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Lighting an infinity cove with cheap red heads and no budget – reflecting on the music video 'Ne

Back in March I worked as the DOP on a student project which involved getting my head around how to light an infinity cove. The project was a music video for an artist called Tom Ford, with a simple narrative where Tom – the artist – rocks up to a house party, and becomes mesmerised by a music video on the TV of a band performing. Throughout the party various characters attempt to interact with him but get no response. As the party unfolds, Tom starts to see himself in the music video, eventually replacing the front man entirely. As ever, this isn’t a definitive guide of how to light a cove, but I thought it would be worth noting down how I went about getting the desired look for this section of the music video. The shoot overall wasn’t my best work. Although I’m relatively happy with how the sequences shot in the cove came out, the second half of the shoot in a student house wasn’t good enough. Location seems to be such an underrated part in this tier of film making, and unfortunately, we didn’t really have the budget to spend on an awesome location. I foolishly said this location would work which I regret massively. The space was small and fairly limiting. On top of this, I think I often suffer from the affliction of over complicating an image; filling it with too much opposed to taking something away. But hindsight is as ever a wonderful thing. Anyway, hopefully this can be of some use in how to approach an infinity cove if ever you find yourself shooting in one.


When trying to figure out how to approach this, I lent upon previous experiences with coves in the past. Fortunately, I had previously worked as an assistant on an automotive shoot with Vertical Productions. On that shoot, the DOP, Simon Rowles and his crew had to light a large studio space to create an even flood of light that would help best accentuate the various vehicles they were filming. For this, they use a mixture of 10k and 5k sources placed along either side of the cove; which were then bounced off the floating ceiling to evenly coat the walls in light. The affect is one which removes harsh shadows, evenly coating each wall to create the infinity affect.

It was this model which I based the lighting design for our music video on, attempting to create a scaled down version for the smaller space we had for our shoot. This model also worked best as we only really had 800w Arri Red heads and a few Fresnels at our disposal.

Screen grab from final video

I started by placing three red heads each side of the cove and pointing each of them up at the ceiling. I then tweaked where they were hitting the ceiling to help create an even spread across the back wall of the cove that we were shooting into. By bouncing the lights off the ceiling it allows for a more even spread of light across the space, making the light source not only bigger, but also much softer than if the lamp was pointed directly at the subject. So, in affect our key light is coming from above, creating a nice top light for our space. After this, the back wall was still fairly dark, so to enhance this, I repositioned the lamps nearest to the back walls of the cove; directing them into the top corners of the back wall. This helped to evenly spread light across the back wall and give the illusion of an endless white space.

Me tweaking one of our 800w Arri Red Heads.

Once we had sorted out the space so it was lit evenly, I added some contrast to create a more stimulating image. For this, I used flags to add some negative fill on the left side of our talent’s face. I didn’t want to reposition any of our light sources and this allowed us to keep an even soft spread of light, whilst also adding some sense of depth and preventing the image from flattening off. I was at first worried about the image looking flat, but the great thing about bouncing the light off the ceiling, was that it created a lovely but quite subtle back light to help really enhance the shape of the talent; something further aided by the cove itself. To check exposure on each side of the lead’s face I used the SmallHD 702 lite’s False Colour feature. This allowed me to clearly see whether we needed more negative fill, or if we had enough, as well as allowing me to shape where shadow fell across the talent’s face.

Screen Grab from video. Contrast created through flagging off light

In terms of settings, I kept us at an aperture of around f4.6 using ND filters to help keep it there. I also set the white balance in camera to 3200 to match the light sources we were using. We shot everything on Sigma Art Series lenses from the university, which gave us a fantastic image. They do however suffer from some focus breathing issues, and there was also a massive difference in the aperture of each lens. The 50mm 1.4 for example would be noticeably brighter than the 35mm 1.4 when both at f4.6. But we worked around this and it wasn’t really an issue as we weren’t too pressed for time on the actual shoot, so could add ND filters or jiggle with the exposure to get them to match. You can see the entire video here à

And the Lyric video here à

Ultimately, I think the plan for this space worked out quite well, and there is little I would change in how I lit the space and what we shot. However, I might revisit this and do a post about what I learnt from the section shot in the house; I’m quite unhappy with how it turned out, so it might be interesting to write about it from a reflective perspective at some point in the near future. But then again, I guess that’s one of the reasons why I want to do projects like this; I’ve learn a lot more on this project, where I’m not happy with something, than I have with projects where I have been very much in my comfort zone, which in the long run can only be a good thing. Hopefully this has shone some light (pardon the pun) on one way to light a cove evenly and in a way which can create a nice, soft, even spread of light.

Screen grab from music video.

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