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It’s still not the camera!

My recent shoots with the HVX-200 don't look good just because of the camera. It's how we used it.

By Art Adams | July 25, 2008

Today, on the CML-Basics list, someone posted that they liked the look of my recent HVX-200 projects so much that they were thinking of asking for an HVX-200 on their next low-budget feature project. This was my response:

The point of my HVX-200 articles is that it's not necessarily the camera, but how you light and frame, that makes all the difference. A member of CML, director/DP Joseph Murray, is a friend and quite an inspiration. He showed me a music video that he shot for a friend where they used a theatrical set as a background, complete with theatrical lighting, using a large 4' china ball as key.

The performer sat at the front of the set with the china ball directly in front of them, using the inverse square law to keep that light from filling in the set. (By putting the light source very close to the subject, the falloff occurs quite quickly behind them.) Joe then brought up the set lights just enough to dimly illuminate the background. He did some color correction in After Effects, tracking the performer's face and bleaching it out to a very smooth near-white. It was stunningly beautiful, and all shot on a DVX-100 and a doorway dolly for very little money.

I'm convinced you could do the same thing with a DVX-100. The most important thing is to keep the contrast under control as much as possible, because that's a large part of why my footage looks good: we didn't put ourselves in situations where we had bright overhead sun and dark shade, because that's when the camera looks not so good. Beyond that, experiment with combinations of hard and soft light and just try to create something that looks good but natural, or what I call "super natural." It's realistic but it also looks good, whereas real light doesn't always look great on its own.

One of the most important tricks I ever learned was to fill from the key side. I'll usually fill using a large source on the same side of the camera as the key light. This makes all the difference in the world. Filling from the opposite side as the key works on occasion, but it doesn't create as many subtle shades because there's a bright key side and a not-so-bright fill side, and that's it: two shades of brightness. When your fill comes from the same side as your key you create a much larger transition between bright and dark that occurs across the entire subject and can be quite beautiful.

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Steve Hullfish: | July, 27, 2008

Could you show a diagram or give a visual example of this “fill from the key side” concept? To me this sounds counter-intuitive. Fill and key are supposed to be on opposite sides if you play by the “rules.”

Are you using a hard light as a key and then a softlight on the same side as fill? Or are you bouncing your fill with a light on the same side and the bounce on the opposite side? Is the keylight creating a crisp highlight and the fill is for soft, ambient light on the same side?

I’m intrigued by what you’re describing.

Nathan Beaman: | July, 30, 2008

I very much agree.  It’s not the camera it’s how you use it.  I get the same responses all the time. A dozen or so emails a week asking what equipment I use, both from individuals and small companies - as if owning the equipment is suddenly going to enable something inside them that had been hidden for so long.  I think that producers especially take this for granted. 

The HVX is capable of some great images.  Here is some beautiful stuff - mostly raw with the camera (no color correction)
and another B and W with the cam that shows off the sharpness and smoothness of the blacks

they both use the redrock M2

Mike70: | August, 07, 2008

Sure looks like there’s a fill light coming in from the left (onto guitarist’s right arm), opposite the strong key from the right.

Art Adams: | August, 08, 2008

That’s not fill light, that’s an active Reflectix bounce from the camera left rear used to edge the musician’s arm and hand so they don’t blend into the background. It’s described in the article.

Mike70: | August, 08, 2008

Got it, Art.  Hadn’t seen the other article.  Very much like the look in the guitar shot, which, in effect, is 3 points, with the reflector as quasi-backlite, and the fill moved across the axis. Will have to try it. What light and diffusion are you using for the fill? Thanks.

billS: | August, 19, 2008

good article!
striking back against the “camera aristocracy”
in the still photo realm, we would use holgas and other “cheap” cameras…
you don’t need a hasselblad ( or panavision) to make good looking images…
that is why super 8 refuses to die….

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