The Making of “Stranger Things” with DP Tim Ives

American Cinematographer released an exciting interview with DP Tim Ives, ASC, to talk about his job on Stranger Things. Ives has been the DP on the Netflix show for all three seasons. Let’s talk about camera movement, lighting, camera choices, and how they can help you tell a story that is an homage to the ’70s/’80s pop-culture!

Stranger Things – The Story

Stranger Things is a Netflix Sci-Fi/Horror series created by the Duffer Brothers that started in 2016. The story takes place in a fake town – Hawkins, Indiana – in the 1980s. The heroes are a group of kids that are trying to find another young boy that mysteriously disappeared. A lot of paranormal events will happen, and they will meet other people with supernatural power.

It’s pretty hard to resume a three seasons long show without spoiling you, and if you’ve never seen it, Stranger Things is a mesmerizing series. The Duffer Brothers set the series in the 80s as an homage to the pop culture. In conjunction with Tim Ives, the DP since day one, they went for an aesthetic that is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s films, Stephen King’s universe, or the original Ghostbuster movie. If you want to learn more about all the references and homages in Stranger Things, there is another incredible interview of the Duffel Brothers here.


Image credit: Netflix

Stranger Things – Pre-Production and the Look

In this interview, it is interesting to hear Tim Ives talk about how the story led to several choices in the set design, color, and tones of the series. For example, the tones and colors in season one of Stranger Things are pretty muted, without a lot of saturation, to reflect 1982’s mood. As the story progress, they started to introduce more and more colors and saturation in season two/three to reflect the ambiance of 1985.

Also, Ives describes his relationship in pre-production with the Duffer Brothers as being crucial. The DP and the directors spend a lot of time talking about visual references and the ambiance that they want to achieve, which is, of course, driven by the story.


Image credit: Netflix

Stranger Things – Moving Fast

When you have to shoot that many scenes and sequences per day on a series with a reasonable budget – 6 million USD per episode on season one – like Stranger Things, you have to move fast. Indeed, Tim Ives made extensive use of the Technocrane SuperTechno 50 through the entire show. If you are not familiar with what a Technocrane looks like, here it is.


No, a SuperTechno 50 won’t fit in your trunk. Image credit: Technocrane

A Technocrane is a giant telescopic jib that can extend during the shot at a speed of 2m/sec. You can look at it at a Moza Slypod under steroids that retail for $500.000. Ives used the Technocrane “2 to 3 times per week,” and it saved them some time to get multiple shots without having to set up a dolly with rails.


Image credit: Netflix

Stranger Things – Practical Lighting

Another thing that Tim Ives made critical use of is practical lighting. Indeed, he describes practical lighting as part of the “bible of Stranger Things.” On shots where they were not supposed to flicker any lights, Ives and his team had the habit of putting fixtures onto dimmers. What’s more interesting is how he describes the influence of Stranger Things’ fans on this “flickering light” look.


Image credit: Netflix

In season three of Stranger Things, the Starcourt Mall sequence is impressive because tons of lights are flickering at the same time. It took John Hilton, Stranger Things’ gaffer, and his team one month and a half to wire everything so the lights could flicker. In an interview for AC Mag, here is how he describes it:

The crew spent a Saturday night in the mall with a camera testing different ballasts, Variac dimmers as well as some LED neon-style light ribbon. Milne (Stranger Things’ second DP) desperately wanted to just use the existing fixtures but nothing was going to replicate them in the same way that the cinematographer wanted. In the end, after testing about six of the neons through a different ballast for eight hours without failure, Milne risked it and got the company who designed them to change over all the ballasts in the mall to new ones. It was a big gamble for the cinematographer, but in the end all the flickering you see in the season finale is ‘in camera’ and it really pays off.


Image credit: Netflix

Stranger Things – Camera and Lenses

Stranger Things was shot on various RED cameras: the RED Epic Dragon (6K resolution) for season one, and the RED Weapon Helium (8K resolution) for season two. In terms of lenses, they used Leica Summilux-C lenses, which are known for having a very natural and soft look.

But, they decided to shake things up a little bit for season three, and they went with the RED Monstro VV, which features a Full-Frame sensor. They are working with only one LUT on Stranger Things, and they had to re-create a specific LUT for the Monstro VV. Going the Full-Frame route, they were able to get shallower depth of field, which result in more “cinematic shots,” according to Ives.


Image credit: Netflix

Also, the Leica Summilux-C lenses don’t cover Full-Frame sensors, so they went with Leitz Thalia lenses and a couple of Sigma lenses for the wide shots. The most significant change, other than the Full-Frame “look” and feel, is that the Thalia lenses are T/2.6-2.8 compared to the T/1.4 of the Summilux-C. In an interview for Leica, here is how Ives describes these lenses:

When we put the Leitz Thalia lenses on the camera I saw the best parts of what I saw with the Summilux-C lenses, but on a more epic scale. With new sensors shooting clean at higher ISOs the stop doesn’t matter as much for lighting. Even at 800 ISO we’re at a T4.0 and it’s never a problem. I haven’t struggled to light into the subjects. In fact, I’m embracing my darker instincts.

What are your thoughts about this behind the scenes look at Stranger Things? Did you watch Stranger Things? Are you waiting for season four to come out?

The post The Making of “Stranger Things” with DP Tim Ives appeared first on cinema5D.

ACE Eddie Awards 2020 Winners

Bong Jong Ho’s South Korean film Parasite continued its remarkable awards-season run tonight, winning the top prize for editor Jimmo Yang at the 70th annual ACE Eddie Awards. It’s the first time the American Cinema Editors has given its marquee Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic) award to a foreign-language pic. Searchlight Pictures’ Nazi sendup Jojo […]

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Here’s a Free 3-Hour Tutorial on Travel and Landscape Photography

Want a high-quality lesson on travel and landscape photography without having to spend any money? Popular Canadian photographer Taylor Jackson has released this amazing 3-hour video tutorial that’s completely free (it’s supported by YouTube ads).

Quite a bit of time and energy went into this video — Jackson spent a full week in Iceland, a full week in Tokyo, and then 5 full days editing it together.

“It started as a few regular tutorials, and [I] realized pretty quickly that there was no reason to draw out what could be summarized in a 3-minute video into a 15- to 20-minute video,” Jackson tells PetaPixel. “So we just made the content all as tight as possible, and put it in one easy place with a table of contents.”

Here’s the table of contents in case you’d like to skip to a particular section or subject:

0:00:36: Overdramatic Intro
0:01:40: Learning to See Light and Composition
0:02:39: Important Foundational Element
0:03:22: One Tip from Manny Ortiz
0:04:23: Lenses, Cameras and Character Types
0:16:30: Gear – Other Important Items
0:26:12: Camera Modes (Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority)
0:27:23: Camera Settings
0:30:18: Light – The Most Important Aspect of Photography
0:33:00: App for Golden Hour and Blue Hour
0:33:37: Shooting into a Sunset
0:36:56: Rule of 3rds, and My Take On It
0:37:55: Let Me Tell You About My Boat
0:40:59: Why I’m Shooting Less Through The Viewfinder
0:42:14: Auto Focus Modes
0:43:16: White Balance
0:44:17: Viewfinder Vs. LiveView/Monitor
0:44:36: Getting More Depth and Sharpness
0:45:28: Why Use Long Lenses in Landscapes
0:46:13: Blue Hour vs. Golden Hour
0:46:39: General Handheld Shutter Speed Rule
0:47:19: Waiting for Northern Lights in Iceland
0:47:50: When Locations Just Don’t Work
0:49:59: Showing Movement in The City / Slow Shutter Handheld
0:50:51: Frames // Interlinked
0:51:38: Natural Frames
0:55:46: Polarizing Filters
0:57:31: Mid Day Harsh Sun Photos
1:00:00: Waterfall Long Exposures in Iceland
1:00:13: LOL Whoops
1:00:29: It’s Probably a Great Transitional Scene. You’ll Never Know.
1:02:26: Very Important Japanese Toilet Content
1:03:32: Long Exposures in the City at Blue Hour
1:06:10: Times to Use a Super Wide Angle Lens
1:07:22: Long Exposures WITHOUT a Tripod
1:08:56: Shibuya Crossing, and Including People with a Super Wide
1:10:19: Ice Caves, and Complimentary Images
1:11:20: Panning and Capturing Movement
1:13:20: Rooftop City Scapes
1:15:04: Symmetry Reflections and Panoramas
1:17:20: The Element of Random – City Photography from a Moving Car
1:18:52: Photographing The Stars
1:18:24: Northern Lights Photography
1:21:38: Blue Hour City Scapes and Natural Contrast
1:23:39: Blue Hour City Long Exposures
1:26:16: Post Processing
1:26:48: Get a Tablet
1:28:49: Adobe Lightroom
1:31:03: Photo Mechanic
1:32:45: Adobe Lightroom Library View – The One Thing I Use It For
1:34:44: Adobe Lightroom Overview – All The Tools and Sliders I Use
1:41:45: Editing RAW Files From Video In Lightroom
2:20:51: Making a Long Exposure From Multiple Frames
2:29:12: Building and Editing Panoramas
2:55:12: Adobe Photoshop – The Only Thing I Use It For
3:04:49: Final Thoughts

If you want to download the RAW files used in this tutorial, you can find them on Jackson’s website.

“I wanted to release [this tutorial] for free because I felt it was something that was lacking from YouTube,” Jackson says. “I wanted to teach the things that I do to come back from a trip with good photos, but also not let photography dominate the entire trip. Simple ways to take better photos, and travel light. Some tricks and hacks to do things like ~10 second long exposures handheld.

“My goal with travel and landscape photography is to keep it as simple as possible. You can do a lot with a little nowadays.”

National Archives Caught Doctoring Photo Critical of Trump

The National Archives is an independent government agency that’s tasked with preserving and documenting government and historical records. An authority on authenticity, it was just caught doctoring photos containing messages critical of President Trump.

The Washington Post reports that the Archives has admitted to making multiple alterations to a photo of the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. for an ongoing exhibit that celebrates the centennial of the right of women to vote.

The photo at the center of the controversy was captured by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama on January 21st, 2017, as a massive crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital the day after Trump was inaugurated.

Embed from Getty Images

The original, unaltered photo shows a sea of signs being held up by the march, which was widely viewed as a protest to the election results. But in the large 49×69-inch photo greeting visitors at the Archives’ exhibition, some of the signs look different, yet the photo wasn’t accompanied by any disclosure that it had been edited.

The Post points out that one sign in the bottom-left-hand corner of the photo, which originally read “GOD HATES TRUMP,” has had the TRUMP blurred out in the exhibit:

A crop of the sign in the original photo (left) and the blurred sign in the exhibition (right). Blurred sign crop via Washington Post.

Another sign that read “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” also had the President’s last name blurred out. Also blurred were words on signs that referenced women’s anatomy — this included the word “vagina” on a sign that read “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” and the word “pussy” on a sign reading “This Pussy Grabs Back.”

What’s interesting is that the decision to “Photoshop” the signs was reportedly made during the development of the exhibit by a team that included David S. Ferriero, the Obama-appointed head of the National Archives.

“As a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy,” Archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman tells the Post. “Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.

“We do not alter images or documents that are displayed as artifacts in exhibitions. In this case, the image is part of a promotional display, not an artifact.”

The Archives also told the Post that certain words on signs were blurred due to the fact that the museum often hosts groups and young visitors.

It’s unclear whether there have been prior cases in which the Archives edited photos in hopes of avoiding political controversy and offending visitors.

Image credits: Header photo by US National Archives virtual tour.

That Camera Bundle on Amazon May Be Gear That Was Returned

Here’s a 16-minute report by CNBC that looks into how Amazon returns work. At the 14:39 mark, there’s an interesting tidbit that you may not have known: when you see third-party camera bundles on Amazon with a body, lens, and/or accessories, many of those items may have been previously returned.

In addition to reselling returned items through its Amazon Warehouse program, donating them, or returning them to suppliers, Amazon also sells returned items in bulk to third-party companies. Those companies then repackage them, sometimes with added accessories, and then sell them for a profit back on Amazon.

The example CNBC points to is the big market for camera bundles — the listings that contain all kinds items gathered into one convenient package that are often seen as sponsored products:

If you want to make sure you’re not buying previously returned equipment, make sure the listings you’re looking at show reputable brands as the seller (instead of third-party companies) and that they’re shipped from and sold by

A Simple and Inexpensive Schlieren Optical System Using a Fresnel Lens

Schlieren imaging is a fairly standard optical technique for visualizing heat, sound, or pressure differences in air. Technically, a schlieren system is able to see clear disturbances in air due to slight differences in the speed of light in the air. The technique can be sensitive enough to see the heat rising off a human hand at room temperature.

High-quality schlieren systems typically use large optical mirrors that are expensive and beyond the budget of most optics classes. Here I will present the simplest design for a system that any student can build, align, and experiment with.

This simple design uses a plastic Fresnel lens. A Fresnel lens is a flat lens that is most commonly found in overhead projectors. Historical Fresnel lenses were used for light gathering applications in which an image was not dependent on the quality of the lens. The first Fresnel lens was designed for a lighthouse.

In recent years, the Fresnel optics have improved so it was time to see if a Fresnel lens could be used in a schlieren system. The real interest in a Fresnel lens is that the lens has a large clear aperture — this means that relatively large objects can be tested in this area. High-quality lenses with a 250 mm clear aperture are very expensive.

The ideal lens for a simple schlieren system is between /4 and /8. The -number of the lens is simply the ratio of the focal length of the lens divided by the clear aperture of the lens. Most Fresnel lenses have a very low f-number and are not desirable for schlieren systems. Modern manufacturers offer /4 lenses.

To test out some of these lenses I ordered one from a Chinese manufacturer that was selling surplus optics on a popular on-line auction. I was unable to find a US source of a similar optic.- (if you find one please drop a note in the comments below). My price for a 250mm diameter lens with a focal length of 1,000 mm was only $20. This /4 Fresnel lens would be perfect to test in a simple schlieren system.

This particular design is called Toepler’s single-field-lens schlieren arrangement and is considered a basic schlieren set up to build. The equipment needed is: 1 is the light source, 2 is the Fresnel lens, 3 is a heat source (hot soldering iron works well), 4 is a knife edge, 5 is the camera and lens.

The black rays in the diagram above represent rays from the light source that do not interact with any heat source and are blocked by the knife edge. The red ray represents rays of light that have been bent by the heat source and are seen by the camera. The knife edge does not have to be a sharp edge – a sheet of black paper works well and is probably safer for students to use in a dark room. The camera lens for my test was a 300 mm Canon lens and was focused on the hot object. For the images for this article, I used a candle. In this setup, the hot object is on the same side of the lens as the camera, so the lens can easily be focused on the hot object.

The light source is a simple white LED run from a 5 VDC lab power supply. To keep the LED from burning out, I used a 330-ohm resistor in series to limit the current.

The larger the interaction distance of the heat source in the schlieren system, the larger the sensitivity of the system. This location is a good compromise between image quality and sensitivity. A student should test the best location of the heat source in the system for themselves. Moving the heat source to different parts of the system and testing the results is a great way to familiarize yourself with the sensitivity of the system

The Parts

The White light 5 mm LED connected to a 5 VDC supply. Note the 330ohm resister used in series to limit the current. To align the LED and the lens, make sure the LED is the exact height above the table as the center of the lens.
The fresnel lens is mounted to a ring cut into plywood. The clamps hold the lens in place and keep it flat. Above the orange clamp is the glowing white light LED.
The 5mm white LED is focused on a white sheet of paper. Here the image is about 12 mm in diameter. The two star flairs seem to be due to manufacturing defects in the lens. These could not be eliminated by changing the alignment of the LED to the lens. Not a very good image from this lens.
The red area shows approximately how much of the image needs to be covered by the knife edge to observe the schlieren effect.
Here the cardboard used as the knife edge is shown. Most optical setups will use an open razor blade as the knife edge. The paper is a bit safer for students working in a darkened room. The lens is a 300mm canon lens.
The live view mode is a great help in placing the cardboard knife edge in just the right position.
The Fresnel lens is shown in the setup. The height of the white 5mm LED shown in the back is the same as the center of the lens. The candle, soldering iron, and lighter are shown in the picture – all great sources of heat. The clamps keep the lens in the holder as well as keep it flat.

The Results

These images were taken with a 300mm Canon lens at /2.8 the shutter speed was 1/3200th of a second at ISO 1600. The fast shutter speed is important to stop the motion. The camera used here was a Canon 5D MK III. The speckles seen in the images above are due to manufacturing defects in the lens. This Fresnel lens has hundreds of very fine positioned surfaces that make up the lens – some of the surfaces are not quite pointing in the right direction.

The results of the Fresnel lens are quite good for the price. If you are looking for an inexpensive schlieren system for teaching, or need a system with a large clear aperture, this system will definitely work. I was unable to see heat rising from a human hand. This shows that the system does not have the sensitivity to visualize small amounts of heat. This is a good system for students to learn the technique. The schlieren effects from a candle, a soldering iron, a lighter, and caned air were all easy to observe and photograph with this system.

A Bit Deeper into the Optics

The optics thin lens formula can be used to determine where the light will focus, as well as figure out if the experiment will fit in your lab space.

Schlieren systems are a great way to visualize small changes in the index of refraction (n) of air. The index of refraction of a material is the ratio of the speed of light in a material (air) to the speed of light in a vacuum.

The bigger the value of the easier it is for a schlieren system to detect the difference. The index of refraction of room temperature air is about 1.0003 and changes to 1.0002 when the temperature is increased by 100°C. The velocity of light is about 0.01% greater in the hot air compared to the room temperature air.

If a schlieren system can see the heat from a human hand, then the system is considered very sensitive and well-aligned. Different gasses will also have a different index of refraction than air, gasses like carbon dioxide and helium are easy to detect in air with a simple schlieren system.

References: Schlieren & Shadowgraph Techniques by G.S. Settles.

About the author: Ted Kinsman is the 2019 recipient of the Schmidt Laureate or outstanding contributions to the progress of biocommunications. Kinsman has worked as an optical engineer, a physicist, and a physics instructor before joining the Photographic Sciences Dept. at RIT. His work has appeared on The Discovery Channel, Crime Scene Investigations (CSI), The X-Files, South Park, The Tyra Banks Show, and The Frozen Planet series. Kinsman is currently an Associate Professor in the school of Photographic Arts and Sciences (SPAS) where he teaches Photographic Instrumentation, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and High-Speed Imaging. His most recent book is Cannabis: Marijuana under the microscope.

Venus Optics quietly announced the new Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye E-mount lens…and its in Stock now!

You can now buy this new Laowa 4mm f/2.8 APS-C E-mount Fisheye lens at (Choose Sony E as mount option). And the world’s first review of the E-mount version has been posted on SonyAlphaBlog: Well at 279 euros ,…

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How to Get Bad Ass Prop Guns for Your Film

How to Get Bad Ass Prop Guns for Your Film When my team and I were making my first short film BROKEN we really wanted to have functional and professional-looking guns for the project. Obviously, we weren’t going to use real guns and getting our hands on working prop guns was too cost prohibited. We knew…

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