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Zylight & UNICEF
Zylight & UNICEF

It is said, “Once you travel to Africa, you’ll come back for sure”. That happened to me, as I returned more than 10 times since my first doc on Kilimanjaro in ’98. One location in Africa is extremely different from another; so are the assignments. A safari brings serenity, a fashion photo-session in a Massai village is eccentric, and crossing Sahara with second-hand cars became a pure adventure… To professionally succeed you need to sharply focus on the job as well as to choose the right gear; because any missing item, being so far from your studio, hurts a lot. Those who worked in Africa know exactly what I mean.

Three UNICEF assignments in the last half a year were quite a challenge:Niger and Central Africa are hot political spots where the insurgents can attack you at any time even if you are under the UN flag. We had to move fast, in tight time frames, in crowded environments, under extreme heat and often covered in dust; a small production crew means only my partner Andreea Marin as host on camera and me as cameraman and director. And then comes the Cote D’Ivoireassignment, documenting a part of the global vaccination project developed by UNICEF and Pampers. This might sound pretty nice: 12 women and me! Weak and scared I asked for an assistant; and it was approved, so this time we were two men working for four countries at the same time: Goodwill ambassadors and mothers from Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, in the campaign “1 pack = 1 vaccine”. Configuring the shooting gear I had in mind, reliability, mobility and of course picture quality. A Z1 HDV was good enough for the compromise picture vs. weight. What I do not compromise is the Arrow 25 with HD legs from Miller. Sanken lavalieres were on the list too; plus Rode directional. A stand-alone light standing on a side is impossible to be used as the sets are often crowded and we are on the move. Have I mentioned the constant machine-gun protection around us?

…the Z90 proved great again as I could slightly change also the colour of it, filling the face in the shade and matching it with the sunny backgrounds.

To make it short: the Zylight Z90 did the job for me, being all I needed: a fill & eye light, soft enough itself without a soft-box, dimmable; and perhaps the most important feature to be emphasized: the colour correction. I put it on a three-shoe support which mounts on the main camera shoe, together with a mic receiver and the Rode. Being bright and dimmable, I adjusted Z90’s intensity according to the set and subject, often changing from one meter close-up vaccination to large hospital scenes. Often shooting in shelters as hospitals, sets which are in shade or even darkness but with bright, natural side light hitting the lens, the frame was normally asking for a filling light – and the Z90 did the job well. Having black and white faces in the same frame is critical – and I will not pretend here I have the best tune for it. However, when it comes to African interviewees, the Z90 proved great again as I could slightly change also the colour of it, filling the face in the shade and matching it with the sunny backgrounds.

Without fragile bulbs and glass filters or gels as moving parts, with a strong aluminium body, the Z90 also proved one can physically rely on it – and probably one can imagine it could become a “light” hand weapon – just in case.

Calin Vrabie has been a DP for over 20 years working on more than 150 programmes and shows, from the Iraq war or a Himalayan expedition to the Hollywood stars, from the holly Nepal to a Matterhorn climb. During his career he has made and produced programs in more than 20 countries, including Mauritania, Cuba, or Thailand, but also in Finland, Germany or the U.K..

Calin is an all-around film-maker: He writes, shoots, directs, edits, produces; many of his programs are made in flexible two member crews with only a host on camera.