Shooting Commercials Using Available Light: It’s Just a Matter of Finding the Right Spot


Lights Online Film School was recently fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chat with Camille Marotte about his work in the commercial field. Many of you will be familiar with his work, as his portfolio is incredibly popular on Vimeo.

Below you’ll be able to watch a couple of his commercials and read our interview with him about how he approaches each project he works on.  We hope you find this interview valuable!

Let’s jump right into the questions! First of all, thank you for joining us Camille and agreeing to speak to our blog readers about your work. You do mostly commercial film work for companies and organizations of all different shapes and sizes. It appears to me that there is no formulaic approach to finding these collaborators. Just to catch our readers up to speed and introduce them to your aesthetic, let’s take a moment now and watch the video you did for Ralph Lauren below.

Just before we jump into the interview let’s take another moment and watch the commercial you shot entitled “Vincennes”. We’ll reference these two videos throughout our interview, so a note to our blog readers, please take a moment and ensure you’ve watched both commercials before continuing onto the interview questions below.

Am I right in assuming you don’t have a one size fits all approach to finding and maintaining a client list?

As a freelancer if you want to keep your projects coming but also maintain your creativity (and the same time be able to eat our at restaurants), you need to have different ways to get different kinds of jobs. Moving from a team of 80 on one job to a team of 3 on the next one is really refreshing and what you learn shooting a web commercial or a clip with friend can help you when shooting a big TV commercial.

So basically I have my representation in France and in different countries with production houses and agents, I also co-founded a collective (hi guys !) who delivers premium web and corporate films for big companies, and I’m still contacted directly as a freelancer for various film jobs where I basically can do everything from concept to final grading (and my own coffees).

Interesting. Can you tell me about the approach you took with “We Own the Sky”?

I actually did this video for a company who organizes internet sales for many kind of products including Ralph Lauren clothes. So I was really free on directing/editing/grading the video myself as long as the models were wearing the brand’s clothes and it was close to the brand’s touch (and I wasn’t allowed to use naked people). I enjoyed this video especially thanks to my good friend Matthieu Ouaki’s etheral music he did especially for the project which gives the whole piece a very aerial, melancolic feel that I really enjoyed. I just had to apply a cold-greenish-desaturated color grading to the pictures and the mood was set.

It was one of my very first video using the 5D Mark II back in 2009 but I still like it despite the mistakes I made, and it’s still in my portfolio today (hopefully not for much longer though).

What is the benefit to the approach you took with “Vincennes”?

For Vincennes I was commissioned by a production company in Paris to create something premium and epic to promote Vincennes hippodrome. The final client liked my book and I accepted because I could manage concept, shooting editing and grading myself with just the help of my friend Jean Marie Delorme as DOP (and as a second mom).

I was impressed by night races and the mood created by the lights and the smoky horses at the end of a run in the winter. So I decided that I wanted to do something really epic with very strong music. In the end, I was really happy with the final result.

How do you go about finding the majority of your clients?

Like I said before I’m represented for TV commercials, I’m working with my collective on web commercials and also as a freelancer. You need to have different ways to get your contacts and it’s crucial to change the scale of your projects so you’re able to stay creative. It’s really important for me to have a fresh eye, avoiding repetition, and to push every project to something that brings emotion (I know I always have a hand touching something in all my videos already).

With the client for “Vincennes” can you tell me a little bit more about the working process? For example, do you start out with treatments? When do you go and scout the location? What do they expect from you during pre-production? Do they let you do what you want or do they have a pretty heavy hand in the planning and shooting?

Outside of the world of TV commercials it can be really different depending on the client. Sometimes they love your portfolio and really trust you during pre-production, and they love the final film at first sight. But then other times, there are endless discussions internally with their different bosses and marketing people, you never know.

It really depends, it’s different on every project and you have to adapt, especially if you are almost alone and doing everything by yourself, but one rule to keep in mind is : “do your director’s cut no matter what” (trust me).

Let’s take a minute now and deconstruct the commercial for Vincennes. I thought the music played into the commercial perfectly. It really matched the energy of the images. In fact, I noticed this about music in all of your videos. Is music something you consider beforehand or is it a decision you come to during post production?

Music is a critical element in a film, it gives the mood, energy and emotion to a project. I always try to find references before shooting, it’s important to clearly see the type of pictures, camera movement and editing you’ll apply. Sometimes I also find better music after I’ve shot the project. It’s really about the feeling you have at a moment, but you have to really love the music to edit on it, if you’re not 100% sure, you should keep searching for another song or ask your composer to make changes.

I also notice some of your other sound design elements (such as horses galloping, the announcements over the PA system and so on). Are these library sounds or are you capturing these sounds while you’re filming? If you’re capturing them while filming, what microphone are you using?

I was using sound design elements before in my workflow, but in a destructural way like in Bose.evOlve, but now I’m using them to push the immersive feel. I also used some sounds of nature on my upcoming TVC for Nivea and it really helps getting you closer to the action.

For Vincennes we had a sound designer with a microphone and all the equipment during the shooting but sometimes if I find a specific sound in a sound library I would just use that too. It’s really whatever works the best (just don’t tell the sound designer).


What are you stabilizing your shots on during the shots when you’re moving with the horses while they are racing (for example at :37 – seen above)?

We were shooting from a traveling car at this moment with a 100m and 360m focal lenses which were pretty stable, but I kept the natural movement of the camera at this moment which adds to the epic fight on the finish line.

This particular horse track seemed to you offer you many opportunities for great visuals. Tell me about your approach to shooting real locations. When you walked into this location for the first time what are the visual elements you started searching for?

When I’m in nature I’m looking for light and colors first. Next, I consider what time of the day the place will look the best. When I’m visiting a place like the hippodrome I’m going everywhere, looking at weird angles and details. Sometimes a place can look really bad overall but feel amazing when just concentrating on some parts with a specific angle and lens.

What helps a lot too is to shoot using reflections, windows, water on the ground, anything that will create an interesting composition in the end with a picture inside the picture.

What would you guess your shooting ratio for a project like this would be?

I think that for web commercials about 10% of the shots make it into the final edit, when in TVC it’s more like 5% (because you do many more takes for one shot, and it’s painful).


Did you use any studio lights at all during the production of this video? Or was it all natural light? For example at :45 (see above) I notice a light little highlight of wet grass under the credits? Do you light this or did you find it like that and add a vignette?

No everything is natural light, or I would say “available light” because for this particular shot in the end I went to shoot under the big projectors which were used to light the race, it was just a matter of finding the best spot.

You’ve worked a lot with the Canon 5D Mark II and now you’ve just changed cameras to the 5D Mark III. Tell me the things you love the most about the 5D Mark III.

I was using the 5D Mark II so much that it was natural to go for the 5D Mark III even if it’s not a revolution. I really like the new LCD screen, less moire, and the better pictures using higher ISO speeds. Other than that it’s about the same camera to me. But working in TVCs I used the Arri Alexa a lot and even the Arri 235 on film, and both create an amazing picture (and it was a real pain to come back to the 5D I must admit).

You edit and grade in After Effects. Why do you use After Effects over other options available to you?

As I come from the motion design world I know After Effects so well that it was natural for me to start with it. I like the fact you can do everything at the same time, editing, grading, typography, fx…

For me it provides me everything I need.  In the industry you have a different person for each task and each person uses different software, but for me personally, I think it’s better to work on every creative aspects at the same time and really bring your project to life, and After Effects can do that pretty nicely (but it’s a very personal workflow I know :p).

Thank you greatly for sharing your thoughts with us Camille! It’s very appreciated! To our blog readers: You can Follow Camille Marotte on his Vimeo page here

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