“God Is the Best Lighting Cameraman”: LBB’s Ben Conway and Nisna Mahtani speak to colourists from the UK and US about how the changing of the seasons inspires their work
Nick Dalby, senior colourist at UNIT
The beauty of fall. One of my favourite times of the year to catch some of the most stunningly different landscapes. The low level of the sun gives a harsh, glowing beam of volumetric light peeking through the breaks in the cloudy sky.
The light brushes the landscape, intermittently giving pockets of colour bursting through dull greys and dark, misty clouds. The time of year when nature herself casts a magical spell changing the vivid greens into the most spectacular palette of golden browns, reds and yellows, leaving behind just a few olive coloured evergreens.
It gives a perfect balance for using as inspiration for my work and influences the way I play with shaping light and expanding the colour palette of the harsh greens you sometimes see. Some of my own photos captured in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District give a perfect example of the diversity of scenes around this time of year.
Beau Leon, colourist at Framestore in Los Angeles
When I have free time away from the office, I'm usually outside hiking, biking or swimming in a pool or the ocean - this is so important for my well-being. I'm constantly influenced by the colours, the light and just the overall feel of what fall brings to this time of year. In saying that, I believe there is a reason why myself and so many others feel very connected to this season. For me, it's what the fall colours actually represent.
Red as we know represents passion and love. Yellow represents a sense of cheerfulness and optimism. Orange can be tied to happiness, joy and positive emotions. Brown is all about the feeling of being grounded, down to earth and calm. Understanding what these colours represent, it’s not a mystery why the fall atmosphere is so beloved by many.
My photo depicts all of those colours and more. It was taken during fall a few years ago, as the sun was setting in Los Angeles.
Sam Ommen, colourist at Nice Shoes
When I think about fall, an odd but comforting mix of warmth and cold comes to mind. The leaves are changing to warmer colours and the sunsets start to feel a little brighter. On the other hand, the world outside begins to feel cloudy, muted and grey. Fall brings forth a smorgasbord of colours to be inspired by.
However, what really inspires me about fall are memories. Parts of the real world are the memories we’ve created and how they personally inspire me. Fall was when school started, when I’ve taken many trips with the people I care about most and now when my family comes together to cook and share our past year. My grandparents used to have a very orange kitchen where we’d gather every year for Thanksgiving that I truly believe helped inspire my love for bright, loud colours and especially the colour orange. Now when I think of fall I think about the time I’ve spent with those I love, and the image from those memories will always inspire me.
Simon Astbury, senior colourist / managing director at Juice Shanghai
As the man who trained me in the basics of colour grading said to me many years ago... God is the best lighting cameraman. Being cynical at the time I didn’t pay much attention, however, as time has passed that phrase has stuck with me.
As I continued to train as a colourist my eye became sensitive to certain things… seasonal differences in light caused by the height of the sun was a big one. This along with the magical transformation that happens to trees and plants at this time of year made me realise my favourite season from a colour perspective is autumn.
The low sun we get in northern Europe in October, with clear skies and the gradual warming of the colours in the trees and plants can give an extremely rich image. Autumn light, especially during golden hour, is direct and strong and because it’s so low you get long and deep shadows and fantastic backlight and silhouettes.
In Asia, where I am now, the slope into each season is much steeper, with autumn and spring only really lasting four or five weeks. Even here I find that autumn is my favourite season. The colours of everything seem richer and more concentrated, maybe that slight yellowing of the plant life gives us more of that natural teal and orange that our eyes seem to like so much. Nothing beats a bright blue sky coupled with trees in their autumnal splendour, gold, orange and red, maybe some light mist on the ground… a chill in the air, and the possibility of a warm pub or hearty stew to come home to… it’s a magical combination.
Mark Meadows, colourist at Creative Outpost
The natural world provides a wealth of inspiration to me. Each season brings with it its own light variations, temperature and weather, conjuring a plethora of different sensations and emotions. My senses are fed with colours, textures and smells that inspire, and none more so than in autumn. With its vivid hues of red, orange, gold and amber, crunchy leaves and earthy scent, autumn is truly a source of much creativity.
For me, the sky and sun stimulate this creativity most - they provide the light that allows us to interpret colour. The sky can determine the mood of any exterior scene, whether it be the clear blue skies of endless happy summer days, the ominous negative connotations associated with storm clouds, or the stability and positivity attached to cumulus clouds.
The sun, with its various levels of intensity throughout the year, has the ability to lend a totally different atmosphere to a sunset or sunrise. From the pale hazy glow of renewal on a late winter morning to the fiery dusks of summertime, the sun imbues the natural world with vital energy like nothing else. The everyday beauty of the world around us is a constant motivation for me to create eye-pleasing imagery through my work.
Kevin Wu, colourist at Artjail
Being based out of Toronto, Canada, we are definitely not strangers to the beautiful foliage that surrounds us in the fall, especially in northern Ontario. Fall is the time of year where the temperature is cool enough that I actually enjoy the outdoors. It's my favourite season. We can feast our eyes on the rich warm yellow-red tones of autumn leaves, and the cool low end of an autumn evening.
It is hard not to have that variance influence your colour work when working on something shot in fall. While summer is reminiscent of warm brightness, fall is where I love experimenting with lower value warm tones, embracing the darker, moody warmth that the season has to offer. My photo is a still from a music video for Witch Prophet's ‘Tesfay’ that I've done with fall in mind as well.
Bree Brackett, colourist at Carbon
Fall makes me think of home - a small town in southern Alabama, we call it the third coast. It's a little over 2,000 miles from the sunshine state where I live now. The fall colours of my childhood are very different from the bright Martian tones of southern California, rich with bursting coral pink flowers, sage mountains, and girls in head-to-toe neon green.
When fall approaches, I feel a sense of nostalgia and I’m inspired by vivid images of my past - so clear I can almost feel the crisp fall air against my face. Kids are back in school, yellow busses filled with the bright colours of children’s jackets punctuate the mornings. In the evenings, the Friday night lights illuminate the changing leaves like apricot flames pressed against a navy sky. Fall is lit with vivid warm tones, cloaked in cool shadows. A complex, contrasting palette of tones and emotions. It is the death of summer and the slumber of nature, contradicted by the collective buzzing energy of change and the inviting adventures of the long, cool nights. These are the pictures I see with my eyes closed. When I think about fall, I think about home.
Edwin Metternich, colourist at Envy
For me, autumn is the time of year when the ordinary is made magical!
Each year as autumn begins and the sun's arc becomes lower in the sky I am once again reminded of the luminescent quality of light at sunset and sunrise.
It's also when the sun sets earlier and I'll always remember coming out onto Oxford Street after a long day in the suite and being drenched in golden light as the setting sun hovered perfectly framed by the buildings of Oxford Street.
So for me, it will always be the time of year to look for magic in the setting sun.
Neil Anderson, colourist at Camp Lucky
Pulling inspiration from other works is no doubt a great way to get ideas, but if you only search through your screen you’ll find yourself in a dubious trap. Whether it’s a sweeping sunset or a golden forest on a cold fall day, it’s something that’s truncated down to fit within your monitor’s canvas. Looking through your screen means you are almost always looking at a picture that’s compressed to its low-dynamic, 100-nit version. Look long enough and your mind will adapt to only see your images through this limitation.
What’s great about the natural world is that it can be incredibly cinematic while having no such constraint. It’s constantly changing, being new every hour, every day and every season. You’re reminded how much contrast and colour is around us all the time. How your shadows can be even deeper than you initially landed. How your casts can be even stronger to highlight your setting. How your colours can be even bolder to showcase the approaching all. The natural world is a reminder that you’re allowed to push your images, and it’s probably further than you remember.
Juliette (Jules) Wileman, junior colourist at Absolute
The natural world is always an influence to me, year-round, due to the variety and volatility of colours. However, autumn is a particular highlight as it has a combination of strong summer greens and bright sunlight, as well as deep orange and brown hues from the changing leaves and lighting.
There's also the added bonus of golden hour being earlier, so my evening commutes often involve watching the sunset as I cycle through London - there's something quite calming about watching the sky slowly shifting between blues, oranges and pinks.
This all influences how I grade, as the tiniest shift in exposure and colour can completely change the look and feel of a whole scene, much in the same way it does from season to season.
Kaitlyn Battistelli, colourist at Ethos Studio
Living in Los Angeles does not offer an abundance of seasonal change but when the weather refuses the change, we find ourselves seeking the seasonal shift elsewhere - in the crispness in the air, in the shorter days, in the cosy nights at home, in the gatherings with loved ones.
Autumn is defined by a sense of togetherness, a nostalgia for the year as it winds down, and the comfort of longer evenings. These feelings are what inspire the autumn-centric work when a visible change in the natural world of southern California isn’t present.