Artists’ Essentials DVD test shoot

Yesterday I spent 5 hours in Overland Park with “Donna”: and “John”: doing a test shoot for the upcoming DVD project. The main goal of the day was to see which environment would be best for staging and shooting the workshops. John’s forte is commercial photography, so we knew he would be invaluable in helping to set up a lighting scheming.

Donna has two classrooms/studios downstairs where she teaches her classes. The main problem with shooting there is sound. The ceiling is low, and the echo is pretty fierce. Any sound engineer would tell you that it’s nearly impossible to remove echo from a track in post-production, so that was right out.

She also has a very large studio upstairs, with lots of natural sunlight and high ceilings. Aside from the very occasional car driving by, there was no road noise or ambient sound in the room. The problem there is with the light. We will be shooting from morning till evening, and as the day changes, so will the color temperatures streaming in from the many, many windows. Coupled with the occasional cloud cover, we were talking about blocking out all the windows, moving all of Donna’s art supplies, tables and easels (a mammoth task in itself) and bringing in John’s light kit & backdrop to light it artificially.

As got to talking about it, John said, “Well, if we’re going to do all this work, why don’t we just shoot it in my studio?” He invited us to come take a look. So we drove 6 miles down the road and ran some sound tests in his studio. We spent 3.5 hours setting up a backdrop and lighting the scene to get it looking right from all angles. John’s many years of experience as a commercial and portrait photographer (and piles of personal equipment) are going to really kick up the production several notches.

When I got home, I tested the footage out on a couple TVs at the house. When you’re evaluating footage for technical problems, it’s best to remember the source of the project. Who’s going to be seeing this, and where? Most of our DVD purchasers are going to watch it on a standard home television set. There was a slight echo to the footage, but nothing unmanageable. Basically, it’s unnoticeable unless you’re hooked up to a decent stereo system and someone points it out. I’m going to experiement with minimizing it through some audio filters, and we’re going to do what we can with the studio to minimize the echo — hanging blankets, etc.

I’m really excited, as all the pieces to this project are just falling into place at all the right time. Donna and her daughter “Melanie”: are working hard on a logo and some unifying artwork. I’ll be setting to work on a temporary website soon. I’m writing some pre-order forms and other promotional materials for Donna to take to a workshop in February, and we’ll be putting a website up at “”: soon.

Here’s a look at our final setup:
!/images/30t.jpg (lighting setup)! !/images/28t.jpg (donna headshot)!

“Click here for a larger verision of these photos”:

You see here we have a very large whiteboard, bouncing two bright lights (one unfiltered lowell totalight and one lowell softlight 1500 with a brownish-amber filter). This is the key light, which is angled to light Donna’s face from the front at an approximately 45 degree angle. Then we have two totalights — one filtered — aimed to the back of the room, bouncing light off the back wall and ceiling. This provides the fill light, which fills in the shadows so we can see detail. We use indirect light because it casts a more diffuse, pleasant light to soften Donna’s face and features.

If you look just to the left of the backdrop, you can see the “kicker,” or highlight lamp. It’s aimed from behind to Donna’s back, from off to the side. There’s a lightish blue filter on this, which softens the harshness a bit. This light casts a highlighting glow around the right edge of her face and shoulder, to help her stand out from the backdrop. You can see it also highlights her hair.

This is the standard 3-light setup that you will regularly see in movies if you’re looking for it.


  1. Morley says:

    Wow. I must say I’m quite impressed, Todd. This is quite a step up from the attention we paid to light and sound during the filming of “Dumping Jenny”! No more duct-taping cheap microphones to telescoping mop handles for you!

  2. Todd says:

    That’s right—now we duct-tape EXPENSIVE microphones to telescoping mop handles.

    Actually, for Rock Paper Scissors, we duct taped our shotgun mic to a long stick of bamboo. How appropriate, eh?

  3. Joe Baird says:

    Hey Todd, The site looks great! I’m impressed. Finally got around to checking it out. All the camera/movie making lingo confuses my tiny acorn sized brain. Still, I’ll continue to check it out from time to time. By the way, Japan was awesome over Christmas. Had a great time. Sayonara! Joe B.

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