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Notes on shooting a live performance video

Early in November, I was asked to work on a series of performance videos for Louis Coupe from the local band Ember Weir. As with most music video projects the budget was next to nothing, so it was shot entirely on my own miss matching camera kit; the Ursa Mini Pro, the Pocket Cinema Camera and the GH5.

In this entry, I want to focus on the kind of problems we faced, whilst also going over what I used to light the performance space, under a very limited amount of time and with very limited equipment.


Playing Nicely with others...

When your recording the Audio at the same time as your video, you end up with one overriding issue – working with soundies. We had two very talented sound engineers who did a great job at recording and mixing Louis’s audio. However, we got into the studio about 30 minutes after them. By the time we had rigged up a camera and had a frame, the soundies had already placed every microphone in the room. When the director Lexi and I wanted to move the piano, and started to move this among other things around, we were swiftly told to put it back. This meant we were forced to shoot into a corner of the room we really didn’t want to shoot in, and there was little tolerance for us to move anything.

I’ve worked on a few Live streams of performances, most recently for Gum Tree with Phil from Freelance Films, and moving never seems to be much of an issue on these shoots so I assumed naively that this wouldn’t really be an issue. The difference on the Gum Tree shoots is we have a whole morning to get set and for everyone to fiddle. In this situation, we had 45 minutes until we had to start rolling. In all fairness that isn’t a criticism of the sound engineers, they had a to do a lot in a very limited amount of time to do it, and if I’m honest, had we moved the piano and dressed the room, there was no way they could have got the room ready to record good audio – which in this case, is probably more important than the image – for the time we were scheduled to start rolling.

The inability to move the room around meant our entire lighting plan become pretty much obsolete, whilst also left us to quickly come up with a series of shots which we could use to create a cohesive live performance video. It was learning curve and something very different to the live performance captures I have previously been involved in. It also showed how on different budgets you find a very different set of problems, but time always seems to be the over whelming issue across the board. Had we more time, then we could have dressed the room how we wanted. But it was a good exercise in trying to make something look good on no money and with a limited selection of tools.


Speeding Lighting

So with our original plans out the window, we had to figure out pretty quickly how we could light the space. We always wanted something with a lot of contrast and with a lot of shadows. The original plan was to back light, but we didn’t want the lights in shot. With the room how it was this become a bit of a struggle. We were going to use Dedos, placed in the back of the shot to help pick up details and also to hopefully add some flares on the main camera, but we were unfortunately let down on these the morning of the shoot - a curse of being reliant on favours! So instead we were stuck with my two Aputure Ls-1 C’s and my set of Litepanel Caliber lights.

We set a panel equal distance from each other. Placed approximately 90 degrees away from the main camera so that Louis was being hit by both light sources. These were then set to 4300, which is what we also set the white balance to on each camera. The one of the right was then hoisted up high and pointed downwards towards Louis, whilst the other was about half three quarters of a metre lower. Each had a quarter stop of diffusion on, just to soften the light source slightly. These lights can be weirdly harsh for a set of panel lights.

Louis Coupe on the wide shot

We then placed one Litepanel Caliber on a stand just behind louis to the left of the frame to hit the back of his head and to help give another black light, this was set to 3200 to add a slight difference in colour to the image, and to try and help him pop out a bit more from the very dull white corner we were shooting into. Finally, I placed a second Caliber head on the floor, next to the Litepanel to the right of frame, to throw some light up the back wall to help add a bit more depth. On the monitor, this corner looked quite dark and I felt it needed lifting slightly. It’s something I was taught to do by Craig Murdock and Josh Bamber last year on the shoot for Prostate cancer to help make a black wall a bit more interesting. I’m a big fan of my little Calibers for stuff like this, but to also pick out details. The kit has been a great investment; I'm particularly impressed by the ability to run it off AA batteries. It does however annoy me that they only give you one stand and one ball head adapter with it. It does limit your options massively as the heads need an adapter to fit on a conventional C - stand.


Matching images and exposures

Screen shot of our two other cameras, on the left the GH5 and then then the right the Pocket Cinema Camera.

To match each camera’s settings we used the SmallHD 702 Lite. We wanted to shoot at around 2.8 to give a nice shallow depth of field. However, without cine glass, getting the same aperture on photographic lens can be a bit of a nightmare. Something made much worse by the fact we were using three different cameras. To match exposures, I plugged the monitor into each camera, first visually checking the image, then putting on false colour and making sure each of the images were correctly exposed. On another music video I worked on recently, I found the GH5 likes to be slightly over exposed or else it can be a tad noisy. To avoid this, I simply over exposed by around half a stop, using the false colour to check. I desperately need to buy a light metre but for now, false colour seems to be doing part of that job for me. We then brought the GH5 down in post to match the values and correct exposures on the pock and the URSA. In terms of lenses, we were using two canon 70-200 2.8, and the sigma 18-35 Art 1.8.


Final thoughts

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how each video has come out, it looks and feels how we wanted it to, reflecting the tonality of the music being played. In an ideal world I would have liked some more movement from our wide shot, but on a budget things will always get sacrificed and there must be a comprise somewhere! We also were let down by the last minute hire falling through, but with hindsight, I doubt we would have had time in the studio to build a track and record what we needed to. Feel free to give the video a watch, I've placed a link below for anyone thats interested.

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