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    First dance music vid shoot. Need advice on "low key" lighting setup
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    Nighttime, indoors. 3rd floor. Corner. Lots of windows, so there will probably be some amount of ambient light. The studio supplies 3 Paul C Buff Digibee DB800's and C stands.

    What I'm trying to do: reflective hair ties on a long braid, maybe reflective tape on the dancer's fingers. So mostly dark, with hair whipping around & hands accentuated.

    I'd also like some relatively tight shots of her face in the dark, typical low key lighting one side.

    How do I set up the first shot? And would the DB800's suffice for both? If not, what should I get?


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    if i remember correctly those are flash heads, and you said you are filming a video, so do you intend to use the modeling light portion of them?

    Not sure what you mean by lowkey lighting but you seem to have enough equipment to do 3 point lighting but i've never seen the modeling light function of these so not sure how powerful it would be. What camera system are you using and how many power outlets do you have?

    If you're working with just one dancer then your job will be doable with 3 heads, but hard to say without knowing the choreography. If your dancer is travelling far across your stage then you will need two or three key lights to eliminate any dark spots (assuming you don't have a gaffer/grip to pan the light fixture for you).

    Again, weird that they've provided you with strobes for a video shoot. Renting a couple ETC S4 fixtures or a few (more affordable) PAR64 cans will go a long way as they're continuous and with the right diffusion can easily cover a dancer's routine without much adjusting between setups.


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    Yeah, it's more a photo studio. Maybe I made a mistake, but it looks cool and the bulk of shooting will be in daylight.

    By low key, I'm referring to dark, artsy shots, where the whole scene is mostly black except maybe one side of the subject's face, and some highlight back/top of head. (heh, as a n00b, I should steer clear of jargon. lol)

    I have a Sony a6500 and a few fast primes. Not sure how many outlets they have there. I assume enough for the lights and power cords they provide.

    The DB800 does have a modeling light, specs: "400 W equivalent (75 W permanent LED bulb) / 6000 lumens"

    I've been looking at LED fresnels. I'm assuming that if a 75W LED is not bright enough, I should be looking at 200-300W? I'll check out pars though.


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    Senior Member Peter C.'s Avatar
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    Strobe modeling lights aren't for video. They might look bright in a dark room but they're not. They're no better than light bulbs at home. If it's an art shoot on limited budget then have at it. Btw have you considered how you're going to keep them in focus?


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    It's just 1 dancer. The night shots (and in general) will be highly directed. Lots of quick shots & slo-mo. So I think I'll be able to keep focus.

    I'm a bit baffled by lack of info just googling around on exactly what lights to get, except the Aputure 300d seems popular. So am I basically looking for one or more 300W fresnels to get that high contrast look?

    I suppose an example would help:



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    Is this a paid job? Have you ever shot something like this before? Is the "They" a client or a friend?

    If it is a paid job then you need to factor in renting some lights with possible battery power if the space is just a loft without power. There are tons of lights out there from Ebay to B&H. They all will get you to an end. The only limiting facotor is your budget, needs and experience.


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    Senior Member puredrifting's Avatar
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    I've shot several dance films for various directors. Just a caution, "Low Key" doesn't mean underexposed.
    I shot a film quite a few years ago for a known director with an amazing dancer who flew in from Spain, all of the
    way to LA. Great stage, wardrobe, dancer, choreography. Unfortuantely the director would not listen when I told him
    not to judge exposure from the non-broadcast director's monitor.

    This director MADE me radically underexpose the image to try to get this "low key" look, which in his mind, would
    look cool and dramatic. This was quite a while ago but we were shooting with a budget Panasonic small chip camera, not
    with an Arri or something with some dynamic range. I tried, begged, pleaded with him to let me light and expose the dancers
    correctly and bring it down in post with the colorist. He couldn't get it through his head to expose correctly and then bring down
    the correctly exposed image in post, he thought we HAD to do it in camera.

    Big mistake. I told him that once the colorist was done with the radically underexposed image, it would look like noisy crap and lo and behold,
    it did look like mud. Noisy mud. Probably the most unsatisfying shoot I have ever done because the dancer was world class, my camera positioning
    and movement were spot on, but the image itself looked terrible, as I told him it would.

    Expose correctly. Bring down levels in post. Don't shoot radically underexposed unless you want it to look like crap.
    Last edited by puredrifting; 02-25-2021 at 04:09 PM.
    It's a business first and a creative outlet second.
    G.A.S. destroys lives. Stop buying gear that doesn't make you money.


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    Senior Member Peter C.'s Avatar
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    Sounds like he was stuck in the mindset for live performances.

    I’ve got another video coming up this spring to film a movie like ballet. I find it difficult to film because the dance director choreographs fast movements and wants closeups. It’s difficult to memorize all the movements and timing to anticipate and react to it.

    On topic sounds like they want you’d see on stage with theater lights. Not easy to pull that off at a dance studio.
    Last edited by Peter C.; 02-25-2021 at 08:09 AM.


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    Senior Member paulears's Avatar
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    Remember that windows are also excellent mirrors - and source 4's are rather narrow, and even the PAR64s are incapable of washing a large area unless a long way away.

    Dance is also about modelling light - the usual 3 point lighting works on vertical subjects, but it's very poor at revealing arm and leg form - because they poke out! So for dance, side lights are very good, because their shadows compliment form - and especially lights from the knee height. This applies for almost every form of dance from street to ballet. You also need to consider coloured light maybe - white light dance is kind of for special effect. If it looks natural it's probably wrong.


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    I just bought a 300W LED fresnel & a 30W one. I'm thinking in combination with ambient light from the windows and maybe one of those DB800 modeling lights, I'll be ok. Though I might pick up a par light still.

    Quote Originally Posted by paulears View Post
    Remember that windows are also excellent mirrors
    What do you mean? Can you give an example and how it'd be set up?


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