Time Constraints: How to Love Ambient Light

Posted by on Nov 12, 2015 in Production | 2 Comments
Kenny Yanga films Josh Bridges for Xendurance with DEFY G12
Relentless Cinematographer, Kenny Yanga films athlete Josh Bridges for Xendurance using the Sony FS700 with a Tokina 11-16mm lens mounted on the DEFY G12.


Every opportunity we have to work with talent is taken seriously. But when you are getting ready to film a top CrossFit games athlete who was formerly a navy seal, you make sure to bring your A-game. His time is valuable. But like all talent of his caliber, it also comes with a price tag. Time was of the essence.

We had a 4 hour photo session in the morning, broke for lunch, and then filmed in the afternoon with our last four hours. There was no time for lighting, so we flagged off some areas and shot ambient.  View the results here.

It’s unavoidable. Maybe the talent is pressed for time, maybe a location falls through, or maybe the client’s needs have changed. Despite everyone’s best intentions for a film or video production, sometimes the winds shift and we have to cram an entire video into only 4 hours of shooting.

We continue to learn from these experiences, and the inconveniences are actually a gift in disguise:

It can free us

It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the little details. If we become too methodical in our approaches, we can run a very real risk of becoming predictable in our storytelling. Sometimes we become so dependent upon equipment, styles, and/or techniques that we forget that there are other (and possibly better) ways to achieve our goals.

We can focus on what is important

Your house is on fire and you can only grab three things, go!

Suddenly, the elements that were supposedly indispensable to the project get the axe and we can refocus on the heart of the story. And it’s not just unneeded narrative that gets left behind; we get to unburden ourselves from superfluous equipment as well. If there’s no time to set up that jib, why bring it? There are so many video tools in the arsenal of the digital storyteller that sometimes we feel like we need to bring along everything with us just because, “maybe we might use it”. What’s another way I can shoot this? I wanted to use a dolly, but what if I just go handheld? What could Spielberg do in two hours using only a DSLR camera and two actors in an empty office?

We stop missing out on spontaneity

Enter the old truism about how “necessity is the mother of invention”. More than any other type of video or film production I’ve personally been on, “run and gun” shoots seem to pack in much more creativity across the board. Instead of winding down the inspiration of the cast and crew with the methodical filming of take after take, sets become much more organic. People become eager to find opportunities for expression, and there’s a palpable energy that feeds it. No time to set up the lights, but Tim passed a hallway with sunlight streaming through windows, illuminating little motes of dust in the air; let’s grab some bounce cards and roll with it. Almost every crazy story of some wild event or coincidence that was “just in time to nail that amazing shot” has happened on one of these projects.

We gain real experience

Have you ever been on a set where everything went flawlessly? I can count those experiences on one hand. It’s a good thing, too. Video and film productions are all about vision and planning. But what happens when the plan goes off the rails? Do we have the versatility as storytellers to deal with the inevitable plot twist? The Roman philosopher, Seneca coined the well-known phrase, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. The best preparation comes from experience. By getting pushed out of our comfort zones, we are forced to acquire skills and practice techniques that will come to our aid time and again. We really get to know our equipment, ourselves, and each other. Which brings us to another point…

It builds trust

Another old adage works here: “Bonds are forged by fire.” Trust is easy when everything is going to plan, or when time allows us to check each other’s work. Trust becomes essential when we have neither of those luxuries. Communication on a set is built around being clear and concise for this very reason. Nothing builds confidence with a client like seeing a team not just handle a pinch with skill and mutual respect, but also prove themselves able to provide a polished product despite less-than-optimal conditions. Some of our best friends are clients who went through the fire with us.

Social media trends more and more towards telling a story quickly. Can you tell a story in six seconds? Can you write it in under 140 characters? Can you shoot a short film in under 48 hours? It’s always frantic in the thick of it, but the tales we share later aren’t about how things went exactly to plan or when we had all of the time we needed. We tell stories, and the best have always been about overcoming adversity.



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