August 31, 2023

Mastering Low-Light Cinematography

Few challenges are as exhilarating and rewarding as capturing visuals in low-light conditions. The interplay of shadows, the dance of light sources, and the nuanced atmosphere they create hold the potential to transform a scene from ordinary to magical.

This summer, the CSC held a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind workshop on exterior night lighting in Toronto, led by award-winning cinematographers Jeremy Benning csc and Brendan Steacy csc, asc. Over the course of two nights, the creative styles and approaches of the two seasoned cinematographers were explored, allowing participants to gain a deep understanding of how stylistic choices impact a scene’s mood.

The instructors’ own footage was examined, offering a glimpse into the challenges encountered during their own productions and the strategies they devised to overcome them. Lighting choices, an essential element of cinematography, was explored in depth. The contrast between naturalistic and impressionistic lighting, the role of motivation in lighting design, the play of colours, and the intensity of light were all discussed. The importance of collaboration between cinematographers and the art department was also emphasized as it plays a pivotal role in shaping the visual narrative. The significance of camera movement was also explored, shedding light on its symbiotic relationship with lighting choices to construct a truly immersive experience for viewers. Prior to the practical portion, participants were given a backstage pass into the pre-production and directorial deliberations that lay the foundation for a successful shoot.

With an array of aerial equipment and a wide range of light sources (Cineo Quantum II, LRX Vulture, Scorpion, the impressive LRX II, and Creamsource Vortex8s, to name a few), the practical portion of the workshop delved into the art of capturing shots that breathe life into the narrative.

The scene involved two characters, Jason and Emily, meeting outside a warehouse late at night. The journey began with a wide shot, serving to establish the location and setting the tone. A seamless transition in movement followed, executed with a 30’ Technocrane, allowing participants to witness the dynamic shift in perspective. The scene then guided participants through Steadicam shots – one that pulled Jason, from a roll-up bay door to his car, and another that gracefully pushed him into the car. Inside the vehicle, the focus shifted to close coverage, capturing Jason’s emotions, and subsequently pivoting to an alternate angle that illuminates Emily’s perspective. To close the scene, the shot widened once more to capture Jason left in solitude against the backdrop of a parking lot – a poignant visual that resonates far beyond the frame. Through these practical explorations, participants were shown the artistry of capturing moments that resonate and evoke emotions using a variety of tools available to them.

Hosting a workshop of this magnitude would not happen without the commitment and support of our sponsors. Thank you to Cinelease, LRX and Herc Entertainment Services for your generosity in opening your doors to us, as well as providing the lighting and grip equipment; to Keslow Camera for cameras and lenses; Creamsource for additional lighting support; and Pro-Cam Toronto for the Technocrane. Last, but certainly not least, thank you to our volunteers and crew who worked hard to ensure that everything went smoothly.

Stay tuned for updates as we work to host this workshop on the west coast soon!

Photo credit: Emad Mohammadi

– By CSC Staff