Gee, Goldie, it was nice of you to compliment me on my explanation of how I lit a redwood grove for a wedding. (Was that "[YAWN!!]" in your reply, like, ironic?) Don’t you wanna know how it came out? I knew you did.
Okay, we left our hero (that would be me) in a downpour with five hundred pounds of lighting and batteries and a mile from the park lodge where the wedding would now take place in two hours. The crew took over as pack mules, so I could sprint ahead and case the lodge for light and power.
What Have We Here?
At first, things looked pretty good (see the included images). A nice big room, with nice high ceilings, a wall of windows on one side and a high clerestory window across the back (Figure 1). The lodge’s staff was setting up guest chairs right where they’d get good side light and a nice back light from the high-up windows. This was fine, because the room went on and on past the wedding area, with no windows to speak of. But the wedding area was showing a good f3.5 exposure from available light alone.
The next step was to check the power. This is a public building with 20-amp circuits, so I’m guessing I’m probably okay. To be dead sure, I plug a 1,000-watt spot into each of three wall outlets. After 10 minutes (breakers don’t always trip immediately), the lights were still blazing away. Outstanding!
Then the bride and groom take their places and I start lighting them because they’re well beyond the side windows. “What are those ugly lights?” says the bride-to-be. “I want the wedding video to look natural.” What she’ll get is either (a) video looking so back-lit that the bride, groom, and pastor are silhouettes or (b) video crawling with grain and artifacts from the exposure gain-up circuits on the camcorders. Uh oh.
Accordions from Heaven
But wait! The wedding area can be cut off by accordion doors, the kind you see in every hotel meeting or banquet room. So I pull each side out just about 6 feet and hide the key and fill lights behind the two of them (Figure 2).
Now I can conceal my key and fill lights from the guests, more or less. The bride is still unhappy, but resigned when I promise her a mud-colored video otherwise.
BTW, Goldie, notice that the key light is on the groom’s side and the fill is on the bride’s. How come? White wedding dresses give gaffers fits: Put a hot key spot on her and she’ll look positively radioactive. By spotting the key on the opposite side, I can punch up the groom in his black monkey suit, while partially shadowing the bride’s right side. The light balance will be much better.
“Hey!” says the producer, “That’s great. I’ll spot my main camcorder right under the fill light.” He’s right: the spill from the windows behind the bride and groom delivers just the right amount of backlight.
Things Are Going Too Well
“The other half of the room behind the pastor looks terrible.” says the producer, “Do something!” I point out that the main camera will never see it, but he points out that all the guests will and it looks like the wedding’s in an abandoned warehouse.
Think fast, Tommy-boy. First, I talk the bride’s dad into about 400 clams worth of flowers in a big arrangement behind the pastor. I ask for bright blooms, like white or yellow, and a draped table to put them on. The idea is to spot a backlight on the big rustic ceiling beam exposed overhead. With a little gaffer tape and an extension cord, I’m in business (Figure 3).
Of course, we don’t have a ladder that’ll reach that high, so I pile this on top of that and put my feet here and grab there and I make it up onto the beam with the spotlight’s plug hooked in my belt and a roll of tape in my teeth. Hauling on the power cord (normally a big no-no), I get the light and its mounting plate up there and tape it in place. Then I realize I have to get back down again. Now you really don’t want to hear about it, but I will say I didn’t break anything serious.
Good News, Bad News
The producer checks the effect and goes ape (in a good way). It’s wonderful! Instead of a dark hole behind the ceremony, we’ve got a magical glow of flowers, with dramatic pitch black above them.
Also, the spot up on the beam adds extra front fill on the bride and groom and back lights the pastor, which is great because he has a bald head with a fuzzy ring of hair around it. Now it looks like a halo.
The producer agrees to put the main camcorder under the fill light, to feature the bride. I’m expecting him to put a second camera near the key light, to get cover on the groom, over-the-shoulder on the pastor and guest reaction shots.
But No! Instead, he wants the second camera down by the guests, where he can pan the audience as well as catch the other stuff. The bride is not at all excited about one more piece of evil technology in her natural, environmentally sensitive nuptials, however.
The Gaffer Saves the Day
The camcorder positions aren’t really my problem, but hey: anything to help a shoot. We’ve got to have a second camera for cutaways and such, but the bride adamantly refuses to have it in the hall.
Suddenly I get an idea: okay, then, how about outside the hall? After all, we got a wall of clear glass running the length of the guest seating area. Why not set the camera outside shooting in?
Partly because it’s still pouring rain, but the key grip rigs a blue plastic tarp and we get a camera and tripod out there where it’ll stay dry. Everything looks great except for one thing. The outside camera is seeing mainly reflections in the glass. That’s child’s play for the videographer. He fits a polarizing filter over the lens, rotates it for best effect and the reflections are gone. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’ll work.
The Whole Ball of Wax
As I review this e-mail, I realize that I’m going on and on and the whole thing sounds too complicated and technical. Okay, but hear me out: Figures 4 and 5 should wrap the whole thing up for you.
Figure 4 shows the complete lighting design with the hard key on the groom, plus spill on the bride. The fill light fills both bride and groom. The spill from the two lights together picks up the pastor.
The pastor also gets a dynamite rim light from the back light up on the beam, which also delivers extra fill to the bride and groom, while blasting down on the bright flowers. The flower glow wipes out the empty room behind and looks very dramatic, too. Meanwhile, the guests are keyed by soft, diffuse window light and given a small extra kick from the high window behind them.
Now look at the same diagram, but with camera setups emphasized instead of lighting (Figure 5). Camera One stays in a two-shot of the bride and groom, except at a few crucial moments. Camera Two grabs cutaways of the guests (mainly during the music before the ceremony). Once the wedding starts, Camera Two shoots over the groom’s shoulder at the pastor.
As you look at the diagram, you may well ask: Won’t Camera Two’s shot be marred with Camera One showing in the background behind the bride and groom? Nope: With a proper exposure, it’s too dark behind the accordion screen to see the camera.
So the wedding goes great, the footage is primo, everyone is ecstatic and I am feeling like one pretty smart gaffer. Then I remember that the back light is still taped to the beam 15 feet overhead and me without a ladder.
Contributing Editor Jim Stinson is the author of the book Video Communication and Production.