Tips for Shooting Video Using a White Cyclorama

 Recently, we shot several new promo pieces for Odenza Vacations, at Gak Studio. Odenza is a marketing and travel incentive company based in Burnaby, in Vancouver’s lower mainland. Gak is equipped with a 35’ white wraparound cyclorama, or infinity cove, and a lighting grid.

To create that Mac vs. PC TV commercial look, here’s how we lit it:

  • four or five 2K Arri zip lights for the white cyc background, hung on Gak’s lighting grid about 5 feet from the wall, and about 5 feet apart from each other
  • we set our key lights — a Kino 4’ 4-bank and a 1K fresnel with a Chimera — at 45-degree angles to the talent (both vertically and horizontally), at a bit of a distance to keep the intensity of the key and fill lights down. The lights we chose as key and fill were fairly even, because we didn’t want a lot of shadow on the subject.
  • We used a 300 watt Arri as a hair / backlight, but it ended up being a bit redundant because the white cyc itself is bouncing a fair bit of light onto the back of the subject.
  • Postion for the talent was about 10 feet from the white cyc, and about 7 feet from the camera.

What was critical, in terms of shooting, was to check Luma levels on a Waveform. We checked everything on our Panasonic BT-LH1850 monitor’s waveform scope to ensure that:

  1. the white background was hitting at least 100 IRE. At 100 IRE, the white becomes “pure” white, and essentially clips. Any less than 100, and it starts to appear as gray. This is important as your monitor may not be properly calibrated; shooting at a universal luminance level means what’s white on your monitor will be white on everyone else’s.
  2. we set the talent’s levels at around 50% IRE.
  3. we could adjust the video’s highlights in FCPX; bumping it up by 10% would still leave the talent at around 60% — an ideal range for video.

You can use the white Cyc as a white balance card prior to shooting, or adjust in post.

Eliminating the shadow on the studio floor on the ultra-wide shots (we shot with a Fujinon HA13 x 4.5 lens — which is the equivalent of a 14 mm lens on a full frame sensor) was a bit tougher, but we could mask in post if needed, and sometimes the shadow on the ground helps add a bit of dimension to an otherwise surreal, depth-less space.

The real trick is to not overnight the talent — give yourself a bit of play in post by lighting with softer, lower wattage front lights. Make sure you get a nice reflection of the light in their eyes, as it adds life to any shot you make — but that’s the only real concern. Also, the background doesn’t really have to be 100% evenly lit… As long as the amount of light is consistently over 100 IRE on a waveform, it’ll flatten out to a pure white. That means that a 4000 watt light on one side of the frame, and a 2000 watt light on the other, are essentially the same “brightness” as read by the sensor, if the level of light on both is above the “ceiling” of 100 IRE. The human eye can detect the difference in brightness, but a camera sensor can’t. If you work with the limitations of your camera’s sensors (be it a RED Epic or even a DSLR), you can exploit it to create the look you want!


Ella - Odenza Promotional Shoot - MSWaveform view in FCPXWaveform - Ella with posters


Note how the 2 large stickers held in the actress' hands are displayed in the above Waveform. Because of the amount of white contained in the printed image (and their reflectiveness), they are getting close to 100 IRE at their highest levels -- but most importanly, the talent's skin tones are still falling within 50-60 IRE.

Ella - Waveform - Wide Shot In Odenza Promotional Video

This waveform shows how the shadow on the floor comes underneath 100IRE; the background above it still remains at 100 IRE.

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