Every production presents a unique set of challenges- and our recent shoot for Visit Florida was no different. The concept for this commercial spot was fairly straight forward: capture the intensity and humor of NCAA football fanatics from all around the state of Florida. But the logistics and execution were a different beast. From the early stages of pre-production, we knew this concept had 2 prerequisites: (1) it needed to be captured in slow-motion and (2) the location had to be on a beach.
As the Director of Photography on set, my job is to collaborate with the Creative Director(s) and/or Director(s) to figure out a way to bring their ideas to life by way of interesting compositions, exposure settings, lighting, and other photographic controls. There were several problems that needed to be solved for this shoot, most notably, camera/lens selection, camera movement, and lighting.
After a few rounds of testing, it was clear we wanted to capture this spot at 240 frames per second (FPS) at 2k resolution on the RED Epic. We didn’t feel the spot called for Phantom Miro 1200 FPS slow like when we filmed for the Dali Museum commercial. For more clarification on frame rates click here.
I knew the camera would be in a locked position most of the day, either on a tripod or dolly, but, I wanted the flexibility to change focal lengths on the fly. Sometimes the Director will yell out, “I need a close up of this angle on the next take!” and I didn’t want to have to hold up the shoot to change lenses etc. So we made the call to utilize one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever worked with, the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm rented from Alan and Neal over at Gulf Camera. Super cool dudes.
Another technical issue we had to account for was sensor cropping at 2K. We experienced a 2.6x crop factor the entire shoot so having the focal length flexibility of 19mm-90mm was important.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t give huge credit to Joe Boylan (1st AC) for his precise focus pulling and all other comedic conversations.
Next came the question, “What should the camera movement be?”
When shooting in slow-motion, camera movement is minimized because time is moving at a much slower rate than normal (obviously). In fact, at 240 FPS, every second of footage is actually slowed down to 10 seconds. I like the aesthetic of footage when the subject parallaxes from the background because the technique adds a sense of energy without losing focus on the subject. But how to get that effect at 240 FPS? We came up with the idea to build a half circle track and push the camera as fast as we could on a Super Pee Wee dolly. We collaborated with Sunwolf Lighting and Grip to help us achieve this- Sunwolf is SPARK’s go-to grip/lighting company and they’re always a delight to work with. They brought out 4 sections of 8’ curved dolly track and sled wheels to accommodate the high speed push.
My passion for photography exists because of light. The artist expression “Painting with light” is how I view my everyday approach to cinematography and photography. Every scene requires a different approach to lighting, and every commercial has different needs for final broadcast.
The last scene of this commercial was a reveal of the sunset, so the beginning slow-motion shots had to have a similar angle of incidence that a sunset would have. One big challenge was the amount of light needed for 240 FPS. When shooting at that high of a frame rate, the camera needs a ton more light for proper exposure. Especially considering the idea that I wanted to shoot all these scenes at f/8. I chose to shoot at that aperture for several reasons but most importantly, I wanted to have an acceptable depth of field when shooting at 75mm with a 2.6 cropped sensor.
After some conversations with Pat Murray (gaffer) we decided our best solution would be to diffuse the sun using a 20 x 20 light grid and then flood in a huge 18K light source. We diffused all natural light because it was about 2:00pm and that light is harsh. The important thing to accomplish with high speed, “big lighting” is to break down the light as much as possible using different diffusions etc- this will make it “soft.” We chose to key from camera left (because that’s the direction the sun was setting) and we introduced a negative fill with a large black screen on camera right. This technique gave the subjects nice even lighting on their faces, while still maintaining a little left-to-right fall off for dramatic effect.
Check out the video below to see some clips related to the camera movement, camera/lens choice and lighting. If you have any questions please submit below.
Thanks for reading.