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Dont understand Lighting


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#1 David Silverstein

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 03:44 PM

I know I hear all around that lighting is extremely important probably one of the most important parts of filming but I dont understand with video why you need it so much when I use my consumer dv camera in a school in the day or something like that the lighting is fine and acceptable I dont understand why people stress so much on lighting when they arent using film...

Can anyone help me to understand.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 04:14 PM

Well, if you have no sensitivity or feeling for lighting and its emotional value to a scene, then how can I describe its importance to you?

Available light is fine in some circumstances, and you can capture it whether you are shooting video or film, but that doesn't mean it is always dramatically the correct light for the scene. Cinematography is more the mere exposure, just getting enough light to record an image. It's a form of visual storytelling.

What if your story requires something other than strict realism in lighting? A cat & mouse chase in an abandoned farmhouse with shadowy moonlight, with a touch of German Expressionism?

What if the story is specific to a certain time of day? If you have a four-page dialogue scene that takes place on a porch as the sun is setting on the actors' faces, and you know it will take five hours to cover this scene for editing, how are you going to shoot that in available sunset light which only lasts five minutes? What if after one take, a cloud passes over the sun?

Natural daylight changes minute by minute throughout a day, but you may have a scene that will take hours, if not days, to shoot completely, yet it all has to look like the same time of day.

But even the scene is supposed to be lit artificially with practical lamps, what if the look these lights create is wrong emotionally for the scene? What if it makes your lead actress look like hell and its supposed to be a romantic moment?

What if you want the scene to look like a Caravaggio painting? What if the story requires a change in lighting effect in mid-shot? What if you had to make your lead actress look like a teenager in one scene and a middle-aged woman in the next?

And what do you do if you're shooting a day interior scene, you only have the location or the actor for one day, and halfway through the shoot, it becomes night? What if you have to shoot all of it at night and it absolutely has to look naturally lit by daylight? Maybe you're shooting a movie that takes place in a school that only gives you permission to shoot at night yet all your scenes are daytime. Or maybe you're shooting in the north in wintertime and you simply only have eight hours of daylight when you need at least twelve to finish the scene?

What about balancing light? What if you don't want the color temp difference between daylight, a tungsten practical, and a green fluorescent? What if you need to shoot someone against a bright window and expose for the view out the window and see the person in the room equally well?

But the main issue is that lighting in a movie is not simply about getting enough exposure to shoot. It's about creating the right light for the scene -- dramatically, emotionally -- in a way that can be shot over as long a period as needed, and adjusting that light for different camera angles.
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#3 Chris Cooke

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 06:27 PM

A technical understanding of lighting is very important but nearly anyone can be taught the basic technical elements of lighting. It's an art. Lighting should be guided by the mood and feeling of your script. Some people are gifted with a passion and talent for feeling and shaping light. Watch films, lots of films and ask yourself why you feel clausterphobic (sp?) in one scene but happy and free in another. Lighting often has a huge part to play in this. Bad lighting is lighting that does not fit the mood of a particular scene. You can light an actor in the most beautiful three point soft lighting but if it does not fit the mood of your particular script, I would consider it bad lighting. David Mullen, ASC who posted just before me is a great artist who can shape light amazingly to fit many different situations. I would encourage you to watch some of his films such as "Northfork".
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#4 David Silverstein

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 08:52 PM

I get it now but for what im looking to do a small light set is all im going to need becuase I dont plan on shooting a scene for hours.

Thanks for the help.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 09:05 PM

You asked why people stress lighting when they can get an image on their camcorder in available light...

The question is why are your expectations so low when it comes to imagemaking? It's like your attitude is "people tell me that lighting is important but I don't want to learn or do this if I don't have to."

This is where having a visual imagination comes into play and being sensitive to the dramatic possibilities of light, so you get beyond doing cinema that is merely a recording of reality. The quality of light in an image is central to the image itself; it creates mood, shapes objects, tells your eye where to look, tells you where you are and what time it is, etc.

If you can walk into a location and have all of that be absolutely perfect for your story and have it last long enough to capture in all your scene coverage, then that's great. However, you won't have a very long career as a filmmaker if you are unable to CREATE that look even when nature or reality does not deliver it to you.

I mean, what if you ever shoot on a set? And it's a day scene with fake windows and you want it to look very natural, but there is no real daylight. It's a stage and everything you add is artificial. You MUST learn how to create a believable look with lights.

This is not a film vs. video issue.

As for not taking hours to shoot a scene, how often in your career to you really expect that to be the case?

Why even become a filmmaker if you don't have a passion for creating images? And who has a passion for the image but doesn't understand the value of lighting? It's incomprehensible.

Edited by David Mullen, 17 November 2005 - 09:07 PM.

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#6 Chris Keth

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 10:02 PM

I get it now but for what im looking to do a small light set is all im going to need becuase I dont plan on shooting a scene for hours.

Thanks for the help.



That's your prerogitive but don't expect the finished product to look like anything more than an amateur home-video.

Shooting a scene for hours, if necessary, is why movies are difficult to make. That time, producers know, is necessary sometimes to making to movie look good.

If you're not willing to show that kind of interest and commitment, you're probably looking around the wrong forums. The people here have dedicated their lives to making motion pictures professionally and it's a little insulting (to me, I can't speak for everyone) for someone to tell me that it isn't necessary to spend the time to light a movie to make it good.

Edited by Christopher D. Keth, 17 November 2005 - 10:08 PM.

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#7 oscar jimenez

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 10:08 PM

Light, it is difficult to understand, not manageable perfectly in a lifetime, yet, that mood that lies there, visual impact.
Suggested book: Motion Picture and Video Lightning by Blair Brown.
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#8 Robert Edge

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 10:22 PM

Mr. Siverstein,

I think that David Mullen's first post is the finest brief explanation of artificial lighting for film (as distinct from theatre) that I have ever read.

That said, I think that subsequent posts are missing a couple of things.

Some of the greatest still photographs and documentary films ever made have been made with natural light. Indeed, a good deal of artificial lighting in film, again as distinct from theatre, is about emulating natural light. There have also been great films made with artificial light that deliberately distort natural light.

I think that David Mullen has given you lots to think about. When I said that his first post was a truly wonderful short treatise on the use of artificial light, I meant it. That said, if you are happy with the lighting you are getting, use it. In particular, if you like what you are getting, look at some great still photographs by people like Paul Strand, Cartier Bresson, etc. etc, some documentary films, and fiction films that started to be made when cameras got small enough to take outside, in particular films made by the French and Italians in the 1950s and early 60s. The other day, I watched a film by Jean Luc Godard called Bande a Part, much of it shot outside under natural light. Rest assured that most fiction filmmakers would have been quite happy to have made that film, or for that matter other street films made by people like Pasolini. Or look at recent films such as Michael Winterbottom's In This World or John Nossiter's Mondovino, both shot with fairly inexpensive video cameras and largely natural light.
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#9 Gordon Highland

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Posted 17 November 2005 - 11:09 PM

Those are all wonderful points. I think the short answer may be that video, and even film, doesn't respond to light in the same way our human eye does. Colors shift and become exaggerated, the contrast or balance is usually too extreme to capture, etc. So even natural light is not really "reality" when reproduced on tape or film in the viewer's eye.

So what we do is 1) technically control the light and dark parts of the frame to make it appear as natural as possible on your chosen medium so that it's NOT distracting, and/or 2) enhance the mood desired in each scene to draw attention to certain elements, whether it's beauty, tension, etc., and/or 3) simulating or matching a time of day or year or historical period.

Also, the amount of time to plan to shoot for has very little to do with how many lights you'll need. Size of the location, desired aperture, and ingenuity of your crew are more important factors.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 01:57 AM

The tone of the question is what I found sort of annoying, the sort of "I know, I know, everyone tells me lighting is important..." which comes off as dismissive of this passion most of us have for lighting. Probably not the intent, I know.

Asking in a cinematography forum "what's so important about lighting?" is a little like going into a Christian discussion group and asking "so what's the big deal about the Resurrection?"

Available light photography can be great in movies, but not for every type of project, nor is it even practical sometimes.

And I don't really understand the point about lighting only being important when shooting film, but somehow not necessary for video??? Why, because you always seem to get an image on your video camera no matter what the light levels are? Try locking your gain at 0 db and THEN see if you really need less light for video...
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#11 Tomas Koolhaas

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 02:55 AM

The tone of the question is what I found sort of annoying, the sort of "I know, I know, everyone tells me lighting is important..." which comes off as dismissive of this passion most of us have for lighting. Probably not the intent, I know.

Asking in a cinematography forum "what's so important about lighting?" is a little like going into a Christian discussion group and asking "so what's the big deal about the Resurrection?"

Available light photography can be great in movies, but not for every type of project, nor is it even practical sometimes.

And I don't really understand the point about lighting only being important when shooting film, but somehow not necessary for video??? Why, because you always seem to get an image on your video camera no matter what the light levels are? Try locking your gain at 0 db and THEN see if you really need less light for video...


Hi,
In fact most video cameras have an equivalent ASA of around 320 (this varies a lot but in general at 0db this is the case for quite a few cameras). Many people use 500 speed film a lot more now because of advances in grain structure, so actually you often need more light for video. Also it seems people expect less from video. If you expect video to look flat and washed out then it is easy to get that result in any lighting condition. I have found that video has a lot more potential to look rich and attractive than most people, even a lot of DPs give it (This is not to enter into the debate of video Vs film which is a sensless argument as they are different and both have pro's and cons) However the key with video is careful lighting, more careful than you have to be with film, due to the wider lattitude and more extensive post potential of film and partly due to video's tendancy towards flatness. Lighting to me is my favourite and most important part of cinematography, if a shot is badly lit having a nice angle or dolly move in it won't rescue it, but a static shot which is lit well can still look really beautiful.
Cheers.
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#12 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 07:35 AM

David Silverstein,

You say you are a student in your profile. May I ask you what do you study ? And if your question has something to see with your studies, can you tell us in what peculiar situation you came along asking yourself this question about lighting ?
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#13 Joe Lotuaco

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 08:10 AM

However the key with video is careful lighting, more careful than you have to be with film, due to the wider lattitude and more extensive post potential of film and partly due to video's tendancy towards flatness.


Correct me if I read this line incorrectly, but I thought film has greater latitude since film can handle more in the highlight area of the curve.
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#14 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 08:27 AM

Yep, that's what he's saying... :)
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#15 Robert Edge

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 09:39 AM

Asking in a cinematography forum "what's so important about lighting?" is a little like going into a Christian discussion group and asking "so what's the big deal about the Resurrection?"



David, you're on a roll. This made me smile, and no doubt others got a kick out of it too.
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#16 Sam Wells

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 10:49 AM

I've shot quite a bit of available light.

"Available light" shooting is an aesthetic, a philosophy (sometimes one of 'non-intervention' in the cinema verite' sense....) it is NOT a substitute for a lack of knowledge or an excuse for an alleged lack of resources...

I personally think I can shoot existing light better because I _do_ know how to light, and vice versa....

In any case you can't get around the fact you need to know how light works with your medium of choice.

-Sam
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#17 Stephen Williams

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 11:00 AM

I've shot quite a bit of available light.

"Available light" shooting is an aesthetic, a philosophy (sometimes one of 'non-intervention' in the cinema verite' sense....) it is NOT a substitute for a lack of knowledge or an excuse for an alleged lack of resources...

I personally think I can shoot existing light better because I _do_ know how to light, and vice versa....

In any case you can't get around the fact you need to know how light works with your medium of choice.

-Sam


Hi,

I shot for a producer just 1 scene at magic hour. The next time I worked with the same producer he was annoyed that I asked for lights and 3 electricians. He said 'Can't you save money like last time, everything looked great!

Stephen
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#18 Joe Lotuaco

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 11:11 AM

I've shot quite a bit of available light.

"Available light" shooting is an aesthetic, a philosophy (sometimes one of 'non-intervention' in the cinema verite' sense....) it is NOT a substitute for a lack of knowledge or an excuse for an alleged lack of resources...

I personally think I can shoot existing light better because I _do_ know how to light, and vice versa....

In any case you can't get around the fact you need to know how light works with your medium of choice.

-Sam



I agree.

I percieve shooting "available light" as a sort of style of shooting that lends to the overall motivation of the film rather than a universal "cover all bases" type of tool. I don't know if I'm making my point clear, so for example, Sidewalks of New York was a psuedo documentary style film so shooting available light, though used for economic purposes, served to set the visual tone of the film as it was shot and cut as a documentary. If it were lit as a stylized piece, the psuedo documentary style wouldn't have been emphasized and the film wouldn't have told its story effectively as it were written. I can't think of any really good stylized films off the top of my head at the moment, but in the movie Boiler Room, they lit scenes of the trading floor in a very cold, blue tone which made the scenes and dialogue feel very cold and harsh which played well to the way stock brokers interact with one another and their clients. Sure they could have shot the scenes with available light since it was an open office space with plenty of windows during the day, but had the lighting had any more warmth, the mood and sense of personal indifference of the stock brokers wouldn't have been as effective.
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#19 David Silverstein

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 02:50 PM

David Silverstein,

You say you are a student in your profile. May I ask you what do you study ? And if your question has something to see with your studies, can you tell us in what peculiar situation you came along asking yourself this question about lighting ?


I am a junior in highschool and I take a 3 hour tv/video course over taking other electives and art classes, its somehting my school offers. We have a studio with studio grade cameras and lighting. A green screen, control room, and final cut pro editing systems for all of the 8 students.

I plan on going to college for Cinematography/Film and I want to make a movie so I can showcase it as work when I get interviewed or something in that nature. I am in the preproduction process of a movie which im not finished writing. Im writing the script as a feature and im going to shrink it into a short preview to see if I can get some money to do the whole feature.

I need to know about lighting to obviously make my short look good and all of your answers have been helpful but a select few who come off quite cocky but I wont give out names, im going to respect their input.

The short will be based out of NYC, but int. shots will be done in the suburbs of nyc most likely.

Edited by David Silverstein, 18 November 2005 - 02:53 PM.

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#20 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 18 November 2005 - 04:58 PM

Ok, then. I'm glad that the very valuable posts that were given here helped you out ! I only would add that the basics for answering your question is you to learn to look and judge an image. Go to museums to see paintings, how the light is made, how it gives you a feeling and then do so with still photography and then movies.

There are major parameters in an image, that can give or help to give sense to it. Plenty of them, a few come out of my mind here and now : density, contrast, sharpness, color, light directions(s) etc. As someone mentionned, you'd find this in a good book (you can have a look in the dedicated section in these forums actually).

Also, analyse how you see things in "natural" conditions, in different places, inside and outside, day in and day out. Notice how the color of natural even change just because a cloud is passing by ? Notice how the shades become bluish when the night falls, notice how practical lights look warm at this very same hour ?

So you have to entertain your eye as to see things that you may not have seen before. Then, when you have learned how to see light, I'm pretty sure you are not going to look for a result in your films (whatever film or video) the same way, afterwards.

You want to show your work to other people. The work on your lightings will help the stories you tell. It will help people to get into them, believe them, feel something looking at them etc. Even unconsciously. Because people have an even unconscious culture of lighting.

One would not "believe" in a film story today as well as others did a century ago, if one would shoot today the same way as someone did a century ago, because today people have one century of motion imaging culture, even unconsciously. Imagine the effect of a speed rythm editing such as the one we are used to in video clips today, on people 60 years ago ?

So, filmmaking and lighting have an history as well. And people have this culture, even though they are not even conscious of this fact.

Apart from the "normal" people, you will also need more advised, professional, people to look at your work, help you out to make more films, work with you, etc. You'll have to show them how you look at things, if you want to make movies. And convience them the way you look at things is interesting, therefore, cultivated.

Many people want to make movies. Only a few will do. The ones who show they have talent. It goes with culture too.

Good luck on your projects !
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