Axel Rothe - Cinematographer (Kameramann) / Colorist - Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt

Blog

Lighting a music video with only three lights.

Last month I shot a music video for the artist „Der Asiate“, as part of an online rap competition, known as a cipher. Roman Rögner my colleague from Picmention directed this horror short.

We shot the entire project on a Sony FS5 with Canon Primes. For all of the moving shots I used a Ronin M, the rest was done handheld. We needed to move fast and get as much coverage as we could, so setting up a lot of camera gear wasn’t an option. If you are looking for a budget camera, the Sony FS5 is a killer camera. The 14 stops dynamic range and the slog 3 look are fantastic. I mean have you seen the size of that camera? It’s so cute and tiny.

Run forest, run?

We snapped the Sony FS5 on the Ronin M and I tried to keep up to the running actors. I set the camera to a 90° shutter angle for all the shots of the rapper running away. This makes the difference between a really boring chase scene and a visceral one. The rapid movement needs to be emphasized. To do so you use a long lens and a shorter shutter.

We cheated the close-ups by having the actor walk on the forest path and have some people hold branches in front of him. It’s a funny sight for sure.

Sorry for the low quality, you get the picture though.

Sorry for the low quality, you get the picture though.

For the gory scene, I used a 1×1 Astra from Litepanel. The sun was almost gone and I needed that evening sun look. I really love the Astras; they have an insane output for an LED Panel. Especially considering they are Bi-Color.

The Killers Den.

The garage scene was a lot of set decoration and minimalistic lighting. Philipp and I hung a 4 Bank Kino Flo over the table; you can actually see it in a couple of wider shots. The ceiling was very low, but it blends in as a practical. 4-Banks now exist as LED versions aka Kino Flo Select – so technically we did use a non-LED. Had we used a Select the result would have been identical, though way out of our budget.

We taped newspapers to the small window in the back. I had Philipp stationed out back with an Astra on a Stand and have him twirl the Stand every now and then, imitating a passing car. Wish I had a Fresnel, the 1×1 is just too soft to create any real light shafts.

Frame: The killer preparing for another contract

Frame: The killer preparing for another contract

Over the window we fixed a cheap LED fluorescent tube, apparently everything nowadays is LED, even tubes. We put the tube on a dimmer and made it flicker a little bit. At least that was the plan, but fluorescents will flicker and turn off and on. While LEDs will flicker in a frequency that the camera won’t notice. Sucks, but it still looks really cool.

There was another practical LED Tube, we wrapped in newspaper in the bottom left corner. It was there to give the left wall with the guns some texture.

For the reverse shots we setup an Astra and bounced it into the left wall for some ambient light. The 4-Banks ballast was rigged up top and the small switches gave a nice red bokeh. That was a happy accident. We didn’t really plan on that.

The garage with the rigged 4-bank over the table

The garage with the rigged 4-bank over the table

What brought the lighting its finishing touches was the fog machine we had running to add atmosphere. Usually one would use a hazer for this, but the fog machine added a certain heaviness to the scene and realism really was of no concern.

Roman loves to focus the eye of the viewer on very specific details. So for the most part we shot this scene with long lenses. I believe only a few of the over the shoulders were done with a wide angle.

Hello Michael, didn’t see you there.

Roman wanted the opening shot to feel like a Michael Bay movie. So we borrowed the Ballhaus-Move and made sure we got a really awesome looking background that can swoosh by thanks to the long lens.

Frame: Michael Bay would be proud – or angry. I really don’t know him very well or at all

Frame: Michael Bay would be proud – or angry. I really don’t know him very well or at all

I think we got a pretty great effect with this shot. The running shots were done similarly to the forest scene. For the close ups of the gun, we needed to use the Astra to get some contrast, as we shot them last. And the sun was already gone.

It’s amazing how in the past this would have been a massive job, with a generator, power cables, large lights, scrims and color filters. Now it’s as simple as pressing a button and adjusting a knob. Fantastic. Really opens up new possibilities for creativity.

The Litepanel Astra 1×1 at work

The Litepanel Astra 1×1 at work

Death by mosquitos.

The lake scene starts off with some handheld shots on a 90° shutter, we didn’t do anything too fancy. I made sure to give it a voyeuristic touch like the director wanted. There are a couple funny behind the scene stills, I can’t seem to find, where you see my gaffer Philipp waving reeds in front of my camera. Especially when we move to the wide angles, there was nothing between us and the actors. To keep that voyeuristic angle, we needed to make sure we were looking through something. And that something happened to be a ton of reed.

Frame: The Killer looming over his prey.

Frame: The Killer looming over his prey.

When the actor gets strangled by the killer, we utilized the 90° shutter angle and a wide angle. Getting up close and personal in shots like this really brings out the brutality. You are just so damn close and all the movement gets exaggerated.

I made sure to constantly move the actors into a ¾ back light, and used the Astra to extend the sun light around the face.

Gaffer Philipp Fechner making sure Matthews will go out of business.

Gaffer Philipp Fechner making sure Matthews will go out of business.

Rappers love lost places, so does our killer.

The abandoned train yard was my favorite scene. Lost places are great in general, but they can get tiresome. Especially in rap videos, which is why our killer is hunting down the rapper in this location. When it comes to sun and moon light I prefer to emulate the light rays with a more controllable source like a Fresnel. However due to the location and budget, the Astras and a few cheaper LEDs were all we had.

The train yard was pitch black. A single Astra could illuminate the entire complex. Insane.

We used the flare as our key in all scenes. And used the Astras gelled with ½ CTB on daylight, to sidelight or backlight the actors in the scene. The most complex one was the reveal of the hunted.

I had an Astra on full blast (2KW equivalent) with ½ CTB as a ¾ backlight, giving the killer a nice rim light and it gave the broken glass a nice shimmer.

Frame: See the rim light the killer get’s on his right shoulder

Frame: See the rim light the killer get’s on his right shoulder

The most important part of shooting night scenes is to give the shot a white reference. By determining something as white (usually a rim light or practical), the eye adjusts and reads the image as a night scene.

The flare key lit the killer. The hunted was lit by an Astra bounced into the wall camera left for ambient light, and another smaller LED lower than the Astra to bring up some details and separate him from the wall. I should have rigged another light above to camera left and give him a top light, extending the reach of the moon light.

A shot of the setup for the above frame

A shot of the setup for the above frame

That sums up all scenes from the music video. If you have any questions regarding the cinematography of the music video or would like me to go into detail of a specific shot, just leave a comment below.

I’d like to thank my gaffer Philipp Fechner for his great work on this project, as well as our director Roman Rögner for his creative vision and the artist Der Asiate for letting us make something this crazy.

Cheers.