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shooting exteriors in the LA sun


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#1 merlin

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 03:58 AM

Whenever I shoot anything outdoors in the LA sun, everything in sunlight seems overexposed relative to the shadows--it doesn't look like my eye sees it, it looks like I'm in the desert or something.

Is the answer to wait for overcast days, or are there other recourses?
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#2 Trevor Greenfield

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 04:11 AM

On the cheap and easy Neutral Density filters can help a bunch as well as a polarizer to cut through the haze and glare that may be causing some extra reflection or refraction. A large flag to block out the sun a bit is more time consuming but can accomplish exactly what you want, reduce the amont of light hitting the actors by a lot.
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#3 Stephen Williams

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 06:53 AM

Whenever I shoot anything outdoors in the LA sun, everything in sunlight seems overexposed relative to the shadows--it doesn't look like my eye sees it, it looks like I'm in the desert or something.

Is the answer to wait for overcast days, or are there other recourses?


Hi,

Are you shooting film or video? Film can handle a far greater dynamic range. Using a large white reflector will reduce the contrast range, nets can soften the sun.

Stephen
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 11:50 AM

Whenever I shoot anything outdoors in the LA sun, everything in sunlight seems overexposed relative to the shadows--it doesn't look like my eye sees it, it looks like I'm in the desert or something.


Hey, we ARE in the desert...

You can, of course, expose a scene in full sunlight to look like moonlight, so there is no reason for a day exterior to look overexposed, it's just that your shadows will go very dark if you are exposing and printing for the highlights in full sun.

You can let the light look a little overexposed and sunny to create that hot "LA" feeling -- that will open up the shadows. You can use lower-contrast film stock (Expression 500T, Fuji F-400T) or pull-process a normal film stock. You can use filters that lower contrast (UltraCons, for example.) You can use large silks, or lots of fill light. You can flash the negative. You can wait until the sun is lower and shoot in backlight.

Whatever you do when shooting in the desert would work.

Instead of silks, I like using Half Soft Frost. This is similar to Opal but doesn't rattle like Opal; you only lose about a half-stop or less standing under it so it doesn't look like the actors are under a big silk. Just takes the hard edge off of the sunlight.
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#5 merlin

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 03:40 PM

David,

I'm shooting HDV in the Hollywood Forever cemetery, without permission, for a student production, i.e., having a discrete crew is key--I checked out the ultra contrast filters and that was just the type of thing that I had mused about.

However, a few things give me pause about the ultracons:

1. all the before/after pics at tiffen.com are very foresty; these pictures are good at showing the heightened detail in the shadow areas (which is indeed a good way of framing the problem), but overall these foresty pictures are too dissimilar to the shockingly bright effect of a clear sunny day. My concern is that the foresty pictures aren't telling me what I need to know about how these filters look when applied to a frame lit with the clear-sky sun.

http://www.tiffen.co...st3_Effects.jpg

2. how do the ratings work? If I understand, there are ultracons from 1/2-5. Is 5 the strongest or the weakest? Again, lack of clear documentation and pictures at tiffen.com lead me to ask.

(Frankly, I don't know what nets are, but I have been contemplating the prospect of hovering somekind of diffusion overhead but there are two problems--first, it attracts too much attention and second, I'll be photographing acres and acres of cemetary, too large an area to cover with any kind of diffusion. Still, given my way of thinking, it seems diffusion--like cloud cover--would give a more natural and therefore more pleasing effect. Is that correct?)

3. Finally, I'd like for this to be a two day shoot. I'm worried, though, that perhaps the first day will be partly cloudy and the second day will be a clear day. Shots from each day should be taking place at the same time in the context of the film, and I'm loathe to cut shots together that have different exposures. I hate those moments in older films, for example, where clearly a reel has changed and suddenly the exposure has changed. Very jarring and completely takes you out of the moment.

Edited by merlin, 29 January 2006 - 03:44 PM.

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#6 merlin

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 04:08 PM

Thinking and talking about it more, it seems to me that the overcast day solution is really ideal. Attached is a pic from the camera I'm using (Sony HDV) taken on a cloudy day--even though it is a very deserty subject (and, as mentioned, video is very contrasty), the diffusion offered by cloudcover totally eliminates that horrible bright sun effect.

Unfortunately, according to weather.com, there are no fully cloudy days coming up--just some partially cloudy ones.

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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 04:21 PM

Hi,

Are you completely nuts?

I spend my entire life fighting against the dismal grey look of overcast weather!

Phil
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#8 Stephen Williams

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 04:25 PM

Hi,

Are you completely nuts?

I spend my entire life fighting against the dismal grey look of overcast weather!

Phil


Phil,

I was thinking the same thing! I sometimes have to wait for days to get a sunny day!

Stephen
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 04:45 PM

If you have the luxury of waiting for overcast weather, or twilight, then why not?

The higher numbers on filters are usually the stronger effects. A #5 UltraCon would be pretty milky-looking, although probably correctable in post. DigiCons do a similar thing but I don't know what strength you should consider -- often you can go to a seller and bring your camera and do a quick test.

But for UltraCons, I usually use around a #2 or #3.

Polas will help a little to reduce glare and contrast a little too if the problem are things like hot backlit cement, bright water, shiny grass, etc., generally anything backlit a little and reflective.

You can also monkey with the camera menus to reduce the contrast with some knee compression, black gamma stretch, lifting master black levels, etc. You may have to consider a little post color-correction later to make adjustments when the image gets too milky.
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#10 merlin

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 05:11 PM

Attached is a snap from Friday (a clear day, not Hollywood Forever, but similar enough to be interchangeable for these purposes); the contrast between shadowed and lit is considerable. It illustrates the essence of the problem:

1. the entire background needs diffusion and fill
2. the bright sky and lawn is not very scary looking IMO (it's supposed to be scary)

I don't have the luxury of waiting (because of the actors), and can't shoot at night (everything closes down at 5pm, before sunset), but more than that, I am wondering if there is some larger set of strategies which can reliably be deployed in situations such as these--getting a non-contrasty hdv exposure in clear sunlight is a problem I've run into before, and will run into again, and waiting for the weather to change really is a rare luxury.

Are nets the same as stockings? David, I noticed on some other post of yours that you claimed to be a proponent of halation via diffusion. How would you set about to reduce the contrast, etc., on the attached exposure to get a scarier, creepier looking image.

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Edited by merlin, 29 January 2006 - 05:18 PM.

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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 06:42 PM

I would tend to avoid filming in the middle of the day. Try early morning before the the sun gets too high (predawn even), you may find the the light is a bit softer before the day heats up. The shadows will be a lot longer and you may find that they're doing interesting things. I'd tend use a cross or 3/4 backlight with careful framed shots to suggest menace. You can put grad filters in to darken the sky. Unfortunately, bright sunny days tend not to be scary.
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#12 Daniel Madsen

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 07:30 PM

Stockings or nets would reduce contrast if you can't do that through the menu...would they be put behind the lens while working digitally, I do not know- a question for David. Reducing contrast and making your image look "creepy" may be achieved the best seperately. Have you considered white balancing on a red or orange surface. This would make the graveyard bluish- a suggestion of death perhaps.

Electronic pushing??
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 07:37 PM

Hi,

Stephen, I don't usually get to wait, which is why most of the stuff I shoot looks like undistinguished TV crap...

As for the graveyard... well, yes, it's a graveyard surrounded by palm trees in the eternal LA sunshine, it's never going to look all that spooky during the day.

Just spare a thought for those of us who don't have access to the sunshine. Scary is not a commonly-requested look. Snappy, colourful, high-contrast, happy or stylish is stock in trade.

Phil
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 12:33 AM

I agree that there are limits on making a neat cemetary in full sun look scary without being able to do anything to the location (add fog drifting through, add creepy vines on things, etc.) Only thing I can think of is to shoot under the heavy shade of trees in silhouette, shoot in total backlight in silhouette, take the color out of the image, etc.

I also don't really recommend stealing the location if you are shooting actors with a camera. It's one thing to just take a DV camera into a cemetary by yourself, but to start staging scenes with actors is going to be rather suspicious-looking.

Adding a Fog filter or something similar might make the cemetary look more dreamy and mysterious, but not scary. See "Vertigo" for an example, when Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak into a cemetary.
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#15 Mark Allen

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 01:52 AM

I also don't really recommend stealing the location if you are shooting actors with a camera. It's one thing to just take a DV camera into a cemetary by yourself, but to start staging scenes with actors is going to be rather suspicious-looking.


I shot in a cemetary with a 16mm camera in Hollywood once with actors... and for free... and with permission. I just asked them if I could shoot there because I was a student. Maybe I was lucky. They said... Okay - but do not shoot any names.

This is a common request. So, even if you decide to steal the location. Be respectful of where you are and don't shoot any names.

(aim the other way)

We actually found one stone that simply said "MOTHER" and nothing else and we did include part of that as it was a pure generic.

You can get away with a lot if you are a student and ask for things. In that same movie I got the right to use the theme song and audio track of a top ten show back then. Again, just asked... asked about 5 times though. :)
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#16 merlin

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 02:43 AM

You can get away with a lot if you are a student and ask for things.


I keep going back and forth on this. I don't want to divert this thread towards a discussion of stealing locations, but while we're on the subject, I was thinking to ask, and then went to visit, and found that probably over half of the visitors (on Saturday, not Sunday) were not bereaved at all, but tourists (lots of goths); I counted about five or six cameras. Lots of female models, and one lowrider car with doofus hipsters wielding a GL2 in the middle of the road about 20 paces from a security truck. When I went to talk to the guy in the security and he couldn't speak English, I thought--to hell with asking permission.

The trouble is, I want the actors to be really relaxed. I really went to a lot of trouble casting this time, and know they are capable each of turning out very good performances, and don't want any obstacles (including sensing stress from me or anyone) to prevent good performances. That, to me, is the number one reason to get permission. That and the fact that I'd prefer to have a couple boomed shotguns out there. But I'm nervous about asking and then having them say no; I suppose I ought to just be brave and do it. There, I've talked myself into it. Thanks for listening.

Edited by merlin, 30 January 2006 - 02:44 AM.

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#17 David S.

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 02:07 PM

You should consider yourself fortunate to have so many sunny days. It's alot cheaper and easier to achieve desired lighting ratios in hard sun (grip work) as opposed to expensive and time consuming HMIs that need to be added to flat, overcast days.
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#18 J. Lamar King

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Posted 08 February 2006 - 07:11 PM

Putting the bit about making the graveyard scary in the sunlight aside. I would like to point out that it's quite normal for longshots like the one you posted to be of higher contrast than ones where the focus is on the actors. You can control the light well enough on a group of actors but you'll never fill in the entire back-ground. Maybe get the contrast of shots that have a lot of BG in them where you like it with in-camera settings or filters then put most of your attention into making the actors look good with bouces, diffusion and fill.

BTW, there was a horror film made last year in Texas that is the funniest looking thing because all of the day exteriors look like a Folgers commercial with golden light and saturation everywhere. It was shot on HD and I suspect that the DP's look scheme didn't make it all the way down the chain.

Edited by J. Lamar King, 08 February 2006 - 07:14 PM.

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#19 Jeyow Evangelista

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Posted 10 February 2006 - 04:18 AM

Big white butterfly to diffuse the light...
Jeyow Evangelista, FSC
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#20 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 10 February 2006 - 05:51 AM

Hi,

I think about all you can do is shoot early in the morning or late at night when you get low-angle sunlight and make it cold, perhaps adding a little wind if there isn't any. That way you could at least go for chilly desolation, think slightly post-apocalyptic nuclear winter sun rather than warm beach-weather sun. Without huge resources it's probably about all you can do.

Phil
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