Kevin Bradley – Sept 2012 Demo – “Lighting Faces”

“Meche, Yo” 5 days in… 2 to go…

I’m currently serving as DP on “Meche, Yo” (Mercy, Me), scheduled for release in August 2012.  We’re 5 days into production on a 7 day schedule.  Here’s some screen caps from the film.  Peace!


The Stellar Diva Ring Light: An Affordable 18” Circular Catch Light

By Kevin Bradley

I’ve filmed a lot of faces and headshots.  I would consider it one of my go-to skills.  After thousands of headshots, I’ve found If you don’t mix-it-up, it tends to get boring…

A catch light (or eye light) is used to draw attention to your talents’ eyes. In virtually every lighting situation involving a person’s face, you want a good catch light. Whether you’re shooting corporate interviews, romantic scenes, music videos, headshots, whatever, a nice looking catch light is what separates the professionals from amateurs.

But every situation is different, and there are different styles of catch lights.

In the 90’s, a lot of cinematographers started using beauty ring lights for motion pictures. It’s a lighting style that became particularly popular in music videos. More recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of Lady Gaga videos are using a ring light on their main safety angles.

So, what is a ring light and what are the advantages of one? A ring light is exactly as described, a ring of light that the lens of the camera can aim through. The advantage of this approach is two-fold, for starters it is damned-near the softest source of light in the world, no need to worry about harsh shadows on the subject, no serious threat of the talent falling out of their best light in the shot. Still photographers have used them for years, mostly for fashion model shoots for that very reason. Secondly, the effect of filming your subject through a ring light at close proximity yields a beautiful, circular catch light.

The look that this type of luminary produces is almost a special effect on its own, it’s highly stylized but uniquely beautiful.

The bad news about ring lights has always been the ridiculous cost of them. For years, the most popular models of ring light that are specifically designed for motion picture use have been the Lite Panels Ringlite and Ringlite Mini. I’ve rented and used both of them on set. Both are flicker free, both LED driven (low power consumption) and both are dimmable. They’re great lights. That’s what I thought until I found out how much money I’d have to shell out to be the proud owner of these babies: $8,500 for the big one and a mere $2,000 for the Mini!… That my friends, is stupid expensive. Rent!

That was THEN.

Ladies and Gentleman, I present the Stellar Diva Ring Light, the first truly affordable ring light for film and video!

The Stellar Diva Ring Light is an 18-inch ring specifically designed to be the cheaper alternative to its more expensive counterparts. It has a flicker-free ballast built in, multiple mounting options, low power consumption and a 5400k native color temperature. And the best part of all, it’s only 200 bucks!

One of the unique features of the light is that it comes with an adjustable goose neck for stands, making it fast and versatile for quick changes in angle, height and position.  It also includes a bracket that allows you to hard mount it directly to the camera platform or tripod.

The fixture has a built-in ballast to insure flicker free operation.

The light comes with the bulb pre-installed and has a 5400 kelvin color temperature.   After searching their site, I’ve concluded that they only offer globes in 5400k, no tungsten.  But, I’ll have to confirm that with Stellar. Spare bulbs are a little pricey ($26) but they’re a necessity, I would suggest 2-3 of them lying around in case of disaster.

The light has a built-in on/off switch, but does not include a dimmer (UPDATE: A new version has been released that does have a dimmer built-in), which is a drag but if you’re using this as the key light you simply adjust your other fixtures accordingly.

The Stellar Diva Light is a cheap and viable solution for creating a circular catch light.  They also produce great results for soft lighting, it will be interesting to see just how many different ways I’ll be able to use it in the coming months / years.  

I highly recommend this piece of gear, you’ll save yourself thousands when compared to the price and feature set of the competition.  The bang-for-the-buck value here is key.Check it out.

Matthews Road Rags & Road Flags: Venerable Swiss Army Knives for Soft Lighting

By Kevin Bradley

There’s that famous saying: “If the hard light is your friend, the soft light is your lover” and it’s true in a sense, although I would add one caveat to it, a soft source fixture is just that, soft! A soft light cannot become a point source light, so I would consider it be a one trick pony in many ways. However, a fresnel, open face or par light can become a soft source with beautiful results. Normally this is achieved using a soft box physically attached to the light.

I’ll state for the record that I am not a big fan of soft boxes, never have been. They’re expensive, they break easily, they weigh down the light and like I said before, they can only perform one job.

When making purchase decisions on equipment, I determine the value of any tool in 4 factors: bang-for-the-buck, durability, portability and versatility. While they are wonderfully portable, soft boxes are not terribly cost effective, durable or versatile.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kino Flos and Lanternlock China Balls when the right situation calls for it. However, I tend to think the light quality from tungsten is better than fluorescent, and both Kinos and China Balls typically spill light all over the place!  What you need when you’re trying to dynamic soft light is control!

So, without a soft box to diffuse a hot point source, how do you do it? All the time I see guys on sets attaching frost and other diffusion gels to fresnels using a few C47’s, that would be fine if they were altering the backlight, the fill, hair light or whatever, but they’re doing it in an attempt to make a soft key!

This fundamentally defeats the meaning of the word: “broad source” or “large” source light.

Of course, you could move the light further from the subject to soften it, but that’s not always an option, esspecially if you’re shooting in a small environment. Frost gel on a 650w fresnel is not a broad source, it’s a softened point source, and that’s an important distinction.

I’ve been using Matthews Road Rags & Road Flags Kits for about 2 years now and they have been a great solution for me and my distaste of soft boxes. I highly recommend them to anyone wanting a broad source solution that’s not from a Chimera, Kino, or LED. When using Road Rags and Road Flags to soften a light source, you gain back one thing lost with a softbox, control.

For example, the distance between the light source and the silk on the box can’t be changed, therefore the only adjustment that can be made is spot to flood on the fixture, which doesn’t make much of a difference if the distance between the light and the diffusion doesn’t change. By using portable silks instead of a box, you have full control over the fresnel.

As you can see here in this simple table top set up, I have my Mole Richardson 1k on a boom shooting through the 4×4 silk, all while retaining flood-to-spot and the ability to attach the barn doors to control the edges of the light.  I’m also using the second Road Flag frame as a 4 foot flag to block out the sunlight filtering into my living room.  

One bag, two ways to control your light source.  Versatile!

I’ll admit that this approach to broad lighting does have drawbacks, for one makes it necessary to carry a little more gear, which sometimes is a pain, but I believe the extra weight is worth it. Also, the speed at which you can build Road Rags and Road Flags frames is faster than that of a soft box.

At $500+ for the Road Flags Kit and $200 for the Rags, they’re not the cheapest option out there, but they’ll last forever and their versatility is invaluable.

Check them out.

Atomos Connect Converters: HD-SDI for the Ninja is here!

By Kevin Bradley

Before Atomos jumped into the uncompressed recorder market with the Ninja, there were only two portable products readily available in the market that could get RAW material out of your camera; the Convergent Design NanoFlash (nanoFlash | Convergent Design) and AJA’s Ki Pro Mini (Ki Pro Mini – AJA Video Systems).

I’ve used both devices and they’re great IF you’re willing to deal with some glaring issues such as the lack of built-in power options, for one.  And of-course the biggest drawback of all….the price, with the devices costing $2850.00 and $1999.00, respectively.

Then along came the Ninja. When Atomos introduced the Ninja, they outclassed their competition right out of the gate with a far more attractive price point of $999.00.  Not only was the price affordable, but it also included a better operating system, SSD recording, built-in powering options, etc. etc.

But, before I was tempted to be one of the first people to purchase the Atomos Ninja ProRES Recorder, there was only one thing holding me back: the fact that it was HDMI-In ONLY!  HDMI is great on my home theater, but it’s a piece of crappola on a film set.  HDMI has no locking function built into it, it’s 1080i without conversion, and its connectors are nowhere near up-to-snuff for the abuses of the film and video industry.

However, one little comment/promise from the Atomos people kept me interested in the Ninja, “future expandability to HD-SDI.”  My first thought was: how?

And now I’ve got my answer!  Announced at IBC, these new Connect converters will give you exactly what the Ninja has been lacking: connectivity to the 95% of cameras that do not feature HDMI out.

Here are specs, directly from Atomos’ Website:

  • Physical compatibility with Marshal and Small HD Monitors, Atomos Samurai and Ninja field recorders and any device with a Sony NP Battery Mount
  • Canon and Panasonic mounting compatibility with suitable battery-plate adaptors
  • Data compatibility with any SDI, HD-SDI equipment from the past two decades!
  • Rackmount adaptor available: ideal for studio or OB truck use
  • Real-time conversion between HD-SDI and HDMI (S2H) and between HDMI and HD-SDI (H2S)
  • In-line real-time pulldown removal (60i to 24p and 30p; 50i to 25p)
  • Futureproof: 3G HD-SDI chipsets used throughout
  • Dual battery system (one internal, one external) for continuous power
  • Internal battery can power converter for two hours
  • External battery (2-cell, NP-470-type) can power a converter for 15 hours (6-cell for up to 36 hours)
  • Internal battery can be charged from an external battery
  • Use external DC supply via D-Tap adaptor
  • Cascadable – stack up to six converters together and power from a single source – AC or battery
  • Torch light – Built-in LED torch for use in dark spaces – Eg. behind racks or at night
  • Built-in test pattern generator
  • LED Battery-level indicators
  • Add HDMI inputs and outputs to Samurai
  • Add HD SDI input to Ninja

And the best part of all….they’re only going to cost $350.00 per unit!  At that price point, an independent guy like me can afford to have 3-4 of them in the gear bag.  Atomos has said that both converters will be released before the end of the year.  I can’t wait to get my hands on one!