s important to be able to make a decision.  Imagine if you had a boss that didn’t know what he wanted, and how confused and frustrated you’d be.  I like to have the debates and discussions in prep, so that when we’re on set we don’t waste a lot of time going back and forth.  The Director and I need to be united on what shots we need, where the camera goes, where the actors go, and what’s going to happen.  At the same time, I want to offer some freedom to allow for the ‘Happy Accident’ and the improvisational nature of being on set with a troupe of talented actors and crew.  This is why I like being closely involved in the shot-list making stage of prep.

I love working for Director’s who know what they want, can definitively say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to any option I offer them, and yet are open to my ideas and are willing to discuss the ‘Why’s’ of what we’re doing.  That’s how I better understand and execute their vision, by asking a lot of questions, and by working to create a method and pattern that makes our work distinct.

Graham Futerfas

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Lighting 101 – The DP’s Playbook


Like any good football coach, most DP’s have a basic Playbook they use when it comes to lighting.  Of course, everyone’s got a different style and likes to mix it up, but there are things that we know work well and light positions that we can always fall back on.

If you’re interested in learning the fundamentals of how to light a scene, here’s a quick summary of concepts Cinematographers often think about.

Many DP’s like to light the set\background first and then start applying these rules on Key, Fill and Backlights.  For instance, if there are practical lamps or windows, we’ll light for those first before setting the lights for the actors.  We might then work with the director to block the actors into better lighting and composition positions.  Sometimes we want to take the light off the actors, ‘Un-Light’ them, or make the lighting feel less staged.  Feel free to break these rules, and know that it’s often the bolder choices that can set a DP apart.

There are all kinds of funny names for different types of lighting:  Half Light, Rembrandt, Beauty Light, Grease Light (aka Kicker Light), Neg Fill, etc.


*This is the classic ‘Rembrandt’ lighting.  Notice the shadow from his nose.

Let’s start with the classic Three-Point Lighting most people are taught in school.  It includes a Key Light on one side, the Fill Light on the other side of the camera, and a backlight.

3-Point Lighting

I’m not usually a fan of this style of lighting, mainly due to the position of the fill light.  I prefer to use what I call ‘Same-Side Fill’, where the fill light works to wrap the key light around onto the actor’s face.  Here’s a diagram of what I’m talking about.  Go ahead and spend a few seconds studying it and the notes I wrote on it:

Same Side Fill_Simplified

This diagram is my most common Play in the book.  It works.  It’s pretty.  It’s a classic.  By adjusting the diffusions and scrims in these lights, you can go from high-key to very dramatic.  Often though, I find myself trying to work my way out of this box and make some scenes look less lit.  Also keep in mind that you might not want any fill light.   I’ll talk about other options in a bit.

NoCountry_1 Shawshank_1

I generally have two basic ‘Rules’ that I can apply whenever I get stuck and don’t know where to start.  They are: Backlight and Diffusion.

Some people like to set the Key light first, but I sometimes like to see the Back light set up first and make decisions from there.  I usually like the backlight as opposite and 180 degrees of the camera as I can get it.  This often means we need to hang it or arm it in and keep the cable out of the shot.

I also like to add diffusion to the lights to keep them from feeling so direct and forced.  It makes the light more appealing, even just a light amount of it.  Diffusion and lighting direction can be an art as much as a science, and it takes some experience to know how these can affect your lighting.

Thinner diffusions like 251 and Opal can just take the edge off while still maintaining some direction to your light.  As you get into thicker diffusions like Light Grid, the source-iness of the light goes away and the ‘size’ of the light becomes larger.  I often use large frames of diffusion in front of the lights — 4×4’, 8×8’, and even 12×12’.

First, where do you set the key light?  In general, I like it when the actor is looking in the direction of the key and fill lights.  This means we mostly set the Key light on the side of the camera that the actor is looking for most of the scene.  For example, if I have two actors talking and I’m going to shoot coverage of the scene, the key light will go opposite the camera-side of the eyeline.  Here’s another diagram.


Putting the Key light on the actor’s Eyeline side tends to be ‘Slimming’, helping the actor to appear thinner.  Here’s an example from ‘Training Day’ of the Key and Fill light set in the actor’s eyeline:


It’s possible to put the Key light on the other side, out of the eyeline, but you have to be careful with this or the light can feel very flat and make the face look broad.  If you’re going to go in the opposite direction, it can work well if the eyeline is close to camera (not wide) and if the Key light is used to create more of a half-light than a Rembrandt.  Not that he always did this, but I found very good examples of it in Conrad Hall’s work:



In both cases, the actors are looking away from the Key light side, and the Key to Fill ratios are fairly contrasty.  The Key light is used more as a Half-light than a Rembrandt, so as to preserve a darker side to the face.

Here’s an example of a ‘Grease Light’ or ‘Kicker’ on the dark side of Brad Pitt’s face.  Notice how it doesn’t hit his nose (a personal pet-peeve of mine when it does):


When lighting a 2-Shot, I sometimes employ what’s known as a ‘Back-Cross’.  This is two lights that each serve double duty — they backlight one actor while providing a Rembrandt on the other.  This also facilitates a quick turn around for lighting the coverage.




Another Play I really like is ‘The Robert Richardson’.  It’s often a bright, hot downlight (maybe a PAR Can) that bounces off a table or the ground and lights the faces.

Hugo_Richardson IngloriousBasterds_2


Another way to soften your Key Light is to build a ‘Book Light’, where the light bounces off a material (like Beadboard) and then goes through a frame of diffusion.  This creates a very soft source that often doesn’t require much fill light, but it can occupy a lot of space and take a lot of stands and flags.  It also needs a pretty bright light for a key source.

Book Light

Sometimes you can use a diffusion frame in front of your light, and raise it up a bit so that some hard light leaks on the actor while diffusion still covers the face.  Here’s an example of John Toll’s in Almost Famous:


Another technique I’ve learned to love for certain applications is the Beauty Light. It can look awesome and glamorous on a well-made-up actress, but it also can look completely fake.  Often, I use it in music videos or cosmetics commercials.  Generally, the light is right above the camera, and high enough that it throws a ‘Butterfly’ nose shadow straight down, but it’s not too high that there are shadows in the eyes.

Beauty Light

Maybe in a future post I’ll examine the differences among light sources, like Tungsten vs. HMI vs. Fluorescent vs. LED.  They’re very different, in terms of quality of the light, color, spectrum, brightness, etc.  They all have uses though, and it’s often about finding the right tools for the job.  For my quick diagrams, I used tungsten lights (and maybe you don’t always need a 5K or 10K — I got lazy and didn’t change up the sources too much for these examples).  You could need HMI’s or Kinos, depending on your set and location.

These are just examples of common techniques.  There are lots of other plays in the book and ways to change these around to suit your scene.  Everyone will have different ways of doing things and different opinions, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  These techniques can take a lot of practice, and I encourage you to be bold and break the rules.

Personally, a DP’s work can get pretty boring when they keep doing the same thing over and over again, so it’s important to learn what works and then think about other options. I often like to have a couple days after the location scout to think about how to light a set, because the first ideas can be pretty standard and ho-hum.  Given some time, I find that better ideas will come up if I can allow my mind to wander and marinate on the lighting plan.

I also find it to be helpful to study the work of other DP’s you admire, and pause the DVD’s or use screen-capture software to save stills so you can examine how they’re constructed.   I welcome your comments and additions.  Thanks for reading!


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Elephant in the room

I recently had the pleasure of working with my second exotic animal this year, an Asian Elephant named Tai.  We were shooting a spot for an addiction clinic and the theme was ‘The Elephant in the Room’.  It was a two-day shoot in Los Angeles with one of my favorite clients, Jack and Gwen at 3rd House.


Because most locations weren’t ‘elephant friendly’, we spent the first day shooting scenes and multi-layered background and foreground plates at a house and an office, and the second day with the elephant and actors on a greenscreen.  The Elephant was well-trained and contracted through a company called Have Trunk Will Travel.  Tai could do all sorts of tricks, like lie down, flap his ears, bow his head, raise his trunk, etc.  Her handlers were very film-saavy and helpful.


We shot the spot on the Sony F5 and Zeiss Superspeeds, and only used a modest grip and lighting kit.  At the camera prep, we did a quick test of the RGB 4:4:4 SR codec but found that Jack’s editing software, Adobe Premier, wasn’t compatible, so we stuck with XAVC.  I did find that the camera is still a little buggy, and it crashed on us a few times:  once at the prep, so we re-loaded the Firmware, and once on set.   The Sony Viewfinder is very nice but I found another bug that makes it appear very dim until I adjust the contrast in the menu, then it pops right back (and no, this has nothing to do with the ‘screen saver’ function when you take your eye off the eyepiece).

For the greenscreen matches, we kept careful notes on lenses, distance, lens heights, etc., but found that the elephant was a little bigger than we planned, so we had to make adjustments to our lens calculations in order to allow for changing the size and perspective on the elephant.  Otherwise, some shots would just see the legs and a little bit of the trunk of the elephant instead of more of her body.


It was a small shoot but a fun couple of days!



Graham Futerfas

Director of Photography

tel   (323) 394-1132



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Temara Melek ‘Karma’s Not Pretty’ – Music Video Released

Hey gang, the music video I shot for Temara Melek and Director Shawnette Heard was just released on YouTube.

We shot this with an Arri Alexa and Lomo Anamorphic lenses.  Check out my previous blog post about that.  Lighting package was fairly small, some HMI’s, but mainly used one 4K HMI as a beauty source.

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