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Blue Nile Shines Thanks to the Canon 5D and Apple Color

One more chapter in my "It's not the camera, it's the creativity behind the camera" series.

By Art Adams | September 19, 2011

One of the best things about this business is that greatness lurks around every corner. If you are resourceful and creative you'll find it well enough.

I've shot several viral projects for production company Seedwell and I was honored to be invited to shoot their first broadcast spot. The hitch: there wasn't much money to do it with. That's not unusual. Clients generally won't trust you with a lot of their money until you have a proven track record, and that doesn't come about until you've shot successful spots for them. It's a classic Catch-22 situation.

Naturally we jumped at the chance to wow them. How could we not? While I don't regularly pursue low budget work I do invest in creative relationships that show promise, and the Seedwell team are not only extremely creative but they are extremely nice people as well. It's also an awful lot of fun to make something really awesome out of relatively little. I love shooting big budget spots on Arri's Alexa and RED's RED ONE, but once in a while it's fun to do the same quality of work with a lot less. No matter the budget there's never quite enough time or money to do it "right," so it's good practice to consistently over deliver regardless of the project.

Besides, not having the right tools or the proper crew can be very freeing: you can only do what you can do, so rather than fret about lost opportunities I prefer to focus on creative possibilities. I firmly believe that it's the people behind a project who make the difference, not the tools. The tools help, and sometimes the right tools are necessary to achieve specific shots, but in general creativity is not determined by the gear on hand. It's who uses it that counts.

Blue Nile Jewelry came to Seedwell because they wanted to update this commercial, originally broadcast in 1999.

Here's what we did using a Canon 5D, a stock zoom lens, a two person grip/electric crew and a Kessler slider:

Turn the page to see how we pulled this off...

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Adam Wilt: | September, 21, 2011

Nice writeup, Art.

I missed your usual diagrams (though the lighting geography became more clear as the article progressed), but I enjoyed shooting my LED flashlight though my Lee swatch book to see exactly what 250 and 129 did.

I was wondering as I watched why you didn’t use a fractional Black Promist on this show… than I read that you did, and it disappeared. Crikey. I like your layered-node approach to unsharp masking; I’ll have to keep that one in mind.

At first, I thought you were mad using a 5D on a show where the hero product is characterized by finely-detailed edges and high contrast. On second thought, chroma moir

Art Adams: | September, 21, 2011

Sorry about the diagrams… I had to choose between delaying the article further and doing diagrams or posting it quickly without. Sometimes these articles become so complex it becomes quite easy to stall… and stall… and stall. smile

We did use the Soft Effects 2/Black Promist 1/4 but that was the most I could get the director to sign off on because the effect became so pronounced over the HDMI output. Any reason why that might be? I see the same thing with chroma and highlight clipping on occasion: The HDMI output tends to exaggerate those, and they look just fine later.

I’ll have to show you the node tree in Color. It worked really well.

If there was any moire in the diamond it just looked like glimmer. smile

Adam Wilt: | September, 21, 2011

The chroma and luma blowing out in live mode may be due to their being “rounded off” by the recording process—the Canon, I think, does more processing going to the card than it does to the live outputs. But I’ve seen similar things with many prosumer-grade camcorders, where the EVF / LCD show the highlights and shadows smashed and the color horribly garish, but the recordings themselves are Just Fine. The Canon’s default settings are contrasty and colorful, and that may go for its LCD setup as well.

As to why the filtration looked good live, but vanished on recording… that’s just wrong. I’ll have to take my 5D in tomorrow and try this while I still have Joe’s filter case; I’m sure there’s a big ProMist in there I can test with (the biggest ProMist I own is 58mm, and my smallest Canon lens is 77mm)...

test123: | September, 22, 2011

Hi Art: Thank-you for another valuable article. Cheers.

M. Turner: | September, 29, 2011

Thank you Art!! This article is great. I love the look you got here. I’m just finishing up a short film and I found a similar soft/contrasty look. But, the part I struggled with was lighting the wide shots. I didn’t have the same rapid falloff to work with so I ended up using harder sources for better control. Do you have any advice for matching up wides and closeups for this kind of lighting?

Art Adams: | September, 29, 2011

Matching wide shots and closeups… hmmm. Well, I do what they do in the feature and TV worlds: I cheat. smile A lot of the time closeups and wide shots are lit very differently, usually with harder light for the wide shots and soft light for the closeups.

It’s really easy to cheat looks and quality of light when switching perspectives. The tough shots are where you have both wide and tight in the same shot; you can’t necessarily change the quality of the key during the shot but you can change the fill quite easily by mounting a source on or near the camera for the tight shot.

The farther away something is the less contrast and resolution it has, so if something changes between the wide shot and the closeup we usually accept it. I remember reading an article in American Cinematographer about Jack Green, ASC, where he said his technique on one movie was to put double scrims in all the lights and put frames of Opal diffusion in front of them for the wide shots, then pull a double and replace the Opal with Lee 250 for medium shots; and then pull the final double and use Lee 216 for the closeups. I don’t do that (my jobs are rarely that big or that flush with gear) but I have discovered that as long as the light comes from the same general direction and has roughly the same contrast from wide shot to closeup you can get away with quite a lot.

For example, in the article above I point out where a hard edge light in the wide shot became very soft and beautiful in the closeup and nobody noticed, because the hard light in the wide shot was an edge light from that angle and nobody noticed it become a soft light later.

I don’t know that I can give you solid examples from my own work at the moment; I do soften the light for closeups when appropriate, but I’ve found that it’s much more effective and quick to move the fill light instead of moving the key. I just posted an article on fill light that might be interesting for you to read.

M. Turner: | October, 03, 2011

I’m glad I’m not the only who cheats wink Thanks Art. I will check out your article on the Fill Light. And thanks for providing some of the most solid lighting advice on the web.

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