A friend recently asked me how I lit the interviews in the 44 North Coffee video and it got me thinking. While a light was used, the look created was as much a product of knowing the camera and the post-production/grading as it was of the on-set lighting.
Here’s the video again:
There are interviews with Megan and Melissa, the 44 North owners. I was working by myself so I was limited in terms of gear. Beyond the camera/lenses/monopod/tripod/slider I had one light and a small reflector. The light was a Litepanels Sola ENG, a 3″ daylight balanced fresnel.
The 44 North main room has loads of natural light bouncing around. Eleven large windows ring the space on three sides and the walls and ceiling are white. It was a clear day so light levels did not fluctuate due to clouds. The Sola ENG served to provide just a bit of pop on the subjects. I don’t remember if I used the reflector or not (?!)
The camera and post-production came into play because of the huge dynamic range from inside to outside. Knowing the camera and fine tuning in post I could create an image which naturally drew the viewer to the interviewee.
The first step was shooting in log, on a Canon C300 that’s c-log. It does not apply a curve to the footage and it gives you almost all of what you would get shooting raw. The dynamic range is in the area of 12-13 stops. The C300 can hold the highlights while not blocking up the shadows.
Here are frame grabs from each of the interviews, showing the progression from log to final. The workflow is to apply multiple passes of color grading (what in the stills world would be called retouching or optimizing.) The first pass is a general grade applied to the whole image to set the white point, the black point and the overall brightness. The additional passes are targeted locally, enhancing select areas which need more work.
Log Version – it is normal for a log image to look flat and under exposed.
1st Pass Color Grade – set overall tone and brightness.
2nd Pass Color Grade – brighten area to the right of the window (also serves to guide the eye toward Megan.)
Mask used within FCP X for the 2nd Pass.
Masks used within FCP X for the second pass. Similar to Megan’s image in intent, I had work around the window shape in the background.
Masking a color grade is very easy in FCP X. Mask shapes range from round/oval to square/rectangle. You control the amount of falloff and multiple masks can be stacked to cover oddly shaped areas. You set the parameters to affect inside the mask, outside of it, or both. It was not needed in this video but masks can also be keyframed should the area being graded move (from subject movement or camera movement.)
Roaster – Bird’s Eye View
This is not an interview shot but it is a chance to look at the enhancement of a b-roll clip from the movie. The roaster shot in post required more steps than the interview clips. It was available light and it was all there in terms of the look and detail but areas within the frame needed grading to bring them out.
2nd Pass – while the first pass helped overall, areas within the frame still needed work to brighten them and add local contrast. The second pass works on the roaster barrel in the upper right.
3rd Pass – similar to the roaster barrel, the coffee tray and the coffee pouring out need their tonal range expanded, highlights brought up and shadows pushed down.
4th Pass – the image is already looking very good but the left edge and bottom left corner fight with the rest of the image a bit so a slight vignette is added to help keep the viewer’s eye on the coffee.
The masks needed to create the 3rd pass color grade.
While all of this looks complicated and time consuming, it is not. It is helpful to have a lifetime of image experience, to look at an image and know instantly what it needs. The work, though, is measured in seconds to minutes not hours.