nullRead installment 1 here (on Canon log, waveform monitors & hiring the best documentary DP) if you missed it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Before you dive in, here’s a reminder of my initial announcement, to remind you what this new series is about, and, for those who may just be joining us…

Her much-anticipated monthly columns on all things cinematography, have contributed much to this blog’s success in a myriad of ways, since she started penning them in 2012, much to the appreciation and education of the many who read each and everyone – the two most popular likely being "The Art of Lighting Dark Skin for Film and HD" and "A Cinematographer’s Plea to the Budding Film Auteur: Move Your Camera." Cybel Martin’s pieces have been so widely-read, so much that even the late Roger Ebert, before his death last year, shared one of them on Twitter, which we were all incredibly appreciative of, given the many hundreds-of-thousands of followers he has. Needless to say, that specific post was at the top of the most visited S&A articles for that year (2012). Cybel has already covered a lot of ground since her first post, and in order to assist in ensuring that she continues to inform and delight, we both agreed that a bi-monthly column – in which she’ll essentially hold court, fielding specific questions from YOU, the reader – was a great idea! So, you’re encouraged to email any cinematography-related questions (whether you’re a pro filmmaker, or just getting started, or somewhere between) to Cybel at I’m sure she’ll really appreciate it if you kept your questions direct and professional. She’ll then publish bimonthly posts, answering as many questions posed as she’s able to. Obviously, your participation is necessary to maintain this new series; so don’t hesitate to use it, otherwise, it’ll go away! This is something we’ve never done before, so we might make adjustments along the way, if necessary, as engagement evolves. In the meantime, "Ask Cybel" at AskCybel@gmail.comYou can also be anonymous, for those who don’t want their names published.

And without further ado, here’s the second installment of #AskCybel in basic question/answer order.


“As far as lighting on black skin, which type of lights have you had the best experience with, if any, between – halogen, fluorescent, tungsten, and even Led lights???

I’m an aspiring cinematographer, working primarily with Canon Dslr’s. Since I don’t have the leverage of being able to test all of these lights, I was hoping you had an idea of which would possibly be best for black skin. However, I still do plan on eventually experimenting with them all to be well rounded.

Peace & Thank You.

– Kirby Griffin”

Hello Kirby

I apologize that I can’t offer a simple answer. I assume you’ve read my article on lighting dark skin? I’d like to emphasize a few things:

1. Two actors can be of the same “darkness” but one might have blue undertones while the other favors red. I would approach lighting each differently.

2. The “best” light to use on any skin tone must first be determined by the narrative. Is this a romantic comedy, a mystery, Dogme 95 (I pray that’s over)? A Tungsten or LED with Chimera and ½ Straw would look lovely on a black actor in a Romantic Comedy while a HMI Par with Double Plus Green would be tantalizing in a Sci-Fi. Story dictates all of my choices.

3. Go easy on yourself. Mastering lighting takes years, years and more years. You might nail the look in one shot and fail miserably in the next. Just keep shooting.

If I were shooting on the Canon 5D Mark III, not shooting RAW, hoping for a neutral look, didn’t have a big crew, nor money for a professional color correct? I would light with Litepanels (love the Area 48 LEDs), with some diffusion and a little CTS, CTO or ⅛ Minus Green to bring depth and warmth to brown/black skin. I like that LEDs are easy to assemble, don’t overheat, take up little room and are a (relatively speaking) large soft light source.


Hi Cybel,

I want to say thank you for doing this and I’m very happy to see a black woman Cinematographer.

I’m a first time director who is about to embark on my first project.  I’m not technically savvy on film equipment.  The project is an 11 episode TV series with lots of outdoor scenes. The look I’m going for is very vibrant and colorful. A very Sex and the City look.  I know that film was used to shoot SATC but how can I get that same look with a digital camera?  I had a 5D or 7D Canon in mind for the entire shoot.  Is using this camera a good idea?  If not can you suggest another camera that will do the job and why.



Hello Deena

Are you planning on being both the Director and DP? If you intend on collaborating with a Cinematographer, then you should talk with them first. Empower and trust your DP to pick a camera that they are comfortable with, that they know can give you the desired look and works within your budget.

If I were asked to shoot something similar to SATC but could not shoot film? I would shoot on an Arri Alexa with Zeiss Master Primes and some sort of Diffusion Filter. I like how the Alexa renders colors and captures details in my highlights. The Zeiss Master Primes are beautiful sharp lenses. I would probably want to soften the lenses a bit (thus a FX/Diffusion filter). I would light the women high key and always give them a hair light (either an actual light or use a reflector for exterior shoots). Glamorous above all else.

However, it sounds like you intend to be the Director and DP? If so, it might cause you a serious amount of stress but more power to you. Since you say you are not technologically savvy, I would advise a camera that is easy to use but can still render a cinematic, colorful and “carefree” image. Both the Canon 5D and 7D could accomplish that. If you can afford it, go with the Canon 5D Mark III. Also take a look at the BlackMagic (here is a Canon 5D vs BlackMagic comparison video). Allocate sufficient funds for quality sharp fast lenses. Ideally, you’d also do a professional color grade to increase your color saturation, smooth out your light levels and augment that sense of glamour.

Definitely do hair, make-up and wardrobe tests with your actresses in pre-production. If you can figure out what combination of camera settings, lighting set-ups and wardrobe choices give you that SATC look in prep, you’ll show up with extra confidence on set.

Best of luck!

As always, I encourage readers to offer additional tips in the comment section.

See my work and past articles at and chat film with me at @cybeldp.

Email questions for #AskCybel at AskCybel(at) (they can be anonymous, for those who don’t want their names published).