This is what a gaffer does and why you need one on a film set

Tips & Techniques

Gaffer is one of those titles that unless you actually become part of the photo or film industry, you’re not really sure what it is. It’s just one of those jobs that scrolls up the titles at the end of a movie along with countless others. But they play a vital role on a film set. They’re the guys who make the light look the way the director or DP wants it while still making it look natural.

In this video from Vanity Fair, gaffer Andy Day, who’s worked on movies such as Creed II, The Bourne Legacy and Salt, shows us what happens when you shoot a scene without having a gaffer on set. And while the video is geared specifically towards the movies, the same holds true of photography.

Whether you’re shooting a movie, a promo video or just some stills, lighting is arguably way up there in the list of priorities, particularly with photography. And while you can sometimes put some somewhat questionable lighting choices down to “artistic license”, if you really want to sell the realism while keeping your viewer comfortable, you need to understand light.

The video is a fascinating insight into how a gaffer lights a set for a movie, using a staged fake scene as an example. He can justify every single light, position, size, distance, reflector, flag and it all makes complete and total sense. And when you see the difference after the lights are added, those reasons become immediately obvious.

Even with photography, there’s a lot more to effective lighting, especially if you’re going for something cinematic, than just throwing up a light in a big softbox and calling it done.

How would you have lit these scenes?

[h/t Don]

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