“Shooting at high ISOs [with an HD-DSLR], you end up spend-
ing less money on lighting and more money on grip equipment to
control spill from existing ambient light,” Buono says. “For exam-
ple, you may need to black-out the color-wash spilling from street
lights that you would never have seen shooting at a lower ISO.”
He adds that while not having enough light usually isn’t
a major issue, excess color from ambient light will be. “We
may have plenty of light for exposure but we’re going to
have all this color bleeding all over the place, so the ‘grip-
ping’ will usually be more complicated and you have to
prepare for that.”
His advice when it comes to ambient light: When in doubt,
block it out and then add the lights you want to help get a
consistent color temperature in a scene.
The Right Tools for the Right Situation
While shooting with a DSLR lets you be more mobile and, arguably, more flexible, it doesn’t mean
you can or should shoot everything with a stripped
down “run-and-gun” lighting setup. The benefit
of cameras like the 5D Mark II, 7D and now the
“In the past, the weight and the size of the camera and the
size and expense of the lighting was cost prohibitive, but
Left and below: Buono shot nearly all of SNL’s iconic title sequences on the
streets of New York City at night with a Canon 5D Mark II using mainly ambient light.
those barriers have been removed. You can now practically
light every situation without using a ton of gear, but that
doesn’t mean you throw out all of the old tools. If I’m in a
traditional situation, I may still approach it in a traditional
way,” Buono says.
“There’s something about the look of a studio 10K light
with that giant piece of Fresnel glass in front of it. You’re
never going to get that look out of the latest and greatest LED.
Sometimes, the old-school thing is the right way to go.”
Scout Your Location for Lighting
Speaking of preparation, Buono says it’s vital to
scout a location not just for blocking the action, but,
more critically, for how the scene will be lit.
“Carefully scouting a scene will save you a lot
of money. You have to participate in the location
scouting and you have to pay attention to what time of the
day the shoot is going to happen. The sun is going to do
more for you than any light could ever do. The sun and
a piece of foam core is a lighting package. There are a lot
of scenes where we’ve location scouted and planned our
schedule around the sun’s position so that all I need is a 4x4
bounce card. I’ve also rejected locations because the sun’s
position will actually hurt us more than help us.”
The same goes for indoor shoots, particularly in large ven-
ues where you think you might have to hang lights.
“Sometimes you can’t rig because the location is a hundred
years old and the walls are too ornate; other times you just
don’t have time to rig.”
If that’s the case, Buono suggests being prepared to bounce
as much light as possible. “I’ve had a lot of success lighting
large-scale locations just by aiming a Molebeam at a wall
50 feet away and getting this natural bounce that lights the
In one case, Buono had to shoot in an antique ballroom.
Its ceiling was made of Tiffany glass, so hanging lights was
out of the question. Instead, he floated Airstar’s The Cloud
over the set—a 12x12-foot screen filled with helium that
resembles a large air mattress. Once it was floating over the
ballroom, Buono blasted “a cheap, 5K light into it, which
gave the whole scene this gorgeous, toppy glow.”
The ability of an HD-DSLR to shoot at high ISOs lets you
get away with bouncing light much more than in the past.
“You bounce into a dark-brown, wood-paneled wall and
most of the time there’s not enough light coming back off
of it for exposure. But if you’re shooting at 800 to 3200
ISO, it becomes this incredibly natural, soft key light.
If you can’t rig a light in the right position, just bounce
Dan Havlik is the technology editor for Photo District News, and regularly covers
the tech world with a specialty in photography.