“What is it about light that has us craving it?” Is the question asked in the opening seconds of Garth de Bruno Austin’s latest short, The Colour of Light.
Exploring this natural, human need as well as our innate desire to control it, Garth’s film showcases everyday people going about their lives in differing degrees of luminance, whether that be an artificial streetlight or a natural morning sunrise.
Owing to a back catalogue of BBC’s How to Grow a Planet, Nature’s Miracle Orphans, and most recently his very own feature length documentary Disunity, Garth is well versed in roaming tough outdoor conditions with a typical ‘run and gun’ style of shooting. It might be easy to think a new approach was needed for The Colour of Light, yet here Garth explains how he went about applying his documentary style sensibilities to the scripted short.
“For me this was the perfect first opportunity to use the new Pocket Cinema Camera 4K from Blackmagic Design,” comments Garth. “I only had three days to turn the film around, and so I needed a camera that could withstand all kinds of lighting conditions, eliminating the time-consuming need for extensive scene set up prior to hitting record, something that wouldn’t slow me down or limit what I was able to do.”
In the run up to the shoot, Garth was particularly looking forward to testing the camera’s dynamic range and dual native ISO. “And on set it didn’t disappoint,” he says. “By increasing the ISO to 1250 and 3200, I was able to obtain a clean image with minimal noise, retaining detail in even the most challenging low light conditions.”
One of those minimally lit challenges involved dancers against the backdrop of a city at night, which Garth shot with a 12-40mm f/2.8 Olympus M.Zuiko lens. “There was almost no light to the right of the dancers and only a single streetlamp to the left,” recalls Garth. “The city in the distance was full of mixed lighting temperatures, from tungsten to daylight and different types of bulbs from LED to halogen and fluorescent.
“But thanks to the Pocket 4K, I got all this incredible detail, which enabled me to just get on set and capture the perfect shot within seconds. Cameras with less dynamic range in a similar situation, would end up having very crushed shadows when you expose for the light or blown out highlights if exposing for the shadows.”
Another sequence saw an artist painting with a hard tungsten spotlight and behind the canvas, Garth placed an LED to act as a soft backlight. This was all the setup he needed. “Paired with a Metabones 0.7 Speedbooster Ultra and a Sigma 18-35mm, the Pocket 4K’s MFT sensor and thirteen stops of latitude handled the extreme conditions beautifully,” says Garth. "The resulting image was impressively cinematic, and required no noise reduction in post.”
Being used to a shoulder mounted URSA Mini Pro, Garth decided to pair the Pocket 4K with a small handle rig that could be partially placed on his shoulder when needed. “What a lot of people don’t realise is that a small camera is actually much better when it comes to shooting a documentary,” he reveals. “It’s far less intrusive. It allows you to get much closer to subjects than you could with a bigger solution. People are much more comfortable and honest talking to you without, what they perceive as, a huge camera in their face.
“And you also don’t draw as much attention to yourself,” he continues. “The Pocket 4K looks just like a normal photographic camera or DSLR, and so people on the street don’t really notice it, or they assume you’re only working on your own personal film and ask fewer questions.”
Garth’s ultimate goal with The Colour of Light was to shoot it in the way he would one of his documentaries, whilst still keeping it looking and feeling like a scripted short. He concludes: “Thanks to the Pocket 4K, I was able to achieve this."