Guest Article: Cinematography DeCal – Lighting Workshop Weekend

When my alarm went off at 8:30am on Saturday, October 26, I could actually wake up! (A huge accomplishment for me on a weekend) What was so special that morning, you ask? In just 30 minutes, the much-hyped Lighting Workshop would commence!

I had the honor of documenting those two days, but I must say—with the vast amount of information we covered, it’s simply not humanely possible to fit it all into a blog post. Nevertheless, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. So let’s get started.

FRIDAY (10/25) – Build Day

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the DIY build day at Toby’s house. Toby did however send out a picture summarizing what we did that day—just building and buying tools to donate to UC Berkeley/GIANT and to keep for ourselves. Among the tools acquired were diffusers, reflectors, gels, and some special lights. Oh, and sandbags… you can’t forget those little lifesavers.

Friday Build Day

In the top right you can see the showroom at DTC Grip, which kindly let Toby rent out a heavily discounted HMI and LekoLite for use in our workshop—hard to get your hands on those as poor students! Looking forward to the possible field trip to DTC later on.

SATURDAY (10/26) – Protocols on Set, Safety, Setting it All Up

(Shot by Vineeth G. Mohan, Edited by Suhaib Syed)

So, we were to meet at 285 Kroeber Hall—of course, as a freshman, I had no idea where that was. But once I got there, I realized that I’ll probably be there more often… there’s a huge studio and green screen available to our disposal. With the available lights there as well as the new donations from this DeCal, I can’t wait to start utilizing its resources.

First things first, you’ve got to know how to play safe. On set, there’s so much stuff around you that can be potentially really dangerous, so it’s everyone’s job to make sure everything is as safe as possible.

A few points on safety:

  • Gaff tape. Use gaff tape as opposed to duct tape; it’s much higher quality. As the number of people on your set rises, the number of cables running around will also naturally rise. Lay cables by the wall, under carpets, or if you have to, tape them down with gaff tape.
    • Also, let’s say you’re shooting in the historic Bowles Hall and have no other option than taping a reflector to a wall. If you use duct tape, you’ll end up either leaving a huge stain, or ripping off 100 year old paint off the wall… not a good idea! Go with gaff tape whenever possible and practical.
  • Sandbags. Sandbags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but their most important duty is to hold down lights and other heavy rigs. We should all be really thankful that Toby was able to add a lot to the limited supply of these lifeguards at our school. I mean, we only had like 4 sandbags for the whole entirety of the film program at Cal – now there are 20, 16 of them from Amazon and filled on Friday by members of the DeCal!
  • C-stands. These guys have legs that resemble turtle legs, and are incredibly useful in rigging.
    • Make sure that the largest leg points towards the weight. 
    • Gobo heads. The gobo head holds the gobo arm in place. Make sure you orient the knuckle so that the weight of the light, flag, or whatever you are rigging, doesn’t create a rotary pull on the knuckle so that it unscrews itself. How do you counteract this? Follow this rule of thumb: Keep the knuckle on your right side, when the weight is being dispersed in front of you.
    • Always sandbag! 
  • “Striking!” Yell out “striking!” when turning on a light. You don’t want to accidentally blind your actors or have an exploding bulb fly into someone’s face.
Hierarchy Under the Director of Photography

What a typical hierarchy under the DP might look like. (Yay for MS Paint!)

We also covered how it’s like working in the camera and lighting departments of a set. Take a look at the diagram on the right.

As part of the discussion on protocol, we went over slating—a seemingly mundane job that actually has a lot of areas where you can potentially screw up. Basically…

  • Keep the slate still so there’s no motion blur when you slate
  • Don’t overdo it and disturb the talent – remember to do “soft sticks” when close to someone’s face
  • Confirm that the sound is “speeding” and the camera is “rolling”
  • Always have the slate ready to go, no matter what
  • Learn additional protocols like second sticks, tail slate etc.

Additionally, no matter what your role is, it’s crucial to come prepared. Take a look at Toby’s toolbox. Coming prepared with an assortment of tools will help you get spots on future projects by demonstrating that you are reliable.

Toby's Toolbox

Come prepared to set! You can save the day!

As 1st AC, be prepared for the worst. Ensure that however crazy the DP goes with your rig, it’s going to hold. See below.



As the day progressed, Toby began dropping these two phrases more and more frequently:



Heavy Metal Lego for Adults

The former is a German nonsense syllable used for emphasis, but the latter is the key to understanding rigging:


Heavy Metal Lego for Adults

You still gotta worry about stepping on Legos having Heavy Metal Legos crushing people.


Talking about rigs.

Talking about rigs.

Think about back when you played with Legos as a child. I know, a lot of suppressed memories of stepping on them, but let’s think about your thought process. Look at:

Toby's camera rig. Can attach an Android for bigger screen, and achieve low angle shots.

Toby’s camera rig. Can attach an Android for bigger screen, and achieve low angle shots.

  • What do we have
  • What do we need to achieve and make
  • How do we do it safely

Those are the basic guidelines that Toby instilled in us… on different sets you might have different equipment… just try your best to not end up on

The lights we played with:

  • Tungsten Fresnel – the standard directional lights with fresnel lenses
  • Kino Flo – fluorescent tubes with a ballast
  • HMI – approximately the same color temperature as the sun
  • LekoLite – ultra-directional lights

SUNDAY (10/27) – Gels, Flags, Diffusers, and Rigs

(Shot by Carlos Gonzalez, Edited by Beau Dallas)

What are gels? I was wondering the same thing when I walked in Sunday… but they are simple to use! Just cut out a piece of gel and use a C47 clothespin to change the color temperature of a light.

Party Gels

Color, because why the hell not?

A few notes on gels:

  • CTB (Color Temperature Blue) converts tungsten light of 3200 K to “daylight” color (5600 K)
  • CTO (Color Temperature Orange) converts daylight color (5600 K) back to 3200 K tungsten
  • You can even double up the effect
    • Place CTO over a tungsten for sunrise/sunset effect
    • Double your CTB for a moonlight feel
  • Party gels. My favorite… color just for the sake of color


Using a flag. Notice the effects on the shadows.

Using a flag. Notice the effects on the shadows, where each of the lights get eliminated by themselves, and then both shadows intersect.

DIffusing a party gel.

Diffusing a party gel.

We also covered some tools to be familiar with:

C-Clamps, Platypus clamps, Chais vise grips, Mafer clamps - an endless list of necessities and fun tools.

C-Clamps, Platypus clamps, Chais vise grips, Mafer clamps – an endless list of necessities and fun tools.

We then built a 6x10ft overhead diffuser:

6x10ft Overhead Diffuser, built on Friday, used on Sunday.

6x10ft Overhead Diffuser, built on Friday, used on Sunday.

Finally, we wrapped up by assembling this Menace Arm Rig:

Menace Arm Rig

Note the sandbags as counterweight.

You Right Now.

You right now.

No, it’s what’s going to happen. Just wait and see what and who comes out of Berkeley in the soon future. I’m so proud to be a part of this amazing movement of filmmaking at Cal.

I had a fun time, I learned a lot… hopefully you did as well, after reading this.

Honestly, I had no idea that there was an ocean of knowledge to dive into regarding lights and rigs. To be frank, I didn’t even know what rigging was before that weekend. There’s so much to learn, and Toby has great resources for us. Let there be light!

Vineeth G. Mohan

Definitely not photoshopped.

Vineeth G. Mohan
is a freshman chasing pre-med at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in the Central Valley, he’s proud to say that the ratio of Indian movies he’s watched to English movies is 15:1. Lots of Bollywood and Mollywood for you there. He has a YouTube channel, DuckODuckProductions, which he’s been adding to sporadically since 7th grade.

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