Say Goodbye To Underpowered Lights

If you’ve ever seen feature film or high-end TV commercial shoots, you may have noticed that, while low-budget productions tend to use lots of small lamps, these high-dollar projects use a small number of very large lamps, and then modify the light with diffusion material, bounce it off various surfaces, or sculpt it with opaque “flags.”

Over the years, I’ve tried to incorporate that more cinematic approach to lighting in my work, with somewhat limited success. Most of the instruments marketed for video production – especially in the low-to-mid-budget range – simply don’t put out a sufficient volume of light. Once you bounce it or diffuse it, there’s usually not enough left for a decent exposure.

To a certain extent, fast lenses and cameras capable of high ISO have mitigated that problem, but it’s always a challenge to balance artificial light with available light, or to light a larger area for a wider shot.

The fact of the matter is, you just can’t do cinematic lighting with small video lights. Larger, more powerful lights have been available – first HMIs, and now LED Fresnels – but they usually cost upwards of $1,200 or more (much more), putting them out of reach of many “crew of one” filmmakers. They’re also usually very large and cumbersome.

Personally, I’ve spent way too much money on cheap, underpowered lights over the years. Finally, I got so frustrated about being unable to find anything that hit the sweet spot of price, convenience, and raw power, that I decided to solve the problem myself.

I found a manufacturer that would work with me to produce what I wanted, and now I’m very pleased to introduce the CrewOfOne Supernova 240!

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This beast of a light serves up 240 watts of daylight-balanced LED power, silently blasting 29,000 lumens of raw light in a 120° pattern. That’s about 400% brighter than the LED lights I’ve been using and recommending until now, with drastically more coverage. Best of all, since I’m dealing directly with the factory, I can offer this for HALF the price of anything close to a competing product: only $599! That’s the same price as a cheap light kit that’ll never quite satisfy you until the day it finally falls apart.

Check out these comparison shots showing direct illumination (aiming at the backdrop), and indirect illumination (aiming the light at the ceiling). Camera settings (f/5.6 at 1/60 ISO 400), lamp/background position, and image processing are all identical. The Supernova 240 really IS that much brighter than a typical LED video light.

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Now, a few caveats: to keep the price down, I’ve made this a no-frills piece of gear. That means three things:

1) It doesn’t have a fancy angle adjustment handle. It has a very beefy metal bracket that holds the light securely in one position at a time. Two small bolts lock the bracket in position. If you want to change the angle, you need to take the locking bolts out. Frankly, I don’t bother to lock mine at all, as the bracket is tight enough to keep the lamp at whatever angle I put it.

2) CRI. This light is rated >80Ra. More expensive lights are usually >90Ra. To me, the difference in color rendering between cameras is far more than that, and there’s a lot of debate about whether CRI even applies to LED lights, but if you’re a CRI snob, there’s your full disclosure.

3) It’s heavy. About 14 lbs, actually. If you use cheap, flimsy light stands, they might not be enough for the Supernova. You’re going to have to get some decent stands (ideally, C-stands), and you’re also going to have to be careful, because if this falls on somebody, it will hurt them, and you will be responsible.

HOWEVER, since, let’s be honest, I designed this thing for myself, here are a few things I made sure to include.

1) No wall-wart or annoying two-part transformer box. The LED driver is built right into the light, so the power cord is just that: a power cord.

2) Speaking of power cords, the on/off switch is on the cord, not the light. It drives me crazy to have to lower a light just to turn it on or off.

3) Completely silent: some lights have built-in fans or generate a high-pitched whine. Not this one.

4) This isn’t exactly a feature, but FREE SHIPPING within the continental USA.

5) Also, a 100% satisfaction money-back guarantee.

Until you’ve used a lamp like this, you almost can’t imagine how versatile it is. Here are just a few of the things you can do with this much raw light:

You need to film a high-key interior scene? You can aim the Supernova 240 at the ceiling of a normal sized room, and the fill the whole place with soft, beautiful light. This is GREAT for business-candid shoots where you have to move quickly and clients never want to see dark shadows.

You need to shoot an interview? You can shine the Supernova through some white fabric and give your project the kind of light you see in movies that win awards for cinematography. You can make it more or less dramatic simply by altering the angle of the light, and you can make the shadows softer by adding more diffusion material, or harder, by removing diffusion.

You want to make a scene look dark? Backlight your subject, and bounce a little bit of light in from the side for that cool, “noir” effect.

If you’re worried about power consumption, let me put 240 watts in perspective. When I started my career (in the previous century), it was not uncommon to use tungsten lights that were 1,000 or 2,000 watts. In addition to using fragile bulbs and generating enormous amounts of heat, these suckers would often trip circuit breakers. As a result, I learned that 2,000 watts is about the limit that you can plug into a standard (20 amp) circuit. If you do the math, that means that you could actually plug EIGHT of these lamps into one circuit before you started worrying about tripping a breaker.

An extra note for any photographers who may be intimidated by video lighting: this light is so bright, you can use it just like a flash. The same way you’d bounce a flash off the wall or ceiling, you can use the Supernova 240.

So … if, like me, you’re tired of wasting your money on flimsy, underpowered lamps, I’d like to sell you a light! Or, more than one (you’ll be able to select quantity on the next screen). Click the “Buy Now” button, and get ready to go Supernova!


Supernova 240 – $599

Free Shipping Within Continental USA!


BTS: Live Action + VFX for Capable Civilian Training

fury bts 2The world is, increasingly, an uncertain place to live and work. Thanks to terrorism, mass shooters, and economic unrest, it’s no surprise that more and more people are trying to learn how to stay safe. Whether correctly or incorrectly, the self-defense industry has long been associated with an over-abundance of testosterone and far-right-wing politics. I’ve recently started doing some work with a company that’s trying to change that. It’s Fury Security Consulting, and they have developed a corporate-style approach that they call Capable Civilian Training.

To communicate the company’s efforts to bring personal security out of the gym and into the boardroom, I worked with my colleagues at Pixel Method to create this promotional video for the Capable Civilian website, combining upscale cinematography with high-tech motion graphics.

Monoprice’s Surprisingly Good $50 Condenser Mic

6007001For cables and cases, Monoprice has quietly become the go-to supplier for creative pros. Although they sell a dizzying array of products, their audio & video cables are a fraction of the price of any other retailer, and their own brand of hard cases look and feel like Pelican cases, but cost less than half as much.

Pleased as I have been with their products, I was a little skeptical when I saw that Monoprice has started to sell microphones. Manufacturing a cable is one thing; sophisticated condenser electronics are something else. Still, for $100 for a PAIR of small condenser microphones, I had to find out for myself whether the glowing reviews on the Monoprice website were justified. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that Monoprice offered a hyper-cardioid capsule for $25 that could be swapped out for the the stock cardioid capsule. A hyper-cardioid pickup pattern is particularly well-suited to recording dialogue, because it more effectively ignores anything that it isn’t directly pointed at.

For years, I have used and recommended the Audio-Technica 897. After testing out the Monoprice 600700 on a few projects, I decided to record a quick back-to-back comparison.

Using Premiere Pro & Handbrake To Create YouTube-Friendly Files

A couple of people have asked me recently how I deliver finished files to my clients for web use (typically YouTube). Until recently, I simply used the Premiere Pro “YouTube 1080p HD” preset. However, uploading these files to YouTube often delivers or both of the following warning messages:

youtube errors

Neither of these make sense, since H264 is most certainly a “streamable file format,” and I’ve never actually had any audio/video sync issues with the files I’ve uploaded. Nevertheless, these warnings are annoying and disconcerting to clients.

So, what I have started doing recently is to export my files from Premiere as ProRes files, and then using the free video encoder Handbrake to crunch them down to YouTube/client-friendly files.

Pricing Your Video Production

I was asked recently about how I determine pricing for my projects. The three most important factors I consider when pricing a video production job are time on location, time editing, and overhead costs.

Time on location is fairly straightforward: I charge a dayrate for myself and my “crew of one” gear package that is comparable to what other professionals at my level in my area charge. You don’t want to work for nothing, but you don’t want to price yourself out of the market either!

Time editing is always an estimate, because you never really know how long something will take to edit until you get into it (especially if the client has a lot of revisions). I used to track my hours and adjust my final bill accordingly, but clients hated the uncertainty, and I hated having to watch the clock all the time, so I switched to a project rate for editing. Now, I tell the client how much I would charge to deliver what they want, and that’s what they pay. If it takes me less time, great for me; if it takes me more time, great for them.

The Untold Story of “Slaughter Nick for President”

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Rob Stewart as beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, with Carolyn Dunn in “Tropical Heat” AKA “Sweating Bullets”

 

The indy documentary, “Slaughter Nick For President” follows Canadian actor Rob Stewart (most well-known for playing the ruthless assassin Roan on “Nikita”) on a trip to the Eastern European nation of Serbia, where he is a huge celebrity because of a TV role he played in the 1990s.

The Canadian late-night crime show “Tropical Heat” (aired in the USA as “Sweating Bullets”) followed the tongue-in-cheek exploits of beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, as he solved crimes on a fictional resort island. Unbeknownst to anyone involved with the production, the show aired in Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars, where it become an enormous cultural phenomenon, and inspired a generation of political activists.

In “Slaughter Nick For President,” Stewart and his friends, siblings Liza Vespi and Marc Vespi, travel to Serbia and try to figure out why “Tropical Heat” and Stewart’s character, Nick Slaughter, are so immensely popular. “Slaughter Nick For President” is available for instant viewing on Amazon and iTunes, as well as on Google Play, Vudu and DVD.

Fortunately for CrewOfOne readers, the film’s Executive Producer/Producer/Co-Director Liza Vespi was kind enough to talk to me about this truly one-of-a-kind project.

“Crew Of One” Director Tries The “One Man Crew Director”

OMC_Wild-Dunes

Since I’m a video director with a blog called “Crew of One,” it’s only natural that I’d be interested in a product called “One Man Crew Director.” As a commercial shooter with 15+ years of experience, I love projects that allow me to hire my core group of freelancers, but often I find myself working on assignments in which I have to be the director, DP, audio operator, grip, gaffer and editor, all by my lonesome. On these “crew of one” jobs, it’s always a challenge to add visual interest and production value, especially to “talking-head” shots of sales pitches or interviews. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Redrock Micro’s “One Man Crew Director” (OMCD) is designed to do.

Q&A With “Heavy Objects” Director Fletcher Crossman

Fletcher Crossman

I had the pleasure of meeting phenomenally talented artist Fletcher Crossman back in 2009, when I photographed him in his backyard studio for a now-defunct magazine. At the time, Fletcher was focused on painting: his large-scale, figurative paintings – often incorporating text and political/philosophical overtones – made a big impression on me.

I found Fletcher himself to be a very affable British expatriate with a dry sense of humor, and the kind of vivid imagination rarely found in anyone over the age of three. We kept in touch after the shoot, and in 2010, we collaborated on a short documentary called “The Apple Thief.” The film followed Fletcher as he worked on a huge, controversial painting of a woman in a Christ-like crucifixion pose, while having challenging conversations with religious leaders about the role of women as defined by different faiths.

“House Of Cards” Style Photo Tutorial

I had so much fun doing a self-portrait in the style of the “Gotham” promo photos that I decided to do another. This time, I’m using as a stylistic reference the extremely cool b&w portraits done for the Netflix hit series, “House Of Cards.”

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As with most promotional images, all the copyright info is for Netflix, so I have no idea who actually took these photos. I suspect that the individual portraits were shot on a Hasselblad, probably with some kind of large “beauty dish” lighting, and then stitched together in Photoshop.

But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t do something similar, in whatever space, and with whatever equipment we have! Here are a few of the shots I came up with for myself.

House Of Cards style lighting

Without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on “House Of Cards” style photo lighting.

“Gotham”-Style Photo Tutorial

Gotham-Wallpaper

I’m a big fan of the new “Gotham” TV show. I also like the promo images that were done for each of the main characters. I couldn’t find any information online about who took the images,or how they were done, so I decided to figure out how to do something similar myself.

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Waveform 101

Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.

In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.

Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.

Goodwill Christmas TV

I was recently hired by the good folks as The Brandon Agency to shoot, direct & edit a series of spots they’d written for Goodwill Industries. In time for the season, here’s the Christmas spot.