Life moves fast, but armed with his Phantom Flex4K camera, high-speed cinematographer Chris Vanderschaaf is a master of bending time to his will. Specializing in high-speed cameras, robot arms and motion control systems, Chris works with brands including Adidas, Mountain Dew, PlayStation, Ferrari, and Disney to create beautiful slow-motion images at 1000fps.
Live Fast - Film Slow
High-speed photography is unforgiving, at 1000fps you see everything, so nothing short of perfection is going to cut it. To shoot high-speed perfection, you need light – a lot of light - and that light must be flawless. For consistent, accurate and stable light, Chris uses Litepanels’ Gemini 2x1 Soft RGBWW LED panels.
Everything looks cooler in slowmo.
“Seeing things in slow motion at 1000fps reveals so much that you would otherwise miss,” says Chris, “It’s a different world, it’s exciting – and it’s different every time, especially when you shoot fire and explosions, liquid and water.”
It started with a fireball. Chris’ first experience with a Phantom saw him capturing a fire breathing performance. “As soon as we hit playback, I thought this is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen!” he says. From that moment, he was hooked. “It’s an interesting puzzle to solve every time,” says Chris. “How do you make something into a dramatic moment instead of being an everyday household item? The Phantom Flex4K camera is one solution. “The Phantom creates jaw dropping slowmo footage, but it’s a camera that few people invest in, because it is such a speciality.” Says Chris. “I’m even more of a specialist because I combine high-speed photography with robotic arms and motion control, we do table-top stuff where we mount cameras onto robot arms, and they go crazy-fast to get insane food commercial shots and action sequences”.
The ingredients of success.
In a recent project for a food brand agency, they called on Chris to create a series of flavor profile shots. They needed several ingredients shot against a variety of vibrant backgrounds, but with a limited budget and not much time.
“I knew Gemini lights are great for color accuracy,” says Chris, “so I decided to throw it behind diffusion and use it as a background source.” He continues, “The difference between shooting something at 24fps and 1000fps is about five stops, so you need 32 times as much light. Putting the Gemini behind the subject and shooting into the light it’s way brighter so there is plenty of output to shoot at high frame rates.” To rapidly switch between colors, Gemini panels feature six quick-select CCT values and six user-defined preset buttons. “We only had a small amount of time and we needed to get as many shots as possible in that time,” says Chris. “I could save all the different background colors we needed on the preset buttons and instantly swap out the background to whatever the client wanted in a couple of seconds.”
Every Gemini mode is flicker free mode.
Shooting at very high frame rates really tests a lighting fixture’s ability to be flicker free, even more so when shooting directly into the light, there is nowhere to hide. “It’s pretty awesome to know that I can shoot directly into a Gemini and it doesn’t matter if I dim it down or change the color, the output is solid,” says Chris. “I haven’t been able to do that with other lights. At 1000fps you can’t dim certain 60cm panel lights at all, if you dim them even slightly the flicker is immediately obvious.” Litepanels Gemini RGBWW panels use dedicated white and warm white LEDs besides Red, Green and Blue, so less color mixing is required to achieve the full color gamut. “Typically, when you change the color on a panel, you change the intensity of the light,” says Chris.
With other 60cm panel lights I have used, ‘flicker-free’ just locks it at 100% so you can’t get as wide a range of color as some LEDs can’t dim. But the Geminis can do every color and I really like them for that kind of versatility.
The flicker-free stability of Gemini panels allows Chris to work in complete confidence. “Shooting at 1000fps, if there is any flicker the whole shot is lost,” says Chris. “If the director or agency notice any flicker, they can’t just use pat of the shot or pull out every fifth frame, they just won’t use it – and they’ll be very upset. So, flicker free lights are crucial.”
Coffee & TV.
Live fast, film slow is a motto Chris lives by. But often, the time to shoot is very short. He completed the coffee shoot in just half a day (six hours). “I really only shoot for maybe two hours,” says Chris. “The whole thing was really quick it probably took 30 mins to an hour to set everything up then an hour to shoot. And that was the reason I wanted to use Litepanels. We didn’t have time to mess around. One of the biggest benefits of the Gemini is there is no ballast off the light. Any light with a ballast is kind of a pain when you have to move the thing around, but with Gemini, it’s built into it. I enjoy that it’s much lighter and easier to transport.”
Some spots are more exciting than coffee beans. Chris recently DP’d the ‘Major Melon’ campaign for Mountain Dew. “We blew up watermelons it was really fun!” says Chris. “The aim was to take a Mountain Dew bottle and look like the bottle was inside a watermelon as the watermelon explodes out. The whole spot ends up in reverse, you start with a watermelon exploding and all the bits and pieces and ice cubes are everywhere flying backwards until it warps back into a whole watermelon around a bottle of Mountain Dew”.
Chris now uses Gemini panels regularly. “I have three Gemini 2x1 Soft panels that I use on most things that I shoot in contained areas,” he says, “Sometimes I’ll also use some kind of hard light too if I want to create nice hard highlights, specular light on the back of something to make something shimmer more, but the Gemini lights are the ones I use for pretty much all the tabletop stuff I do.” Adding, “Everything is pretty amazing about that light. If I only shot at 24fps, it would be on every job I ever did”.
Gemini 2x1 panels are a must have in my kit. The white light and color accuracy, plus not having to worry about flicker issues is essential