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Lighting: Notes for beginners

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If you’re just starting out learning about lighting for film & video production, you might not be aware that it’s very much a case of “Pick two: Good, fast, or cheap.”

For example, if your production schedule allows you to work v-e-r-y slowly and carefully, and you improvise, it’s possible (though not guaranteed) to get good lighting results without spending a lot of money. Talented indie film & video professionals have been doing this for years.

Or, if time is short — as is the case with most film productions — typically the only way to get good lighting is to spend a significant amount of money on experienced crew and gear. Truly talented crew can sometimes even work miracles using very basic equipment.

Terrence Malick and his presumably well-paid, highly-experienced cinematographers and crew primarily use only available light, rarely use reflectors, flags, and overhead silks, and for the most part forgo traditional film production electrical lighting fixtures. What they accomplish is simply amazing. Read all about it here, here & here.

Most productions fall somewhere in-between in terms of experience, schedule and budget, and of course so too will the quality of the lighting.

As is usually the case, you work with what you’ve got, and make compromises when absolutely necessary.

Here are several respected cinematographers who write extensively about lighting for film & video production:

Roger Deakins, ASC, BSE, CBE frequently posts on his lighting and cinematography forum.

David Mullen, ASC frequently posts about lighting and cinematography in incredible detail.

Shane Hurlbut, ASC frequently posts about lighting, such as this recent detailed post on training your eye, light meters and 3-point lighting.

Art Adams, in a recent article makes a good case “against” the 3-point lighting rule. Read many of his other posts here.

John Brawley, well-known to fans of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, often posts about lighting and cinematography (such as here, hereherehere and here).

Mark Vargo, ASC created the following very informative videos about the history of lighting for film, and the role Grips play in film production:

OK, so now it’s my turn.

The gentlemen above have forgotten more about lighting than I’ll ever know (grin), but I try to offer helpful assistance to lighting newbies. The following are expanded versions of my responses to two questions recently posted on about real-world lighting scenarios.

Q: “… I looked at my new shared studio again, and the tungsten spots are actually quite strong, and there are a lot of them (all on the ceiling though). …”

A: The good news is that your “hot” quartz/halogen tungsten ceiling lights may be bright enough if you’re using a modern video camera such as the Blackmagic Cinema Camera @ ISO 800 and fitted with a reasonably fast lens. And, because your ceiling lights use tungsten/halogen type bulbs, they produce light that is high-quality in terms of the light’s color fidelity (“CRI“; see below).

Because your lights are overhead they may look too “toppy” or “spotty” on your subject/talent, you can shape & control the light to get a more pleasing look by using “light modifiers”: Reflectors, diffusion, and flags.

Light cast mostly from above tends to cause highlights on the top of a person’s head or parts of their face that are relatively too bright, and it may cast dark shadows in their eye sockets. Not a flattering look, unless the story or scene calls for it.

Before you buy or rent a bunch of lights to add to this set, first work with the light that’s already there — the available light. Chances are you can achieve a nice look with minimal effort, cost, and heat, and without blowing circuit breakers.

Most important: Shoot lighting tests before the day of production. Lots & lots of tests. Try many different variations on your lighting set-up. Success requires failing first, so make “mistakes” (experimental tests) before the day of your shoot instead of on the day.

For a CU, medium, or medium wide shot, you might get a very nice result simply by positioning (“blocking“) your subject/talent in a particular area of the room. Depending on the scene, have the subject face or walk in a different direction. Sometimes a few inches one way or another is the difference between ugly light or beautiful light.

Look at the overall composition on the monitor, including what’s in the background of the shot. Adjust the shot’s framing, composition, exposure, focus, and depth of field using the lens’ aperture & focal length (and ND or other filters if necessary) to get the look you want.

Consider shaping & controlling the light cast by the ceiling lights using basic tools such as reflectors and flags. These can be as simple and inexpensive as a few pieces of approx. 32″ x 24″ white and black foam core from an art supply store. Foam core can be held in place using inexpensive carpenter’s spring clamps from a hardware store, or “gaffer tape” from a video lighting equipment dealer. Clamp or tape the foam core to anything handy that’s suitable, or buy a few relatively inexpensive lightweight stands. These items will always be useful even if you acquire additional lighting gear later.

By having flags & reflectors in your “light” kit first, you’ll learn how to work with the light that’s available.

There’s a saying, “Adding a light solves one problem, but creates at least one more.” In other words, adding a light may cause an unwanted shadow, hot spot, or reflection, etc. All of which can be dealt with, but the point is that adding light(s) to a set doesn’t necessarily make things better. It can actually make things worse, unless you know what you’re doing and have time to address issues as they come up.

Not surprisingly, many of the “problems” (challenges) created by adding a light(s) to a set can be addressed using flags, reflectors & diffusion. So start with those first.

If the subject is stationary, and the shot is a CU or medium shot: You might position a piece of white foam core parallel to the ceiling a foot or two above the subject’s head to block light from directly above. Use a second piece of white foam core in front & to one side of the subject to bounce light from the ceiling fixtures onto (mostly) one side of their face & torso. Experiment with where the foam core is positioned and how it’s angled to see how it affects the look. The black foam core can be used as a flag to block light, or as “negative fill” to subtly subtract light, such as from one side of the subject’s face.

A wide shot in a room with overhead lights may require a different approach. For example, you may need to position (“fly”) a “silk” (diffusion material or thin white fabric) overhead, so that multiple ceiling spot lights cause the silk to glow. This will likely reduce or eliminate hot spots in the area of the room beneath the silk. The resulting light might look great, or it might look too flat (not enough dramatic shadows), or too dim, or cause the subject’s eye sockets to be too shadowed, etc. You can’t know for sure until you run some tests in your space.

An overhead silk can be hung from the ceiling, or clamped to floor stands. For example, flying a white cotton bed sheet used as an overhead silk may require 4 stands, one in each corner (or, hang it from the ceiling to eliminate the stands … but then you need a ladder). Alternatively, a small silk pre-mounted in a frame may require only 1 stand or clamp. A very wide shot may require use of a very large overhead silk, which for some budgets or schedules could be impractical or too expensive. As an overhead silk gets bigger, you may also need to provide light from the front, side or backlight. But for a CU or medium WS, an overhead silk can be a good solution in a room with overhead lights. Shoot some tests.

Are there other lights in the room, such as floor lamps or desk lamps? Try turning them on & off, or repositioning them if necessary. See if they help achieve the look you’re after, or if they create more problems than they solve. If they’re off-camera, you can diffuse, gel (color-correct), bounce and control their light as you would with any other light source.

It’s sometimes good to include a practical light in a shot, visible to the camera, to create the illusion that it’s the motivating source for some aspect of a scene’s lighting. Practicals can be lights which are part of a real location, or prop lights brought in for the production.

Caution: Safety first! Be very careful silk, diffusion, walls, furniture, etc. aren’t close enough to hot lights to cause a fire. Even relatively cool fluorescent lights can start a fire if they’re too close to flammable material. Keep lights well away from fire sprinklers and smoke detectors! “Shop lights” and other types of improvised lighting can be less-safe than professional gear, so use extra caution when operating them. Use safety chain or cotton sash to prevent items from falling, especially with all items on stands & overhead.


Q: “What are examples of relatively inexpensive lighting gear for film & video production, and how do they differ?”

A: For lighting exteriors, one reason reflectors are popular is because the color quality (“CRI“) of the light they cast is identical to the source of the light. In general, the higher the CRI, the better. CRI values over 90 are considered good. Here’s a tremendously informative discussion with Dedo Weigart speaking about CRI, LED, and “traditional” light sources for professional video production.

When reflecting natural sunlight, the CRI from a white reflector will be very high & very neutral because it has the perfect CRI & color-cast of the sunlight.

There are many different kinds of reflectors. A reflector with a textured surface tends to cast a softer light than one with a very smooth surface. A reflector can be as simple as a white wall or piece of white foam core, or 4′ x 8′ sheet of white or aluminum-coated foam insulation, or a specialized piece of professional lighting gear mounted in a frame with standard 5/8″ mounting studs. One drawback of using reflectors outdoors is that even in the slightest breeze they must be secured by at least one crew member, or by heavy-duty C-stands and sandbags, or both.

The “softness” of the shadows cast by a light (or reflector) is a function of its size and distance relative to the subject.

For example, a relatively large diffused light source or reflector positioned relatively close to the subject will be a soft source (cast soft shadows). As you move that same size light source further from the subject, the shadows it casts will get more distinct (“harder”). Lights that are “point sources” (such as hot open face or fresnel light fixtures) cast hard sharp shadows, unless heavily diffused or bounced off a reflector.

To get a “perfectly” soft source you may need to use double diffusion, with a gap between the 2 diffusion sheets. If you look at a point light source (such as a typical hot light fixture) shining through a typical diffusion sheet, you’ll notice there’s a fairly bright spot shining through the middle of the diffusion. That will create a slightly harder shadow than if you shine the same light through 2 diffusion sheets. The 2nd sheet will smooth-out the hot spot quite a bit, depending on the diffusion material used and the gap between them. Double-diffusion reduces the light brightness, too.

The same principles apply with bounce reflectors (usually white, not mirrors). Depending on the material used for the reflector, a single reflector will usually produce a light source that creates relatively soft shadows. But some reflector surfaces are shiny enough to produce a hot spot in their center, which may produce somewhat harder shadows. Using 2 bounce reflectors, with the 2nd reflecting the light from the 1st, will produce very soft shadows. There will of course be a reduction in the light brightness compared to using 1 reflector.

A light’s brightness changes with distance.

For example, if you have two identical lights sources, but one is twice as far away from the subject as the other, the more distance source will cast light that is 1/4 the brightness onto the subject.

To serve the story of the film, sometimes you want soft light, other times you want hard light. It’s an aesthetic choice; there’s no right or wrong.

The challenge is figuring out how to get the look you want for the scene or story within the budget & schedule. That’s just as true for a big-budget production as it is for a low/no budget production; it’s just a matter of scale.

Carefully blocking scenes, and choosing locations (and scheduling for day/night) appropriate for the lighting budget & schedule, is a big part of it. In other words, film & video production lighting is first & foremost a “wet-ware” (intellectual) challenge, not a hardware problem. And there are some story scenarios that are difficult or impossible to shoot or light on a low/no budget. If necessary, change the blocking, rewrite a scene, or change location to make it work with the budget & schedule.

If your budget can accommodate it, hire an experienced lighting gaffer, perhaps one who is willing to show you how to light. Or work on someone else’s project where they’ve hired a skilled gaffer, and watch what they do & why.

If available, renting lights can be a good way to stretch a production’s lighting budget, but renting requires buying insurance. Typically you can rent an expensive, high-quality light fixture for a day or weekend for a fraction of the cost of buying the light.

Personally, I hate the low CRI of most low-cost LED & fluorescent bulbs. Their light spectrum contains discontinuous green spikes and other nastiness that can’t be corrected using colored gels or in post. Skin looks especially unappealing under low-CRI lighting, and it can also cause problems in product shots or in any color-critical scene.

Especially when using a modern camera such as the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, which will faithfully reproduce the nastiness of a low-CRI light source, you want to avoid this issue as much as possible.

Whenever possible, capture the beauty of natural sunlight and high-CRI lighting.

Low-cost, high-quality sources of electric light:

If you have little money, but want to own a few lights, consider starting with one or two small “hot” quartz tungsten or fluorescent fixtures.

The CRI of “hot” quartz tungsten (halogen) lights is very high, and they are typically less-expensive than fluorescent, LED, or HMI based fixtures of equivalent brightness. Tungsten lights are typically point sources, but as noted above can be used as soft sources via large reflectors/diffusion. Tungsten color temperature is around 3200K, and if necessary can be gelled with a sheet of blue “CTB” to match or approach daylight color temps (~5600K or higher).

Note that gelling a light makes it less bright. For example, color-correcting an otherwise bright tungsten light to daylight color temp may make it so dim it won’t be bright enough to “fight” daylight (fill-in shadows cast by full sunlight) unless the light is very high-wattage (and big & expensive). Likewise, “white” (colorless) diffusion material reduces the brightness of a light. A specialized “wire scrim” (metal mesh similar to window screen) reduces the brightness of a light without diffusing it or altering its color temp.

The quality of hot quartz tungsten light is beautiful, especially on skin, but there’s a considerable cost: Tungsten lights get very hot, can be a fire hazard, and will blow circuit breakers if you’re not careful. They require >4 times the AC power of flo or HMI lights of the same brightness, and >10 times the AC power of LED lights of the same brightness. In many locations, powering thousands of watts worth of hot quartz tungsten lights will require custom wiring by a licensed electrician, or use of a high-power generator, or both.

Fluorescent lighting fixtures such as KinoFlo are popular because they cast soft shadows, don’t create much heat, require a fraction of the power of a hot quartz tungsten light of the same brightness, and quality bulbs such as made by KinoFlo or Osram have relatively high CRI (CRI ~85 or higher). Many inexpensive flo bulbs have low CRI.

Flo bulbs are available in both tungsten (~3200K) and daylight (~5600K) color temperatures. Buy both, and switch as needed. If you can’t afford a genuine KinoFlo fixture, at least buy KinoFlo or Osram bulbs and put them in whatever fixture is available. It’s the CRI that matters most.

A downside of fluorescent fixtures is that they can’t be a point source unless positioned far from the subject — in which case they’d typically be too dim. And it’s usually difficult or impossible for a small inexpensive flo fixture to fight strong sunlight — it has to be a big fixture containing many high-output ~5600K bulbs to meet that challenge. Even the best flo light isn’t quite as beautiful as sunlight or hot quartz tungsten light, but because of their many advantages fluorescent lights are frequently used in professional shoots.

Examples of relatively inexpensive lighting fixtures:

There’s no shortage of professional, relatively expensive lighting fixtures available for use in film & video production. Many of these tools are not inexpensive for very good reasons. They’re carefully designed to allow experienced gaffers & lighting crews to get exacting results prescribed by Directors of Photography, as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

But what if you’re looking for something less expensive, but still want to get good-looking results, perhaps with compromises in terms of speed or ease of use?

The “FloLight” 110-watt low-cost fluorescent fixture is an example of one such solution. It can be useful in a variety of situations. It uses 2 BIAX-type 55w bulbs, has built-in black (not shiny reflective) barn doors to help control & shape its light, and a 5/8″ mounting stud for mounting it on standard lighting stands and other grip gear.

If possible, use high-CRI KinoFlo or Osram flo bulbs instead of the low-CRI bulbs typically included with inexpensive fixtures. For the FloLight, buy 2 pairs each of KinoFlo (daylight & tungsten) or Osram [Sylvania] (daylight & tungsten) color temp BIAX-type 55w bulbs.

A popular type of relatively inexpensive light fixture for film & video production is the paper lantern or “China ball”. Ones that are actually made of paper usually cost just a few dollars, and produce a very flattering soft light (the larger the lantern’s diameter, the softer the light), but they are very fragile. There are more-expensive & durable China ball lanterns designed specifically for film & video production work. China balls can be suspended from a ceiling, or hung on the end of a pole (stand-mounted or hand-held), and can be fitted with a variety of bulb types including hot quartz tungsten and compact-fluorescent (CF) bulbs.

Another popular light is the Lowell Rifa soft light. It can be fitted with a wide variety of hot quartz tungsten or CF bulbs, as detailed on the Lowell website. Lowell sells other popular lights, too.

Used professional lighting gear in safe working condition can be a good, relatively low-cost alternative to buying or renting new gear. Inspect the fixtures carefully before buying (or buy from a reputable dealer who allows for a full refund) to insure the fixture operates correctly, and doesn’t have frayed, damaged or exposed wiring. When in doubt of a fixture’s safety, don’t buy it. Especially in the case of used gear, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

“Shop lights”, such as those available at hardware stores, can be used as film & video production lighting. The hot quartz halogen type produce good-quality light in terms of CRI, and they’re relatively inexpensive. However, they usually don’t include barn doors, can’t be focussed, and get too hot to handle without gloves, and of course require 4 times as much AC power than fluorescent fixtures of the same brightness. But used carefully, shop lights can produce good results.

Basic lighting “modifier” tools to consider buying:

A round, collapsable ~36″ reflector, and/or pieces of white foam core approx. 32″ x 24″.

A few pieces of black foam core to use as flags (to block light) or as “negative fill” (to subtract light).

Light stands: For example, 1 each to hold a small light, reflector, flag, etc. Light-duty stands can be adequate to support small items, but heavy-duty stands are required to safely secure larger, heavier gear.

Several inexpensive carpenter’s spring-clamps.

For diffusion or bounce: A white cotton bed sheet (or muslin), or lighting gel diffusion sheets, or silks in frames. Can be positioned using clamps, or hung from the ceiling or from stands. Lighting supply shops sell frames designed to hold silks & gels, and silks pre-mounted in special frames. But a white bed sheet is a commonly-used lighting technique and can work great, too, as seen in this example.

Other inexpensive, but extremely useful items:

At least 1 spare bulb for each light in your kit. So-called “C47” (wood clothes pins) for clipping diffusion & gels to lights. “Black wrap” (heavy aluminum foil painted flat black) for improvising small flags & “cookies” especially for use with hot lights (a cookie is a material with cut-out holes in it which cast patterns of light). “Gaffer tape” (specialized 2″ wide adhesive tape; black is most common) has a 1,000 uses. “Stingers” (heavy-duty AC power extension cords) for electric lights. “Sash cord” (lightweight black cotton rope) to use as a “safety” for securing lights & other gear overhead.

There are relatively inexpensive specialized clamps & grips available that let you safely hang a light from anything strong enough, such as on the top of an open door, or hanging from the metal framing of a dropped ceiling, or from large beams, etc.

These inexpensive items will be useful for many situations for a long time, even if you later move on to bigger budgets & additional gear. Big-budget shoots frequently use low-tech gear together with pricier kit. It’s the results that matter, not the gear.

A few common, basic lighting scenarios:

If there’s nice natural sunlight coming through a window, you might use the sunlight as the key light (through diffusion if necessary), and use a reflector as the fill light, and a fluorescent light with daylight bulbs for the back/hair light.

Be aware that sunlight lighting a daytime interior scene may flicker or flash as vehicles drive past the building. If you don’t want this effect to be part of the scene, using diffusion on the window to minimize it. Likewise, a night interior scene might be affected by vehicle headlights or other outdoor lighting. Again, it’s an aesthetic choice as to whether it’s appropriate for the scene or not.

Alternatively, you might use a flo light as the key, a reflector (bouncing some of the key) for fill, and available light (natural sunlight or practicals) in the room for the back light.

Or, use bright direct or diffused natural sunlight as a strong back light, and use a reflector to bounce some of the sunlight onto one side or the front of the subject, adjusting to taste. This technique is commonly used outdoors, often with the variation of the subject standing in available shade and/or with a silk “flown” (mounted) overhead.

For practice, mimic aspects of lighting effects you see in films. For example, it can be useful to look at the reflections in actor’s eyes in a film to determine how many lights were shining on their face, and approximately where the light was positioned. Try many different lighting set-up combinations to see what you & your director prefer, but do most of your lighting tests before the day of production. Remember that there don’t need to be 3 sources of light shining on your subject in every scene, or in any scenes. 3-point lighting is not a law which must be rigidly be adhered to. Test, test, test before the day of production.

There are so many different kinds of lights and lighting accessories available because there are an infinite number of lighting challenges — and an infinite range of production budgets & schedules.

There’s no one piece of lighting gear or technique that solves every lighting problem. So, again, perhaps before you consider buying or renting expensive lighting equipment, first learn how to work with, shape & control the light that’s already available using simpler tools, such as reflectors, flags and diffusion.

Caution: Safety first! Be very careful silk, diffusion, walls, furniture, etc. aren’t close enough to hot lights to cause a fire. Even relatively cool fluorescent lights can start a fire if they’re too close to flammable material. Keep lights well away from fire sprinklers and smoke detectors! “Shop lights” and other types of improvised lighting can be less-safe than professional gear, so use extra caution when operating them. Use safety chain or cotton sash to prevent items from falling, especially with all items on stands & overhead.

UPDATE 12/20/13:

I recently shot a series of basic “talking head” style interviews against a black background. Here’s a description of how I lit it.

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

For my words & photos only: ©2013 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.


Cinematography: John Brawley on long lenses

Director of Photography John Brawley frequently posts about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (which he helped design) and about the art of cinematography. I learn a lot about both by reading his posts.

His recent post about shooting with long lenses for an episodic TV series is a gem.

Thanks, John!

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

BMPC-4K: Rigged thinking [Updated]


Wooden Camera baseplate, CPM shoulder rig, Berkey carbon fiber rods, modified Ikan AB battery plate, Anton-Bauer Dionic 90 battery, AB Multitap, MixPre, Century/Vocas matte box.


BMPC-4K camera with Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens, Wooden Camera baseplate, custom top plate, MixPre, Sennheiser ME66 shotgun & EW100 wireless mics, Rycote Softie, Alzo cold shoe, Hoodman HRT5, AB Dionic 90 on Ikan plate, AB Multitap, and Century/Vocas matte box.


BMPC-4K, CPM carbon fiber shoulder rig, Century/Vocas mattebox, Studio 1 LANC controller, MixPre, EW100 wireless, AB Dionic 90 batt. on Ikan plate, AB Multitap, HRT5 hood, ME66 w. Rycote fur windscreen, Alzo cold shoe.


BMPC-4K with Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 lens, custom top plate, Ikan AB batt. plate, HRT5 hood, Wooden Camera baseplate, Berkey CF rods, Century/Vocas mattebox.


Traveling light: BMPC-4K with Canon EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM “pancake” lens, MeFOTO tripod with center column & head removed, SLIK quick-release plate bolted to tripod. When weight isn’t quite as critical, I use the tripod’s still photo style ball head and center column. Can’t pan/tilt smoothly, but perfect for shots w/o camera movement.


Super lightweight & stable: BMPC-4K, Canon 24mm f2.8 STM pancake lens, Hoya ProND filter(s), Hoodman HRT5, MeFOTO ball head mounted on a tripod plate “foot”. Details:

UPDATE 7/17/16: My review of the Cineroid EVF I bought for use with my BMPC-4K.

UPDATE: BMPC-4K shooting tips from early users. I finally received my own BMPC-4K on 2/28/14. Sample video below.

Update 8/8/13: I’ve added some photos and additional information to this post.

UPDATE: Back in early April 2013 I switched my pre-order from a BMCC-MFT to the new BMPC-4K model. I explain why in another blog post.

While waiting for my Blackmagic Production Camera 4K to arrive, I had lots of time to think about the accessories and rig parts I’ll use with it.

Especially in a relatively front-heavy handheld or shoulder-mount configuration, every ounce makes a surprisingly big difference.

I plan to buy few BMPC-4K accessories that can’t also be used with the other cameras I work with. For certain shots I’ll use my BMPC-4K without any accessories. Other times it’ll be loaded-up with a baseplate, rods, matte box, filters, external battery, audio mixer, wireless mic receivers, connected to an external monitor, and so forth.

I plan to use my BMPC-4K’s built-in 5″ LCD for monitoring fairly often, in addition to accessing the BMPC-4K’s touchscreen user interface. So, my BMPC-4K and its LCD will need to be in front of me. (See my related posts about two lightweight, inexpensive items: 3M anti-glare touchscreen film, and also Hoodman HRT5 touchscreen sunshade.) A camera-mounted, battery-powered, external monitor or EVF (such as Alphatron or Cineroid) have very real advantages, but add not-inconsiderable weight and cost, require power, and often aren’t necessary.

Given the above criteria, I researched ways to securely attach accessories to my BMPC-4K without the expense and weight of a camera cage. The BMPC-4K camera body will be identical to the original BMCC camera, so it’ll include three 1/4″-20 threaded holes on its top surface, so that’s a good start.

Berkey System makes a very nice, small Mini Top Cheeseplate for the BMCC/BMPC-4K. RedRock Micro makes a similar item, too. But I wanted something smaller & lighter.

Pictured below is a small (approx. 13mm x 13mm x 125mm) metal “top plate” I had custom-made for me by a machinist. It only weighs about 2 ounces and was inexpensive. I hand-drew a rough sketch on paper and the machinist made the part. To mount on the BMPC-4K’s top surface, the plate has 2 counter-bored holes spaced about 67mm apart to mate with 2 of the 1/4″-20 threaded holes on the top of the camera. The plate has a nine 1/4″-20 threaded holes bored through its top surface. By itself the plate can be used to securely mount a variety of accessories on top of my BMPC-4K.


Next I had the machinist modify a standard rod clamp for 15mm rods by adding 2 counter-bored holes, so it can be securely bolted to my custom top plate, as shown in the photos below.


Bolted together the two parts weigh only 4.5 ounces, and are extremely strong.


For example, for tripod-based shooting I plan to use the custom plate & rod clamp with an IKAN battery plate to securely mount my Anton-Bauer Dionic-90 & Hytron-50 batteries. I’ll use a CPM carbon fiber medium rail plate and Velcro to mount my old SoundDevices MixPre audio mixer (and add Velcro to the top of the MixPre for attaching Sennheiser wireless mic receivers. Note: The current version of the MixPre is the “MixPre-D“.) In this relatively compact configuration, the mixer will be located above the BMPC-4K’s LCD, and the battery above the lens. I’ll add a rod-mount top handle, but haven’t decided which one yet. The photo below shows metal rods, but to reduce the rig’s weight I’ve since bought a pair of short carbon fiber rods from Berkey System.

To enable the option of using the custom top plate & rod clamp to mount a matte box or follow-focus above the lens (instead of below the lens, as is more common), there’s one very important detail: The height of the custom plate must take into account the sidewall dimensions (2 red lines) of the particular rod clamp (I used a Berkey Standard Rail Block), as shown in the following photo:

P1030969-B cmp

The rod center axis (red “+”) must be 85mm from the lens center axis. The top surface of the BMPC-4K’s is approx. 62.5mm above the lens center axis. Take these two numbers, and the rod clamp’s sidewall dimension, into account to determine the height for the top plate. In my case, it was about 13mm.

I use a Vocas 4×4 matte box I’ve had for years with most cameras I work with. (Matte boxes are now available from a wide variety of manufacturers, and at every price point). I probably won’t use my matte box in a top-mounted configuration very often, but it’s nice to have the option. Most of the time the top-mounted rails will be used to mount accessories such as an external battery, mixer, etc.

(The BMCC in the photo above is a loaner from DVeStore which they generously allowed me to use for a few days.)

When shooting with the BMPC-4K on a tripod or jib I’ll often use an external 1080p monitor, especially for critical focus, and for viewing by my clients. To connect the BMPC-4K’s “6G-SDI” output to an external HDMI monitor, I’ll use a Hyperdeck Shuttle (version 1) I bought for $175 on sale. The BMPC-4K’s 6G-SDI output is compatible with both 4K and 1080p display devices, and the HdS converts the BMPC-4K’s 1080p HD-SDI signal to HDMI with a minimal lag. I’ll use Velcro to attach the HdS to the back of my floor-stand mounted, AC-powered, 21″ HDTV monitor. I’ll use a standard BNC cable to connect between the BMPC-4K and the HdS. Unlike HDMI cables, BNC cables can exceed hundreds of feet without video quality loss, and are far more durable, less-expensive, and more secure (don’t unplug accidentally) compared to HDMI cables. Note: Blackmagic also sells small “Battery Converters” to convert 6G-SDI to HDMI.

To reduce weight but still allow for flexibility, I’ve purchased a Wooden Camera BMCC Mini Baseplate. It’s the smallest, lightest baseplate I’ve found for the BMPC-4K which also enables front-mount rods (for matte box, etc.) and an optional rod clamp can be added on the back, too. The latter enables me to easily attach/detach a pair of 18″ long rods to form the basis for a shoulder mount.

To reduce weight, I’ve purchased new carbon fiber rods from Berkey, and a CF shoulder-pad kit from CPM. In a shoulder mount configuration I’ll Velcro the MixPre to the top of the shoulder pad plate, with the mixer’s controls & meters facing me. When using the shoulder mount, I’ll clamp the IKAN battery plate to the far back end of the long rods, behind and below my shoulder, to act as a counter-balance.

My shoulder rig configuration shown in the photo at the top of this post weighs 7 pounds including my SoundDevices MixPre and AB Dionic-90 battery. I’ve configured the Wooden Camera BMCC baseplate with a 2nd rod clamp on the back to attach/detach a CPM shoulder mount. The carbon fiber rods extending from the front of the baseplate are separate from the 18″ CF rods attached to the back of the baseplate. The CPM shoulder pad plate has been slightly modified to use flat-head screws instead of thumbscrews, making a flat surface for mounting the MixPre on top via Velcro. I modified the IKAN battery plate so it can be mounted perpendicular to & below the rods. This lowers the rig’s center of gravity and shortens the overall length of the rig.

P1050457-1080   P1050461-720

The 18″ rods are plenty long enough for a shoulder rig configuration, and yet will fit inside my Pelican 1520 carrying case with an optional padded liner, along with the camera, lenses, and misc. accessories.

To distribute power between the AB battery and multiple accessories, I use p-tap/d-tap cables and a tiny AB PowerTap Multi distribution box. I already have a pair of XLR-to-TRS audio cables to connect between the mixer & BMPC-4K, but these right-angle XLR-to-TRS audio cables from Laird look sweet.

I use my >45 year old Nikkor SLR prime lenses (24mm, 35mm, 55mm & 85mm, all f-2.8 or faster) with RedRock Nikon-to-EF lens mount adapters. I bought the Nikkors from (and recommend) KEH.

On the subject of DSRL-type zoom lenses: One candidate is the Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 zoom with IS (image stabilization) as a general-purpose lens for shooting handheld, interviews, and B-roll footage. I bought the very sharp and fast Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 zoom (non-IS) and it’s a great match for the BMPC-4K’s unusually high-quality video capabilities (although I miss not having IS for handheld work).

I bought a tiny and inexpensive Canon EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM “pancake” lens and it works great on my BMPC-4K. Not quite as sharp or fast as the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 zoom, but still quite good and much more portable. Because the Canon 24mm pancake lens is so small & lightweight it’s become my favorite walk-around lens especially when hiking with the camera.

I already own Tiffen “water white” ND 77mm screw-on filters (.3, .6 & .9) and will probably also get a ND 1.2. As a more convenient alternative to separate ND filters, I may consider the well-reviewed Genus Eclipse vari-ND filter. I bought a 52mm Hoya ProND #8 (ND .9) filter for use with the Canon 24mm f2.8 pancake lens. Hoya ProND filters provide IR-cut filtering in addition to ND.

“Infrared pollution” affects most modern video cams to a varying degree, and can cause black objects and video in general to look tinged with brown/red/magenta. The choice of which IR cut filter is best to use tends to be sensor-specific. There’s information on cost-effective IR cut and ND filters specifically recommended for use with the BMPC-4K in a detailed thread on the BMCuser forum. Based on the info in the thread on BMCuser, and because I already own ND filters, I bought a “Hoya UV IR cut filter 77mm” for use with various lenses (via filter step-up rings) on my BMPC-4K.

An inexpensive item is this “ALZO cold shoe“, handy for mounting items such as microphones and other gear to the 1/4”-20 threaded holes on top of BMD cameras.

I might get a basic follow-focus, such as the D|Focus 4. The Pro-LANC wired remote is reported to be compatible with the BMPC-4K (as it is for the BMCC) for controlling record start/stop. My 10+ year old Studio 1 LANC controller works fine with my BMPC-4K (for record start/stop and focus), but unfortunately users report the current Studio 1 LANC controller is not compatible. LANC remotes are helpful when the camera is mounted on a shoulder-mount or jib.

Update: I’ve posted a detailed list of my current/planned rig components here.

I’ll post more photos as I acquire more of the items mentioned above, or alternatives as I discover them.

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

Very impressive BMPC-4K sample videos from early users of the camera.

UPDATE: BMPC-4K shooting tips from early users. I finally received my own BMPC-4K on 2/28/14. I’ve revised my previous post on how to mount a Hoodman HRT5 5″ LCD shade on my BMPC-4K, and used it to shoot this video (details on the Vimeo page):

… and this one:

I also used my BMPC-4K to shoot this video.

New blog post: Resolve 12: My Windows PC build

For my words, videos and photos only: ©2013 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

BMCC: ProRes HQ video and audio tips

I shot this video using a Blackmagic Cinema Camera generously loaned to me for a few days by

From the Vimeo page you can download the “original MOV” to see a higher-quality (less compressed) 1920 x 1080 version of the video.

Video: Recorded using the BMCC’s “ProRes 422 HQ” 220 megabit/sec. mode set to “Video” (Rec.709) gamma. The BMCC was set at 800 ASA, with the white balance set to 3200K, 29.97 fps. The camera’s zebras were set at 100%. Exposure & lighting was adjusted so that a white card positioned in directly front of the talent’s face was just below clipping (e.g.: no zebras).

When shooting ProRes or DNxHD, the BMCC records its best balance of high dynamic range & low noise @ ISO 800 (its native ISO), and using the BMCC “Film” DR setting. However for this video I wanted to see what the BMCC’s “Video” mode looked like.

I didn’t use any ND filters for this shoot, but just an FYI: When using ND >9, adding an IR cut filter is advised. “Infrared pollution” affects most modern video cams to a varying degree, and can cause black objects and video in general to look tinged with brown/red/magenta. The choice of which IR cut filter is best to use tends to be sensor-specific. There’s information on cost-effective IR cut and ND filters specifically recommended for use with Blackmagic cameras in a detailed thread on the BMCuser forum. (Based on the info in the thread on BMCuser, and because I already own ND filters, I’ve since bought a “Hoya UV IR cut filter 77mm” for use with my BMPC-4K.)

Interview lighting: Key light is a 2K Arri tungsten fresnel bashing through a white cotton bed sheet; the back/hair light is a 250w Mole tungsten fresnel through diffusion. A 48″ white bounce reflector is located just off-screen on the talent’s left (camera right).

Audio[Note: These audio settings were used with BMCC firmware v.1.2. Later firmware versions may require different settings. Always record your own tests to verify settings appropriate for your production & workflow.] Recorded in-camera using a Sennheiser ME64 mic through a SoundDevices MixPre preamp. The line level output of the mixer was recorded by the BMCC set to “Line level”, with input levels set at 85%, and the BMCC’s internal mic set to 0% (off). Using these settings, the MixPre’s test tone plays @ -18db in FCP7.

UPDATE 12/22/13: “WhiteRabbit” has posted a helpful summary of the current state of BMCC audio performance as of firmware v.1.3.

Lenses: 45 year old Nikkor “F” SLR primes from KEH. The interview wide shot uses a 35mm f2, the close-up a 85mm f1.8, both at f4.

Cutaways were shot using a jib from EZFX, and a slider I built from Igus parts.

Edited in FCP7.

Visit the Cuda Brothers website.

bmcc grayscale chart

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

For my words, videos & photos only: ©2013 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or renumeration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

Links & resources for Blackmagic Design Cameras

Note: I periodically add new links to resources, short films & sample videos:

Blackmagic Design Blackmagic Cinema Camera product page.

Blackmagic Production Camera 4K product page.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera product page.

BMD camera user manual PDF for all models.

Official BM Camera user forum. user forum.

John Brawley, Cinematographer and consultant to Blackmagic design: His blog and Twitter feed, and a video interview at IBC 2012.

JB’s detailed 4/9/13 blog post about the BMPC-4K & BMPCC cameras.

JB’s BMPCC pocket camera sample videos, including some camera-original ProRes files.

3-part video interview with Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design.

Full-quality, camera-original BMCC sample footage shot by John Brawley:

Uncompressed 12-bit 2.5K RAW CinemaDNG files @ up to 5 megaBYTES per frame.

Compressed 10-bit 1080p ProRes 422 HQ files @ up to 220 megaBITS per second (“Film” [log] gamma).

UPDATE 12/18/13:

Full-quality, camera-original BMPC-4K ProRes HQ sample footage shot by Grant Petty:

Compressed 4K 10-bit ProRes 422 HQ files @ up to 880 megaBITS per second (“Film” [log] gamma).

CaptainHook’s first BMPC-4K sample footage (compressed to Vimeo H.264).

Marco Solorio of One River Media has posted his first Blackmagic Production Camera 4K sample footage on Vimeo. Refer to the Vimeo page for details.

(More examples below) …

BMPC-4K shooting tips from early users.

My take on the BMPC-4K.

Technical resources:

John Brawley describes how to use BMCC zebras to set exposure, here & here.

“Infrared pollution” affects most modern video cams to a varying degree, and can cause video to look muddy brownish red/magenta. IR cut (or combination IR cut/ND or IR cut/UV cut) filters are recommended to prevent “IR pollution” which may occur depending on lighting conditions & exposure settings, and especially when using ND filters. Selection of an IR cut filter tends to be sensor-specific. For information about cost-effective IR cut (infrared cut) and combination IR-ND optical filters appropriate for use with Blackmagic Design cameras, refer to this detailed thread on BMCuser, especially the first few posts. 

AbelCine “FOV Comparator” page allows you to compare field of view (crop factor) at various lens focal lengths among various sensor sizes. Refer also to this sensor size comparison diagram on

A list and forum thread about EF lenses compatible with the BMCC-EF lens mount, as reported by end users.

Lighting-related informations & links.

My blog post about rig and camera accessory-related information & links. And a long thread on the official BMD camera user forum about the same.

A comprehensive discussion on BMCuser about external power options for the BMCC and BMPC-4K.

BMCC firmware v.1.1 shutter angle/shutter speed table.

How to get good-quality, in-camera audio recordings with the BMCC: Here, here & here.

BMD camera reviews, short films, and additional sample videos (in roughly chronological order):

John Brawley’s nice hand-held ProRes footage, shot with an early BMCC prototype without IS.

Philip Bloom’s first BMCC review, and his new Ponte Tower doc.

Vincent Laforet’s first BMCC review.

Jon Carr’s first BMCC review, including his excellent video.

Marco Solorio’s first BMCC review …

… and his fantastic follow-up BMCC vs. 5DM3 video, available as a 1GB (!) 220 megabits/sec ProRes HQ file …

… and his equally fantastic The Impact of 12-bit RAW video, available as a 1GB (!) 15 megabits/sec H.264 file.

… and Marco’s “Interview with Grant Petty at NAB 2013“.

… and Marco’s first Blackmagic Production Camera 4K sample footage. Refer to the Vimeo page for details.

… Marco’s BMW car racing doc teaser trailer, shot using the BMPC-4KBMCC, and BMPCC.

Den Lennie’s sweet first BMCC short.

Simon Beer’s first BMCC short.

Filippo Chiesa’s tasty daylight & night short.

James Tonkin and Hangman Studio’sIsland Life” short,

… and “Robbie Williams: ‘Live at The O2’ Trailer” (shot using BMCC ProRes HQ “Film” mode),

… and “A Night in Nine Elms” (shot using BMCC ProRes HQ “Film” mode).

… and Den Lennie’s behind-the-scenes film for “9 Elms” (also shot using a BMCC in ProRes HQ).

… and James’ “Reflections“, shot in Dubai on a BMCC.

… and his short film, “Leaving Hope”, shot using the BMPC-4K.

Frank Glencairn’s BMCC dynamic range test.

Michael Beck’s BMCC visit to the zoo.

Geoffrey C. Albach’s colorful junk cars BMCC video: Salvage.

Andrew Julian’s drive through Snow Canyon (featuring a BMCC on a Blackbird stabilizer),

… and “Trip to Mexico“, featuring eye-popping BMCC color and the Blackbird,

… and “Meet Me In Big Sur“, featuring more eye-popping BMCC color!

… and “The Quiet City: Winter In Paris“; gorgeous BMCC footage!

Andrew Reid’s multi-cam shootout including the BMCC, GH3, FS100, 5DM3.

Exact Neutral’s really sweet “810 7 30” BMCC short.

Stu Maschwitz’s BMCC review and short film, “Let’s Cook“.

Josselin Billot’s quirky, funny “Lucy From Paris – Ep1” BMCC short, and the BTS making-of doc.

Empty Bucket Studios‘ stunning BMCC “Tutto Metal Design – Artist Profile“;

… and BMCC “Vault Brewing Company“.

Florian Blang’s “First Blackmagic Camera Shoot” (a BMCC “test shoot” that’s better than many commercial shoots!)

Captain Hook’s first BMPCC pocket cam ProRes footage, “Auckland in My Pocket“.

… and CaptainHook’s first BMPC-4K sample footage (compressed to Vimeo H.264).

… and CaptainHook DP’d a music video shot using BMPC-4K, BMPCC & BMCC.

Toby Kahler posted a very interesting side-by-side shoot using a BMPC-4K and a RED EPIC.

Johnnie Behiri posted part 3 of his BMPC-4K review and videos.

WeAreFilms has posted some of their BMPC-4K clips.

My own 1st attempt shooting with my BMPC-4K: Oregon Coast scenes.

To see more, do a search on, and be sure to download and view the higher-quality versions of the video files if available!

Meanwhile, my take on certain BMCC reviews.   🙂

Photo credit: Frame grabs of footage by John Brawley; graded by Nick Bedford.

For my words only: ©2013-2014 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or renumeration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.


Cinematography: M. David Mullen, ASC

M. David Mullen, ASC is my hero.

David is like the one-man faculty of a free, world-class, online film school. Except he’s not only an excellent teacher, but also an accomplished, respected, and busy working Director of Photography.

Based on what he posts online, he also appears to be a complete gentleman.

To get an idea of the sheer scale of the wealth of information concerning his craft that he freely and cheerfully shares, refer to David’s truly “epic” on-going thread in the RED cinema camera user forum: Ask David Mullen Anything“.

In December 2012, David gave a detailed presentation on lighting at an event hosted by Abel Cine (David’s talk starts at about the 2-hr. 35-min. point in the video; click in the timeline to jump ahead).

Refer also to David’s many detailed production diaries in the “In Production” section on

For example, the first link below is his description of shooting the film “Manure”, including behind-the-scenes photos:

In another production diary, he details his work on the film “Big Sur”, again including BTS photos:

… and on, and on … it’s amazing:

… etc., etc., etc. …

Thanks, David, and cheers!

P.S.: Now, compare and contrast David’s tireless, saintly behavior with the lazy, unhelpful, bullying behavior of the “professionals” discussed in my previous blog post.

For my words only: ©2012 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or renumeration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

BMPC-4K & BMCC: Hoodman HRT5 LCD sunshade [UPDATED]

UPDATE 7/17/16: My review of the Cineroid EVF I bought for use with my BMPC-4K.

UPDATE 3/19/14: I bought a Hoodman HRT5 (see 2nd photo below) for my BMPC-4K and have come up with an effective way to mount it on the camera (see new photos below).

Not by any stretch of the imagination an equivalent to — or a substitute for — a pro electronic viewfinder (EVF) such as the optional 1080p OLED URSA Viewfinder or a external monitor for use with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, but an inexpensive alternative.

Blackmagic Design includes a small sunshade with the BMCC and BMPC-4K. Unfortunately, because the cameras’ LCD is very reflective, the standard sunshade isn’t adequate in most brightly-lit shooting environments where a “deeper” hood is really required.

Inexpensive 3M anti-glare film (about which I’ve posted previously) can be applied to the BMPC-4K and BMCC LCD itself and partly addresses this issue.

I don’t like the design of Hoodman’s model HBM1 (pictured below) designed for the BMCC and BMPC-4K, because it attaches to the small hood that BMD includes with these cameras. I don’t like how the HBM1 looks, and because it’s supported by the shade supplied by BMD, it requires more room to pack. So, thumbs down for this approach.


Instead, with a little work, I mounted the less-expensive Hoodman HRT5 5″ LCD hood (see below) on my BMPC-4K without interfering with the camera’s real buttons located beneath and on either side of the LCD, and the camera’s touchscreen is easily accessible.

The front edge of the Hoodman HRT5 sunshade is covered with soft “loop” Velcro-like material, so it can be mounted using hook-Velcro tape.


Note however that the adhesive on Velcro tape does _NOT_ stick to the rubbery/plastic rear surface of BMCC and BMPC-4K cameras!

The photos below show how I implemented a very low-cost, yet highly-effective solution.

I found an inexpensive, already-bent, pre-painted, small piece of thin sheet metal at a local hardware store (roof flashing), and trimmed it down to a smaller size.

I drilled 3 holes along the top edge of the sheet metal so it could be securely bolted under the custom “top plate” metal bar & battery plate I’d previously made for the camera, but two short 1/4-20 bolts can be used alone to attach the piece of sheet metal to the threaded holes on the top of the camera. (I suppose you could use double-sided tape or Velcro tape to attach the sheet metal to the top [metal] surface of the camera. But I don’t recommend this as it may mar the camera’s finish.)





With this solution, the HRT5 hood is easy to attach to the camera when needed, or to remove for packing, and is much more effective and packs much smaller than the original LCD shade included with the camera by Blackmagic.

The HRT5 has two sewn-in short elastic straps intended for mounting it on a conventional flat 5″ LCD monitor. They’re far too short for use with the BMPC-4K and BMCC camera bodies, and their orientation would interfere with the cameras’ buttons anyway, so I cut them off with scissors.

The BMPC-4K can be focussed effectively using its bright green focus peaking feature, clearly visible on its built-in LCD.

Again, the built-in LCD, HRT5 hood, and 3M anti-glare film have nowhere near the functionality of an external EVF such as optional 1080p OLED URSA Viewfinder or an external monitor, but it’s a relatively inexpensive and effective solution. Plus, a LCD hood doesn’t require power or cabling and weighs very little.

P.S.: Both Philip Bloom and Den Lennie shot really nice videos using only the BMCC’s built-in touchscreen LCD for monitoring. They weren’t happy about the glare on the screen and the inadequate sunshade supplied by BMD, but they succeeded nonetheless. 3M anti-glare film and the deeper Hoodman HRT5 hood (or the GRID 5″ loupe, or the Munz 5″ loupe) might have made their work easier and more enjoyable. Cheers.

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

I shot videos on the Oregon coast and a TV promo in a private home using my BMPC-4K and the Hoodman HRT5 LCD sunshade. Everything worked great!

For my words, videos and photos only: ©2014 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or renumeration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.