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James Graham February 17th, 2003 05:50 AM


I wonder if anybody has any suggestions on the following:

My clients want a wedding video to record their marriage at an unusual venue. The venue is Lechwedd slate mine in Wales. The clients described a theatre lit network of tunnels and chambers with a final chamber (the one where the ceremony will take place) which is cathedral high and dramaticaly lit with coloured light. This chamber also features a large underground lake which, we were told, forms part of this dramatic arrangement. Above ground, a quaint victorian mining village completes the setting.

Sounds fantastic, we said. We'll do it!

And then we thought about it. And then we thought that we had better scout this location first.

So, we descended 400ft underground on a near vertical train...

What we found was that these 'theatre lit' mines are actually pitch dark tunnels lit by 100 watt bulbs every hundred yards or so. The chambers, of which there are about ten, form a tour of the history of the Welsh slate mines. Now this tour, which is fascinating, is intended to give an impression of life in the mines for the Welsh miner. What that means is darkness. Lighting in these chambers is very, very subtle. Very, very unfilmable.

And then the main chamber itself, an absolutely huge cavern hewn from black rock which sucks all of what little light there is out of the air. The lake is barely lit by a rig of four small lights with coloured gels.


We were told that the chamber where the ceremony will take place will be more brightly lit on the day although they were unable to demonstrate it when we visited. To be honest, I don't expect that I will be able to rely on that.

Above ground the setting is as bleak as you can imagine. Heaps of blue grey slate, rubble and victorian single story buildings which are all a hundred yards apart in case one of them blew up. Think of a cross between The Prisoner and those Doctor Who episodes which tended to substitute a quarry for an alien landscape. Honestly, I was expecting the Cybermen to attack at any moment. In the distance the Welsh hills rise into the sky but closer there is the rumble of machinery from the still operational open cast slate mine.

Now, it sounds like I'm being extremely down on Lechwedd but I am just approaching this from the point of view of getting a good film. As a tourist attraction it really is a fascinating place and well worth a visit. The staff there were very helpful and the chap who guided us through the mines was a very nice guy indeed.

However, I am going to need some extremely creative solutions here!

Although there is 110 volt power throughout the mines, extravagant or expensive lighting is not an option on this budget. I have been thinking about playing up the surreal aspects of the surface for impact and then trying something unusual in the mines such as infrared (is there an IR lens for the XL1?). Other than that, I have been toying with the idea of having the guests carry hand laterns (I know, I know).

Sorry about the long post but does anybody have any other ideas?

Frank Granovski February 17th, 2003 06:55 AM

I would buy or rent a good light/lights. I wouldn't use the 110 volt sockets---nothing wrong with a portable light or lights.

James Graham February 17th, 2003 07:22 AM

Thanks for your reply Frank,

Trouble is a hand light (or lights) are just not going to cut it - that may just work in the tunnels but the cavern chambers are just going to suck light.

Standing within a couple of feet of the bride and groom whilst firing hand lamps/camera lights into their faces is not really an option - they will not like it and it will look pretty terrible.

Actually, it could be pretty good but it will look more like an Aliens movie than a wedding video.

Thinking about it - that's no bad thing!

Don Bloom February 17th, 2003 07:51 AM

First I would get the B/G together and discuss your worries about lighting and let them know that when you agredd to the job, you didn't realize how bad the lighting was. Always better to be up front. Next the only solution I can think of is pretty much along the linse of Franks. Perhaps rent (borrow) a bunch of 50-100W battery operated lights and light the place up. As dark as you say it is it's just going to suck it up anyway, there's no way around it and the B/G need to understand that. Bring at least 4-5 lights and at least 1 assistant to help with them. Thats about all you can do. BTW 4-5 is the LEAST number, I would try for 8-10 lights at least that way you can try to light it so it doestn't look like a ghost movie!

Kenn Jolemore February 17th, 2003 07:53 AM

It's always interesting how a discription from someones memory (colored by there perception at the time)can be so out of touch with the reality of what is. These folks must really be in love :0)
Short of renting some lights I think you will be hard pressed to get decent footage. Of course you can always lighten it up in post after the shoot. Best of luck .

Rick Spilman February 17th, 2003 08:14 AM

The only other thing that comes to mind is to set up a tripod and play with the shutter speed. I shot a dance performance in a very dark club once with my PD150. I cranked the shutter spped down to 15. Gave me a very interesting effect. Everything seemed to be bathed in a golden light. The motion was blurred but as this was modern dance it might actually have improved it.

If there is a wedding rehersal. (Don't know if they reherse in mines) try using a lower shutter speed. There is relatively slow motion in a typical wedding, so it might give you a nice effect. (I would prefer to try it out once before betting everythign that it will work.)


James Graham February 17th, 2003 08:43 AM

Thanks for all of your suggestions,

Kenn's comments about coloured perception are spot on as that mirrors exactly the conversation my partner and I had after seeing the venue. Out of courtesy, I think that I'll contact the photographer who has been given the same description as us but has not had the luxury of seeing it for herself.

You are right, Don, about being up front with our clients regarding our concerns. However, I am trying to be prepared with a few ideas and suggestions for them.

Rik, I've played with shutter speeds in similair conditions to those you are talking about. I'm not entirely happy with the kind of effects generated by a slow shutter and would regard these a special effect to be used sparingly rather than a method of shooting in general.

I don't suppose that there is anybody in the North of England with a truck load of portable lights going cheap?

Thanks again, guys.


James Graham February 17th, 2003 09:28 AM

Hello again,

I've just been doing a little digging around to try and figure out a way of doing this cheaply.

What kind of effects am I likely to suffer if I use halogen lights? I've noticed the halogens intended for industrial use are dirt cheap and extremely powerful.

I know that they are not controllable but they would allow me to fill the backgrounds with light to bring out the rock and cavern structure.

Smaller specialist lights could then be use to light the bride and groom.

Crazy, but it just might work!

What do you think?

Rick Spilman February 17th, 2003 09:56 AM

Halogen work lights are great, very bright but they are a bit hard to control, and can be hot.

I would focus more on soft light to illuminate the bride and groom. Maybe rent some kino flos that can he hidden and provide a gentle or indirect light on the ceremony itself and not worry so much about the walls of the mine.


Zac Stein February 17th, 2003 10:09 AM

Before you decide anything, shoot some test footage with and without lights, see how terrible it is.

One other thing, maybe if you want to be subtle, yet look nice, is it possible to line up candles all over the place. If you get enough candles around it will light it enough for some decent video to be taken. And it may add to the romantic effect.


James Graham February 17th, 2003 10:11 AM

Good point, Rik. I would use something softer to illuminate the bride and groom as you have suggested.

However, as this is such an unusual venue my clients would like that to be conveyed in their video.

I'm visualising the halogens lighting the cavern behind the bride and groom, angled upwards and away from them to bring out the rock but not to spill on the ceremony itself whilst softer light would illuminate the principle players in the ceremony. Bear in mind that this cavern is BIG.

I think that this would add a particularly interesting dimension to the ceremony footage especially in the wider shots.

You're the man, Rik. What do you think - foolhardy or what?

James Graham February 17th, 2003 10:16 AM

Candles would be brilliant, Kermie, but a really bad idea in a mine. Besides, I would need thousands to light this particular cavern and I'm trying to avoid asphyxiating my clients.

It would look fantastic though.

I've shot some test footage and taken digital photographs. The best stuff looks sort of like a brown smudge!

Zac Stein February 17th, 2003 10:31 AM

A brown smudge looks better than some brides and grooms i have seen, hah hah.


P.S it is 3.30am i think i turned into a pumpkin idiot.

Dylan Couper February 17th, 2003 02:31 PM

I'd light the cavern with halogen worklights, and gel them all for colour. YOu will have to makeshift a way to hold the gels far away from the hot bulb. KinoFlows are great lights, but for what it costs to rent one unit, you can BUY at least four 500w halongens.

Definitely shoot test footage and show it to the B&G first. Explain the problem to them.

PS, I'd be more concerend with Daleks than Cybermen. ;)

Barry Goyette February 17th, 2003 04:11 PM

What about 4 or 5 chinese lanterns...would you have access to the ceiling (and enough ceiling height) to hang a few of these?... this would provide a nice ambient light that wouldn't have the shadows of more direct sources, and wouldn't overpower the existing lighting...not too expensive...could also be rigged with conventional lights rather than pro fixtures...just a thought.


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