Consistency Is The Key to Better Productions

The amount of time spent on pre-production setup is directly related to the quality of images sent to Master Control or put to tape during a production. The following are some tips on pre-production workflow to make for a smooth day in the field.

No Tolerance For Error

Variance in color consistency between cameras and monitors is something to be avoided at all costs. Some issues must be addressed long before shoot day and others can be addressed in the field. 

Paint Cameras

 Have all cameras benched, calibrated and aligned so they all make the same picture, especially if they are stored outdoors and travel in a support truck. Ideally and in very critical network broadcast production this is done before every job. In smaller production units it may be more practical that this be done once a month and at the very least, once a quarter. 

Adjust Monitors

 Have all monitors used in the Quality Control Rack for critical color work benched, calibrated and aligned so they all match SMPTE standards for color consistency. This should follow the same schedule as mentioned above for cameras. For more information about adjusting monitors check out Ten Easy Steps To Color Display Setup elsewhere in Televising The Revolution. 

Let There Be Light

For night productions outside or inside venues where artificial lighting is being used have the house lighting powered-up and burning without interruption for at least 30 minutes prior to white balancing. As the lamps in these luminaries come up to operating temperature the color temperature shifts. Waiting 30-minutes allows everything to stabilize (including electronic imaging circuits), giving a more consistent output and a better white balance.

 Some clients/venues will shutdown the lighting for dramatic effect just before the opening of the event. Try to discourage such practice with the event managers. HID, HMI, Mercury Vapor, Sodium Vapor and other types of lamps will shift in color temperature and intensity if powered-off then back on again. Some venues have the ability to shutter the lamps to kill the light output. This is acceptable. Powering them off and back on again is not. If this cannot be avoided, expect a color shift for about 10 minutes until the luminaries re-stabilize. The Video Shader should be able to ride the levels if needed to keep lighting consistently within camera temperature parameters. When at outside fields on cloudy days, use the stadium lighting along with natural ambient light. It will add punch to your images and help even-out the overall color balance. 

 What Color Is White?

 When performing white balance, all cameras should ALWAYS use the SAME white target and it should be kept free of soil and scuff marks. It should also be consistent in color across its entire surface.  A white target can be any matte surface like a large white sheet or even better, a large white tarp, which is much easier to keep clean. You could also use a very large white reflector. What ever you use should be kept specifically for white balancing and used consistently from show to show to help achieve a signature look for your productions. The white target you use should be placed in an area where the majority of production lighting will fall upon its surface. It also should be large enough to cover at least 40% of the frame. Before attempting any camera painting or white balancing operations assure that:

  1. Cameras are ALL on the SAME filter setting
  2. Cameras are ALL on the SAME gain setting
  3. Cameras ALL have shutters turned OFF

Avoid the temptation to white balance on articles of clothing. This will give remarkable inconsistencies in your white. If this must be done on the fly, the Video Shader should “paint” the white instead of auto balancing and have a good eye for color to match with the rest of the cameras.  

Shutter The Shutter

 Use the Shutter function judiciously when shooting. Avoid Gaining-Up as much as possible. 

Perform A Balancing Act

Balance indoor lighting against outside natural light with CTO and CTB filters on either the windows or the lighting setup to achieve a better front to back balance. 

Stan’s The Man

 Stanley McCandless was a Yale Professor and a legendary lighting designer who taught the use of a warm/cool lighting system to bring out the best in lighting quality. Use three-point lighting in a “warm/cool array”  

  • 45 Front Left with Light Amber gel
  • 45 Front Right with Light Blue gel
  • 180 back and 45 up hair light with no gel 
  • (Note: a fourth light could also be used here for a background light when a background is present. It could be in several locations from on the floor to a high slash angle. Use colored gels creatively on this light).  

This is a much-preferred method of lighting instead of flat, single source lighting for remote and setup interviews.  

Adding Interest With Lighting

 Ratio your multi-point lighting setups for a more dramatic look with either dimmers or Neutral Density gels. Neutral Density gels are preferred because dimmed incandescence lights can actually shift the color temperature. If you have the space you could also move the lighting closer to or further from your subject. 

Contrast is your friend. A high contrast subject to background ratio will always give better “perceived” sharpness than a low contrast subject to background ratio. 

Consistency and a signature “Look” will distinguish your production in a sea of mundane television. It is not difficult to achieve. All it takes is a bit of attention to the details and care in setting up. -33-

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