Filmmakers Notebook: Moonlight Bedroom – Day for Night

Low Angle Shot of Woman Sleeping
The following shots are from the March 2012 Canon Boot Camp held in Palm Springs, delivered by The Association and hosted/sponsored by the Palm Springs Photo Festival. For those unfamiliar with our Canon camera classes, Pro Level II (advanced training) features and actual shoot, script, actress, and equipment with all the trimmings so participants can get their hands dirty and put what they learned in Pro Level I to good use.
THE STORYBOARD: Shot of a woman sleeping peacefully, lit by the moonlight.
LOCATION: ‘The Orchard House’ at Palm Spring’s sensually exotic Korakia Penzione .
We couldn’t have asked for a better setting.  Nina and Jeff of the Palm Springs Photo Festival reserved the best setting for our shoot day. Jeff Dunas, the Director of the Palm Springs Photo Festival, graciously invited us to deliver the Canon Boot Camp as a workshop of the Palm Springs Photo Festival.
Moving the Jib for the overhead shot of a woman sleeping - slomo
CHALLENGE: Our location was built in 1928 by Scottish Painter, Gordon Coutts, and there is minimal electrical wiring to run our lights.  So rather than crank up the generator and run cable everywhere we decide to put the Mark III and Mark II to the test.   Question: Are they sensitive enough to light that if we bounce sunlight off a shiny board through a 2 foot by 4 foot window to bathe the actress and the room in “fake” moonlight?
WHAT HAPPENED: We were training a crew of mostly professional still photographers in how to use the Canon DSLR 5D Mark II and Mark III.  Plus we had some pro video directors of photography wanting to up their game.  Both were eager to learn how to shoot movies with their 5Ds.  I decided to shoot two angles of the moonlight bedroom scene.  One low angle through the mosquito netting with a 70-200mm lens. (see pic A).  No problem. Looked great.
Setting the shot
The jib arm shot was a little more worrisome. How would we hold focus up through the jib shot?  Using our pCAM app we calculated the depth of field of the shot from 20″ to six feet over the actress’ head and we saw with a 24mm lens at f 5.6 we could hold focus the whole way.  So we held focus all the way through the rise up. Normally we would have put a 7D on the jib arm to get slow motion, but with the new Mark III we could shoot with at 60 fps. Shooting slomo made the shot more elegant and smoothed out any twitches in the move.
LIGHTING – The “moonlight” was a blast of sunlight coming off a shiny board outside the bedroom.  To further enhance the blue moonlight we dialed the white balance down to 2500 Kelvin.  ISO was at 1250.
A fan placed just off axis gently wafted the gauzy netting.
Fletch reviews the jib arm shot
The shots looked great. Just one light source. Totally believable.  The class was very pleased and had something good to put on their reel.
The jib arm shot
Our Canon 5D Mark III was on a jib arm above the actress on the bed.  This is dangerous, by the way. Jibs are dangerous.  There is way too much weight up top. People try to scoot them over a bit and find the whole apparatus tips and crashes to the floor.  I’ve seen it happen twice. So always have two people on either end of the arm and a third person to position the tripod base.  It’s best to find where the camera needs to be to get the shot and then build and position the jib to that position.  If you have to move the assembled jib, have the actress clear away. Have a calm person on either end. Shoelaces tied. A third person in the middle wrangles the tripod base and keeps it from tipping over. Move slowly. Please be careful.  Walk twice as slow as you normally do.
So, hats off to our Canon Boot Camp class and the Palm Springs Photo Festival. Our crew of Tom Myrdahl, Celine and Nancy guided our students through the setups, lighting and media management steps. Directing them was a true pleasure and we did 19 setups in their first day filming with the 5D.  We wanted them to experience production but not at the expense of learning.  So we took our time and answered all their questions as they grooved in their new-found skills. We can’t wait to see their work when they pick up experience.
In the next Filmmakers Notebook we’ll show how we lit the copper bathtub scene. Be sure to attend our Canon Boot Camp on April 28th (Pro Level I) where I’ll be covering our experience with the Mark III in Prague as well as in Palm Springs, so that attendees who haven’t gotten their hands on one yet can get their questions answered.

Leave a Reply