Gaffing a Church Promo Video Shoot

A trial-by-fire of my new set of Yongnuo YN-600L bi-color LED lights at a down-and-dirty on-location video shoot.

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Yesterday evening I was gaffer/AD/grip for my friend Elyssa who was tasked to shoot a promo video for her church at a historic location in San Benito. We only had about two hours to shoot so I needed to keep my light kit small, fast and economical. I opted to pack my LED lights which are three Yongnuo YN-600L fixtures with AC packs and Matthews reverse light stands. The lights pack up easily in a medium-size laptop briefcase and the stands are easily slung under an arm.

The house where we were shooting had halogen light fixtures in the interiors and large windows letting in overcast sunlight. The bi-color nature of the lights allowed us to adjust and experiment with the best combination of color temperatures quickly without need of color correction gels. I only used a bit of 1/4 diffusion.

Notice also that the lights are not too powerful so I like to mount two of them together on a light stand. Usually I use a single umbrella but those are always too bulky and, again, I needed to move fast and not bang into anything priceless.

The Yongnuos come with an adapter for two Sony NP-F series batteries, each powers a bank of either the 5500 K or 3200 K LEDs. I don’t have any of these batteries as of this writing so I can’t comment on this aspect of the lights, though I hear they are less bright with the batteries and last about an hour on full brightness, but I’m sure this depends on the battery and I would of course get the biggest, most powerful ones. I think the NP-F975 is the one for me, multiplied by six, obviously. Regardless, using the lights tethered to the wall outlets is about as easy/frustrating as working with any AC-powered light.

However, these are LEDs and so are more efficient than an incandescent equivalent; using only about 10% of the wattage an incandescent source would require. With both sets of diodes at full brightness, the Yongnuos each seem to have the output of a 500w open face incandescent fixture at 6 feet from the subject. I don’t like the light quality of a naked LED source, so I use a lot of diffusion which drops the light output considerably. With 1/2 artificial silk at 2 feet I get the same exposure as I would an Arri 1K fresnel, full flood at 6′ with the same diffusion. And the color temperature with this configuration is maybe around 4000 K. Again, I double or triple-up these guys for more output, and that’s still less expensive than a single unit that has that combined output. You would need more rigging and grip gear, though.

One of my concerns, however, is the automatic fan on the light unit. It’s very noisy and comes on whenever it wants, despite the fixtures don’t seem to be hot enough to warrant the fan, but then I’m not deep inside ghe fixture maybe the parts are cheap and prone to melting easily? No idea. What I do know is that the lights are not very bright, digital cameras love light and you need to get a diffused small LED fixture very close to your subject for wrap-around light and proper exposure. This is fine for an MOS project like this promo. But, for an interview? You’re screwed. My solution is, again, to combine two or three of these lights together behind a single area of diffusion (like an umbrella or frame of artificial silk) and, to get the fans to stay off, run the lights’ output at no more than 50% for each bank of diodes.

At the end, we spent a bit more than the time we were allowed, but we finished shooting and the client seemed pleased with everything. Elyssa will also edit the video for the church. She’s young and has come along way from when we met on Oz. I look forward to working with her again.

BTS photos taken with my trusty iPhone 6 and the VSCOcam app. Speaking of VSCOcam: I just bought the rest of their preset collections as I’ve been very impressed with their products thus far. The presets are fun, but I do respect the level of customization the app gives you to go further beyond the presets (which I use like single-node LUTs) and, of course, the manual camera. All of these BTS shots are snapped with the standard iPhone 6 Camera app and then graded in VSCOcam. Camera is fast, but not reliable and the presets and customization options are not very good for someone like me.

By Jason R. Johnston

Jason is an award-winning cinematographer, and director of commercials, branding films, native content, music videos, documentaries, and narrative films. As a full-time freelancer, he can be hired to DP or direct almost any project you have in mind. He is based in Sparta, Tennessee, and ready to travel for any gig.

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