Shooting Live Events in Low Lighting

The Handlebar Cycling Studio is an awesome twist on spin classes in Tacoma. My buddy Kryspin spins there. I mean... DJ's there for special night sessions. Kryspin brings his decks, lights, and his speakers to set the tempo, and Becky LeProwse coaches two back to back hour-long sessions. 

This is one of those times as a videographer you just have to show up and film whatever is going on. Kryspin set up his lighting combo strip far side of the room, with three pinspot lights illuminating Becky from the front.

Here are a few suggestions for filming in this sort of environment:

1. Get your establishing shots. Every video is a miniature narrative. Find the shots that tell the story. Signage is a great place to start if you want to avoid putting text all over the video. Look around before you even start filming. Are there any building names, street names, event titles, or logos? Capture them. Get various focal options for each one if you have time. It's hard to predict which one will work the best before you've shot anything else.

2.  Shoot toward the light. This is a big one. This high contrast shooting angle creates a dramatic silhouette effect that is much more dynamic than shooting the weakly illuminated side of the subjects. This silhouette serves a couple purposes; it makes everything look cooler and it keeps the patrons more anonymous. This helps keep the instructor as the main person of interest. Additionally, the room is already very dim, so you'll probably try to boost your ISO, lower your f-stop, and possibly go below your ideal 2:1 shutter speed (shutter speed should usually be twice your frame rate). Shooting toward the light allows you to keep all of these technical aspects in check. By exposing for the bright highlights you can avoid getting an image plagued by low contrast, soft focus, and shadow noise.

3. Use long lenses. This is what they were designed for. Think of it as bird watching. You want to see all the close up details, but you don't want to scare them. I use my 70-200mm to look for the small details that will keep the video interesting, then I switch to a wider lens for group shots that help to establish the space.

4. Parallax is your friend. The power of moving images is motion. Tilts, pans, booms, and dolly motions are your allies. Great photographs bring the viewer's interest into the frame by using compositional elements that create depth. Great video is no different. The goal is to make a 2D image look 3D. Static shot have their place, but movement (along with audio) is one of the biggest advantages video has over photography! Find a way to stabilize your camera and move around your subjects. A little parallax goes a long way.

5. Flashing Lights. A lot of videographers overuse stock footage of light leaks, so why not just record your own? Throw your lens our of focus and just record light. You can cut it into your footage or change the blend mode to 'screen' and lay it on top of your primary clip. Or you can try some good old fashion lens whacking for a really cool dreamy effect. Just don't drop anything.