The Cinematography of ‘The Granary’

I spent a lot of time in the granary itself writing and shooting other films that weren’t completed. The previous film was in black and white because I didn’t like the colour of the yellow piping, and I felt those loud colours distracted the viewer from the shape and texture of the location. When I did some black and white tests, I liked the results more and stuck with it.

Lighting was done dramatically on purpose. I don’t have massive lights, so they had to be small, which probably added to the fanning out of shadows more. I wanted to create lines, diagonals and so on. Shadows, and light, but without way too much contrast.

Hard light from one side, or as we call on set, a ‘Single Nicholas’

I’ve watched films, but more-so with lighting, I’ve looked at black and white photography. We’ve all converted colour pictures to black and white to try ideas out. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt, but why?

In my opinion, black and white draws more attention to the shape and texture of something, as mentioned earlier, without us needing to process colours to over-complicate it. Since it’s already a complex story,  based on emotions and well, a drama, I felt it was a good choice.

Lighting From the Side

I would light from usually a maximum of two light sources, or at least two angles. If I used a third light, it would be parallel to another to re-enforce it, giving the illusion that the light is very wide, because my lights are small. If I changed that angle, it usually didn’t look good. This is because I felt it created too many light sources, too many conflicting shadow angles, and generally lost the haunting look of the location.

Sequence 01.Still022

Sometimes I would use only one light, but quite rarely. I might fill from the other side but on a very low level. Darkness was important but not to the level of absolute despair. My lighting generally would be 90 degrees from the subject. One 90-degree light (a side light) would be called a Single Nicholas, whilst two lights, one on each side, would be a Double Nicholas, generally my favourite setup.

It’s probably nothing special, but it’s common knowledge that lighting from the front more can look a bit amateur. I think this is a combination of 1) being unflattering in general, bleaching out a face etc, and 2) being something we relate to with the flash photography look, which is, let’s face it, candid, unplanned and generally quite cheap.

This is why I pretty much (in every situation I could), never lit the subject or set less than 90, or say, 70 degrees from the camera.

Back Light

For me, back-lighting has always been a luxury, a golden and sometimes rare opportunity.  Before you say ‘why is it rare, just stick a light there!’ it’s not always as easy as that. Particularly when you’re telling a story set in a place that’s not supposed to have any artificial light sources, AND no sun. So you have to avoid not only the light itself being in frame, but the glare, and most of the flare – with a bit of poetic license.

This is why Chris installed two lights high up, only accessible by moving the ladder, pinned to the wall. They weren’t particularly powerful, but they allowed me to get shots of subjects with a perfect back light, where the source was never in shot. It opened up some options, and in certain sequences, saved me time moving lights around to manually light every shot. In general though, I will light every shot. Whenever the cameras move location, the lights will move location. It breaks the laws of physics, but that’s all part of the illusion.

Scene 101.Still001
An example of the mounted ‘back lights’, one on each end of the main room.

Blue Light

I use a blue light sometimes to balance warmer lights on the other side. It’s a dramatic trick I learned in some music videos. But since hardly any of those shots are in colour, why use a blue light at all?

It’s because when the subjects face is maxed out in blue, it doesn’t go as white. It kinda just stays blue – over exposed, but blue. When this converts to black and white, it won’t be white, but grey. It’s a weird trick that might not even work as well as I hoped, but it allows a different maximum shade of grey on one side, whilst the other side can be white. It also allows me to independently adjust the light on one side of the face in post production which is kinda insane. Besides, I was going to originally have the doctor scenes in colour, but later changed to black and white any (although all the main scenes aren’t lit with the blue light at all).

Part 20.Still021
The original colour of the Doctor Scenes.

If the whole film was just the doctor and I talking, I probably would have kept this look. I thought it looked great, but unfortunately the rest of the granary didn’t agree.

The Walkway

This location was visible from two points. As you can see in the image below, there was 1) the walkway itself, as I walk onto the platform (the door), and 2) the position of the camera.

This was a little gap in the wall. I’m glad it was there, because whenever we shot from the gap, we’d light from the door, and whenever we shot from the door, we’d light from the gap, OR from more advanced positions.

Again, this avoided to the best we could, that head-on frontal light as much as possible. It created lines and picked out little shapes and details far better. When we did the fight scene on the platform, however, it was more tricky.

There were 10 grain bins along that platform. Five on each side. The fixed metal ladders for each one were rickety, but in order to get any kind of decent light position, we had no choice but to climb into a few and put the lights on the walls, up high, resting on the tops of the concrete walls. Tripods wouldn’t fit there, and lighting from the bottom would lose body detail. Sometimes a light would run out of battery and we go and put a new one in. The main light was from our trusty little gap in the wall though, but again, sometimes that caused a camera-man shadow so it was all a bit of trial and error.

Sequence 01.Still079
The Walkway. Lighting this was tough!

Lighting from the Bottom

I think you tread on thin ice when you light from the bottom, but sometimes it works out well. This is because often the light fails to hit the stuff you want, but for some locations, it’s great.

I think we put a little light in the car facing up on that scene, to add a little something. Can’t actually remember though!

nice shot
Lighting from the bottom and opposite corners

The above shot of the easel is an example of a show where one light is on the bottom right corner, literally on the floor, creating the big shadow, whilst the main gap-in-the-wall light is up higher, looking down, creating that little shot. I like this shot. I think lights that are opposite each other are always flattering. The closer together they get, the less flattering it gets, unless you’re going for a very even clinically studio-look or something.

That’s why, adding a backlight as a THIRD light, which most people would do as standard, scares me sometimes, as you’re putting a light in the middle of the others. But, because it’s high up, it distances itself, and if the other two lights are low, or say, head-height at maximum (which they were most of the time), it seems to work.

Sequence 01.Still048
Lighting from the bottom – the car scene had a little light near the handbrake area facing upward.

Lighting ‘The Bin’

The rules were the same, just a variation. The bin was tall, say 15 feet or so, maybe 20. Well, nobody could slam-dunk it that’s for sure.

If the camera man was high up, like in the case of this shot here (by Alex Willis), then the lights were going to be far away from the camera, from the door at the bottom. If the camera was low down, then the light would be high up where Alex is. It would swap. The more lights added, the less spooky it looked, and the texture was lost, so it was kept to one or two, nothing more.

Sequence 01.Still061
The Bin – Alex Willis shot this scene – Canon 550D Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 @ 11mm

That’s it for this little blog, hope you enjoyed it!

Eveshka Ghost


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