New lighting fixtures continually come on the market offering shooters and lighting designers new creative options and greater efficiencies. But adding these revolutionary or evolutionary new products to their lighting kits doesn't mean discounting the instruments they've come to depend on job after job. A noted tabletop director, a leading advocate of HDSLR video, a distinguished underwater cinematographer and an in-demand lighting designer share the contents of their lighting kits today.
For tabletop commercial director Tom Ryan, with Dallas-based Directorz (www.directorz.net), there are no formulas for lighting food spots. "It's all about appetite appeal," he says. "I try to give every client I work with their own look." Ryan primarily shoots film, although he has switched to the Phantom camera for high-speed photography, and uses a tight-grain slow film stock that demands "a certain amount of wattage" from his lighting package. He typically uses Mole-Richardson tungsten 20K, 10K and 5K fixtures for interiors and HMIs for exteriors supplemented with focusable spot sources, lekos and dedo kits.
Ryan has experimented a bit with LEDs "but for the amount of light we use, they're not always practical," he points out. "The beauty of LEDs is that they don't take a lot of power, they don't put out a lot of heat and they're great on location."Ryan's tried-and-true lighting approach with conventional fixtures gives him a lot of latitude to create the different looks and moods his spot clients require.
In Taco Bell's "Cantina Tacos" with lime commercial, "conceptually the lime was a character and we wanted it to really pop," he explains. Ryan shot the tacos bursting with filling, their shiny aluminum foil and a drop of juice clinging to a luscious lime wedge, with a pair of ARRI 35mm cameras. The exterior patio was lit with HMIs; for "ultra-macro" shots of the food he blacked out daylight and went back to tungsten sources.
Ryan's stylish "Whole Meals" spot for Whole Foods was "influenced by old-school Irving Penn photos with clean white backgrounds," he notes. "The challenge was not to let the background overpower what I was shooting" — simple, fresh ingredients, white table linens, butcher paper and brown bags. "It would have been easy to wash out what the focal point of the pictures should be, and if you went too much the other way things would have become muddy and gray. So it was pretty critical to keep the balances consistent." Ryan took light-meter readings of the backgrounds and foregrounds and aimed for 2.5 stops difference; once that was established he kept the balance consistent across the board with his usual complement of tungsten fixtures. He even kept the white-on-white place settings "in the same range as if they were ingredients" making "some creative decisions" as he went along about how much fill to add to separate the tone on tone.
Taco Cabana's evocative spot showing Lenore Segura in her kitchen assembling the ingredients for a brisket taco features "Rembrandt-style" lighting that "lets the shadows go and the highlights be simple and single source," says Ryan. "Where there were shadows on her we let them go dark, but we softly illuminated the walls behind her so the highlights separate the shadow." Ryan initially lit the spot with overhead Kino Flo sources then "backed away and decided it needed a more painterly feel," and turned instead to his trusty tungstens.
Slow liquid pours are part of a tabletop director's repertoire and Ryan's "Once a Day" spot for the Florida Department of Citrus showcases the appeal of a simple glass of orange juice against white limbo. Ryan shot the entire spot with a Phantom using a lighting scheme similar to what he would have used with a Photosonics high-speed film camera.
"It took a lot of light — 20Ks with dimmers," he recalls. "With the white background we needed twice as much light on the background as on the juice. When I'm shooting video I'd rather shoot it a bit wider aperture so you get a bit of fall off for a more filmic look." A broad source gave shape and highlights to the slow pours that wash up against the glass like waves in extreme close ups. Delicious!