Dirt Road Dancing – Exterior Night Shooting With Limited Power

Dirt Road Dancing – Exterior Night Shooting With Limited Power


Dirt Road Dancing by Doug McCormick was an evocative song from the get-go.  The song lyrics painted a picture of a couple near a truck on a clay road at midnight.  As a DP, there is nothing as fun nor as challenging as exterior night shoots. It’s something that has never been easy – even with the most intense lighting and distro packages.  The hurdles of night shooting include everything from drowsiness to inability to see, all of which slow your pace down.  Safety is of course paramount on any set and night shooting makes it difficult to do things quickly and safely.

There are many approaches to night shooting but the choices are often limited by location.  In a bustling city-scape, there might be plenty of ambient light, making your lighting needs relatively small – or you might have access to house or city power, meaning that you can use plenty of lights but don’t need a generator.  However, for DRD, we were essentially in the middle of the woods.  The nearest power, less than a mile away, was  far enough that we had no hope of utilizing it. From the beginning, we knew we’d be using a generator.

Ideally, if you’re in the middle of the woods, having a large tow generator would be ideal, but they can be expensive, not to mention difficult to haul around.  The location for DRD was only accessible by off-roading and we determined, for a myriad of reasons, that a tow generator wasn’t practical.  So everything boiled down to the look we wanted and how we could achieve that with limited power resources.

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For the main performance segment of DRD director/producer Matt Blair wanted a warm key light with limited moonlight playing off the trees in the background.  The main motivation for the tungsten key was the string lights above the dirt road.  The string lights themselves actually added quite a bit of ambient light into our very dark set.  We opted to use a 5K Fresnel as our key on Doug to play up the string lights.  Only problem with using a 5K is that that amount of light requires quite a bit of power – around 42 amps.  In addition, we needed moonlight playing in the background to shed some light on the trees.  Given the fact that we already knew we were on limited power, we opted for the Aadyntech Eco Punches to light the background with Diva lights supplementing specific tree branches or details.

Once we had established the look we wanted and the way to light it, we had to figure out how to power it.  We opted to use two Honda 6500W generators.  The first gave us enough firepower for the 5K fresnel and the second gave us the Eco Punches, Divas, Video Village, battery charging station, crafty, work lights, and playback.

Doug Still 2

The second performance setup went much easier – we were near a barn, which meant we had access to house power.  We lit the barn with an Eco Punch on the roof, (3) 1K Redheads off beadboard for our key, a Kino playing up the shine of the truck, and a 200W Fresnel gelled red to play the tail-lights on the side of the barn.

All told, the project finished up rather nicely even considering our power constraints.  In fact, it was another reminder to me just how far a simple lighting setup can get you with an 800ISO rating and fast glass (Zeiss SuperSpeeds).

Doug Still 3


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