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  • Writer's pictureMike Kozlenko

Acoustic Video Shoot Part II: Bare-bones Night Exteriors (plus failed attempt at a DIY wet-down)

Turns out 50 gallons of water isn't enough to cover a whole floor of a parking garage...

Back for part II of my musings about an acoustic video shoot I did with my musician/ director friend Corey. For this one, we were going a bit darker and more intimate with the lighting & composition to fit the song a bit better. We were recommended a cool spot at the top of a parking garage that overlooked a decent part of the downtown Austin skyline. It had a nice background, AND it had accessible power. Again, no permit, and we did almost get kicked off, but when the security guard came up, I started looking all innocent and said I was a student... and I was able to get away with it 😎

Red Scarlet-W


Zeiss CP.2 35mm


1/4 Black Pro-Mist

ISO 2000 (don't love going this high but I was ok with some texture in the image and also didn't have much of a choice)

The Setup:

Since resources were kinda sparse, we kept the setup simple. We only used 3 lights. However, HOW we used them is super important to note.

*BTS photos by Robby Boyd
Aputure 300D thru a 4x silk. We set up an 8x initially but it was too windy so we had to scale it down :/

The key light was my trusty Aputure 300D with a lightdome mark II, thru a 4x4 silk. I wish I had a 6x6 to give the light just a touch more wrap on to the fill side and also let us be able to have Corey move around a little bit in the frame. But with the 4x he just had to walk in to his mark and then stay there. Which wasn't really the end of the world. The MOST important thing to make the key light not look like complete garbage and un-motivated was to gel it to match the existing location lights. I asked my pals Robby & Sam to help out with this, and after some trial and error, they found the perfect amalgamation of gels. I honestly don't quite remember what it was. Something like 1/4 plus-green, 1/8 CTO, maybe even some 1/8 minus-green. I remember they used a bunch of different densities of a bunch of different gels and ultimately landed on the perfect match. This made they key light look like it was coming from one of the off-screen parking garage lights. Since we see one in the frame in the back, I think generally an audience would buy that as a key light. I like how it turned out. Maybe some people would say that it still looks a little unnatural...which could be a valid point....

We had to have 2 c-stands on each side of the 4x diffusion because of the wind

It was also super important to ride the intensity of the light. With the 300D at full blast, the face had a nice exposure but it was SO obvious that there was a light just off-screen. We lowered the intensity to like 70% and that made it a little more subtle and realistic. As far as the height of the light, I had it high enough to make a somewhat realistic nose-shadow but low enough to reach in to the eyes. Since this was a 1-take, I kind of had to tailor the light so my closeups looked as good as they could, while still looking acceptable on the medium-shot framing.

The backlight was a DIY light that I built. It's made up of 8 incandescent bulbs at 2700k. So since I was shooting at 5100k, it was SUPER orange. Which gave me a nice color contrast and to me, it seemed motivated by some off-screen sodium-vapor lamp. It's a very common night exterior kind of aesthetic. In retrospect, I probably would have tried to dim it down a bit or unscrew some bulbs because I think it gave me too much punch. I probably should have had it play a little bit more subtle. Probably about 50-60% power. I also might've been well suited making the light go up a bit higher on the stand. But it was right at the edge of the parking garage and it was windy. So I played it a bit safer. I did have a Quasar-Kino I could've used and gotten the same effect ( switching the tubes to 2700k of course), but something about the quality of the light from the DIY light really sung to me a bit more.

After that, I noticed that the camera-right side corner of the parking garage looked super dark & lame. So we put up an Astra 6x on a combo and sent it up as high as we could. It provided a really nice highlight back there that helped fill out the background. If I were to do it again, I would have added either 1/8 plus-green or 1/4 plus green to give it a somewhat more interesting tone. I just used the light bare bulb, which I'm trying to get away from doing because I find I get much more interesting tones when I put some subtle color in front of my lamps.

I now have 10 of these just sitting at my apartment with no place to store them... What am I gonna do with all these? Anyone need some buckets?

Going in to this shoot, for some reason I thought we could've done a proper wet-down. I wanted to get the really nice reflections from the buildings in the background. It would've looked SO cool. We bought 10 5-gallon Home Depot paint buckets and filled them with water. Safe to say the water-bill for the month was a bit higher...

Well we found out that 50 gallons of water doesn't get you shit. There's a reason real productions use a fire-truck hose for a wet-down. I just decided to toss the water in closer to where we would catch the reflections of our lights. It kind of looks silly and scattered, but perhaps most people wouldn't really care. It did give us solid reflections on the right side of frame by the Astra in the back, so it at least did SOMETHING for me.

On the camera side, Brooks crushed the focus pulling again. I initally was shooting wide open at T1.4 and he was doing great with it. But I realized that I kind of hate how that 35mm Zeiss CP2 looks wide open. WAY too soft. So I stopped down to a T2.0 and raised the ISO. Some of the light pollution in the background sky helped make the darker background areas look somewhat rich and not clipped, which is always good. The bokeh looked pretty nice too. I graded the piece with a bit of a orange & teal look, which looked pretty good to me. I think it's definitely noticeable, but I feel like I did it with some nuance, instead of just slapping an orange & teal m31 LUT on there & calling it a day.

I think my camera operating was a bit shoddy on this piece but the take that we're using for the final piece was the last take we shot and I was getting really tired from holding that camera. Since there wasn't as much movement compared to the daylight exterior from earlier, I might've been able to get away with using the easy rig. But whatever. The piece kinda works for the most part. Let me know if any of you have questions about this one


Photo cred: Robby Boyd

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Mike Kozlenko
Mike Kozlenko
Dec 08, 2019

Thanks! I didn’t have a proper shoulder rig unfortunately. I don’t 100% remember but I probably just operated with the left hand on the rails and right hand on the wooden camera side handle


Dec 06, 2019

Looks great, loved what you did with the gel's on the lights. Going handheld did you keep it on your shoulder or top handle the entire time?

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