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commercial shoot on the water


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 01:43 AM

Just got back from a two-day commercial shoot out on a lake. Two Arri-435 cameras, one on sticks, the other on a 30' Technocrane with a Libra head. Primo lenses. 5201 stock. Shot on a camera boat platform.

My biggest concern was if the weather was too clear, because we were shooting a boat on a lake in dead backlight as the sun was setting. With a calm surface and a super clear day, the sun reflected off of the water like a big mirror, creating tremendous flare and glare until it finally set. I used the 50D stock partly because I wanted to be able to shoot most of the day with no filters to reduce the chance of flare, although until the sun was setting, I had to use either an ND.6 or a Pola. But even when I pulled the filter, I was shooting nearly at an f/16 at sunset looking into the light. The hard part was figuring out the exposure because the range was tremendous. Even underexposing the shadows by five stops for a silhouette effect, the light on the water was off the meter scale, it was so bright. We probably got the nicest shots right after sunset in magic hour in silhouette on the water. You can see the problem of the bright water in some of these photos.

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#2 Max Jacoby

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 04:07 AM

David,

Are you getting more commercial work lately then?
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#3 Alexandre Lucena

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 05:27 AM

David,

Could you please place film grabs when it is done. A sequence of frame grabs from harsh to soft light would
be nice.

Alexandre
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 11:12 AM

David,

Are you getting more commercial work lately then?


Other than some really cheap local spots and some industrial work, this was really my first commercial. The reward for being on that film in Louisiana that was cancelled after two weeks of prep -- the director is a major commercial director.

I was hoping to do something a little more in my comfort zone at first -- you know, lighting a house interior or something -- rather than shoot on water with remote cranes looking into the sun at an African-American actor on a boat with some 20-stop exposure range in the frame... I was praying for overcast light (the reference for the spot was the shot of the boat on the lake in "Godfather 2" when Fredo is whacked, which was a dramatic dark sky at sunset) but of course we got the clearest blue sky I've ever seen (since we're up in the mountains), and with a calm lake, I knew it would end up being like a mirror reflecting the hard blinding sun as it set.

I do a telecine session tomorrow but the dailies person said it looked good.

It was sort of an acid test for 50D stock and Primo prime lenses in terms of handling extreme backlight... The AD was asking why I wasn't using a zoom lens so we could reframe quickly over the water (since it was hard to reposition the sailboat or the camera boat) but I just didn't want to point a zoom lens into all that flaring light on the water, so I used primes only.
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#5 J. Lamar King

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 02:05 PM

Even underexposing the shadows by five stops for a silhouette effect, the light on the water was off the meter scale, it was so bright. We probably got the nicest shots right after sunset in magic hour in silhouette on the water. You can see the problem of the bright water in some of these photos.


I'm curious how you came to your decision as to how to expose this scene. I know what I would do, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts. So did you decide to base your exposure on sending the shadows 5-stops under for a silhouette hoping to catch some detail in the shadows and some color in the not so hot parts of the water? What did you spot meter as your darkest shadow? It'll be interesting to see how much of this the '01 holds.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 05:27 PM

Normally when I shoot outdoors in daytime, I imagine what I'd do if I had to pan 360 degrees. Normally as I panned into backlight, I'd open up one stop, letting the shadows be about two stops under. Especially if the backlight is really toppy. Now in more dead backlight, I'd meter the shadows and underexpose them about a stop and a half to look natural, or maybe just one stop if the sun is just a halo edge and most of the frame is in the shade.

Now I'm talking about shooting in wide open spaces, not in the woods or something.

So if I pan 360 degrees and the backlit background is very hot & reflective (like sand or asphalt) I may decide to expose the backlit angle as if it were front-lit, not compensating for the shadows. So the highights don't get too hot and I hold detail in them.

So my first tendency, since I was at an f/8 on 50D stock with an ND.6 filter in direct sun, was to shoot at f/8 in backlight on the lake and hold more highlight details and let the shadows be about three stops under. But the sun was so glarey and bright on the water that I felt that I should be shooting another stop under overall, at f/11. Then at some point it became REALLY bright and I stopped down to an f/16.

Then once the sun was gone and I was shooting in silhouette against a dusk sky reflected on the water, I instead metered the overall soft dusk light and underexposed that by two stops to hold more detail in the water reflections of the sky, letting objects on the lake go dark. So with no ND filters, at 50 ASA, I was at an f/2.8 metering the soft light, so I shot at f/5.6 pointing into the water reflecting the bright dusk horizon.

I suppose I could have used a spot meter, but I find it nearly useless to point at the sun reflecting off of the water because the meter would just go nuts, like say f/64 or something.
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#7 Chien Huey

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 08:11 PM

Are all the shots supposed to match? What I mean is that as the day progresses the position of the sun changes as does the shape of the reflection on the water. Or was the director just looking for the best 30 seconds of backlit sailboat?

If the shots do have to match, how did you adjust the shots so they'd match? I'm guessing the two camera setup was part of that strategy.

Edited by Fast Chieney, 12 February 2006 - 08:12 PM.

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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 12:10 PM

Just got back from the telecine bay. My exposures were pretty accurate afterall in terms of the degree of underexposure to hold detail in the bright water, but the shots when the sun was the most extreme in terms of reflection off of the water are pretty much hi-con. So we timed everything towards that look to match, sort of a skip-bleach look with black shadows and silhouettes.

The best shots were done just after sundown.

I have to say that the new 50D stock is really lovely; before we corrected for the high-con look, on some shots where I flagged the sun off of an African American actor and then edge-lit him with a 9-light, on the original negative there is plenty of shadow detail on him despite the fact that there's no fill added and he's standing under some black flags!

As I feared, some of the shots on the remote crane, where I couldn't look through the eyepiece, there is some annoying flares from using an ND filter in front of the lens and looking into bright sun on water. Of course, the sun was flagged off of the len but the kick off of the water created a flare at the top of the frame. Luckily it's outside of most of the 16x9 area. If I had noticed it, tilting the filter may have helped, but then, maybe not. It's hard to point any glass at so much intense light and not kick some sort of optical artifact.
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#9 J. Lamar King

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 01:52 PM

Thanks Dave, in situations like that (I'm talking about the wide shot) I always go for the spot meter in an attempt to figure how far down I can take the shadows and not loose their nuance and set the exposure there. Obviously, if you had a white boat and pale grass on those hills you could take the shadows down more and hold even more highlight.

Edited by J. Lamar King, 13 February 2006 - 01:53 PM.

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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 01:57 PM

I'm just not comfortable using spot meters -- I get too many readings. It seems like you can get whatever reading you want out of the thing. I use them to meter sunset skies mainly, but not bright lights like the sun or the reflection of the sun. I'd rather look at the surrounding landscape and mentally imagine how many stops up or down it should feel relative to normal frontal daylight and then take an incident meter reading.

I did use my digital still camera to take a rough preview shot, basically looking to see how the lake looked in backlight but using the front-light exposure. I'd like to explore that approach further but I need a better digital still camera first. Right now, with my point-n-shoot Canon A80, as soon as I zoom in, I lose exposure, so I can't really judge longer-lensed shots accurately in terms of comparing the f-stop/shutter speed to what I'm using on the movie camera.
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#11 J. Lamar King

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 02:09 PM

I'm just not comfortable using spot meters -- I get too many readings. It seems like you can get whatever reading you want out of the thing. I use them to meter sunset skies mainly, but not bright lights like the sun or the reflection of the sun. I'd rather look at the surrounding landscape and mentally imagine how many stops up or down it should feel relative to normal frontal daylight and then take an incident meter reading.


You're right, they will tell you what you want them too if you hunt long enough. I use the spot meter but my mind is the final judge. I spent many years shooting medium and large format stills so I've gotten used to that method. I think exposure really just comes down to being a conceptual method that differs among people. Hence why I asked the question in the first place.

We should have a discussion on here about which Digi-cams and settings work best for preview. I've used one a few times, but I don't own a good one. I'm a bit skeptical of the cheap digital cameras.
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#12 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 04:46 PM

We should have a discussion on here about which Digi-cams and settings work best for preview. I've used one a few times, but I don't own a good one. I'm a bit skeptical of the cheap digital cameras.


Start a thread up, J. I use my dSLR quite a lot, and it would be interesting to hear how others are using theirs.
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 05:12 PM

Start a thread up, J. I use my dSLR quite a lot, and it would be interesting to hear how others are using theirs.


Don't own one yet. Am wondering if I'd be satisfied with a Nikon D70, which is affordable, or if I should splurge on something with more megapixels for my own still work.
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#14 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 05:19 PM

has anyone ever used a polaroid camera with manual aperture (like the 600 SE) for such purposes? or medium/large format polaroid backs? theoretically they would be very indicative of exposure range and ratios, though both are pretty pricey (the 600 SE is old, rare and sought after, and med/large format cameras/lenses are obviously costy).

i've never used this method, but i've heard of it being done. anyone tried this and found it useful?
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 05:21 PM

Popularized by Kubrick and Alcott, who started doing it on "2001". No, I've never tried it. I think dSLR's have almost completely replaced that technique.
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#16 Robert Edge

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 06:12 PM

has anyone ever used a polaroid camera with manual aperture (like the 600 SE) for such purposes? or medium/large format polaroid backs? theoretically they would be very indicative of exposure range and ratios...


When I use my 4x5, I sometimes shoot some black and white polaroid before shooting the final photograph. I use Polaroids to fine-tune composition and lighting, especially with still life compositions, and exposure. The only reason I do it is that I can place the Polaroid sheet in exactly the same plane as the sheet film will go. Were it not for that, I would consider it a waste of time and money.

Apart from a 4x5, I use a Nikon D70 and a Mamiya 6x7 rangefinder.

To pick up on David's comment about the adequacy of the D70, it depends on what one is using it for. I can see why a professional still photographer who is making his living from 35mm work would want the top Nikon or Canon. He will get a more rugged and faster camera that can be used day in and day out. I think that the D70, in terms of quality, build quality and speed is completely adequate for anyone else, especially someone whose need for a still camera is occasional.

It's also important to realize that these cameras depreciate rapidly. My Nikon F/N80, a film camera that I retired last summer in favour of the D70, is probably worthless at this point, and I expect that my D70 will have no re-sale value within a couple of years.

If I want to use film but the 4x5 is inconvenient, I use the Mamiya rangefinder. It weighs about the same, maybe even less, than the D70, and I love using it. I like the way it feels in my hands, I like the fact that it is manual, and I like the 6x7 negatives. The only observation that I'd make, which is either a negative or a positive depending on your point of view, is that I shoot with it with a lot more discipline than the D70. I print digitally, and good scans aren't cheap.

I've used the D70 to test exposure and I think that it can be a very useful tool, especially if you take the time to learn how to read the histograms. Also, if you are able to hook the camera to a laptop, there is a Nikon programme that will let you see the results of an exposure on a computer screen (instead of the camera's rather small display) immediately.
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#17 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 06:14 PM

I use a Canon EOS 10D. They're discontinued now, replaced by the 20D. It's 6.3 megapixel camera with a CMOS sensor that's very close to a 35mm (movie) frame in size. I often use it on shoots as an exposure guide if metering the scene is tricky, or if I'm in a rush. I usually set the camera to shoot bracketed exposures, so you get three different frames to examine.

I don't particularly trust the LCD screen, so I usually take my laptop along. With an adaptor, it's really easy to slip the CF card out of the dSLR and into the laptop, then open the stills.

I find this approach works well - generally speaking, if it looks OK on the dSLR, then you know you're OK on the Neg. Sometimes though, the SLR can be misleading. I shot a s16 music video last year which had some 6 lights in frame, pointing directly at camera. The dSLR images showed huge amounts of flare, almost unusable shots. I was worried, because I was shooting most of the video on Canon zooms, and if the flare looked bad on a dSLR with a prime lens, then surely it was going to be worse with my zoom? No, it was absolutely fine. Even though dSLR's have better latitude than video cameras, they're still not as good as film, and I'd obviously pushed it too far.

The only other problem that I've really encountered is the fact that there is a restricted range of ASA settings on the camera, 50, 100, 200, 400 etc. If you want 1/3 stop ASA settings then you have to shell out for the 1Ds

One plus point is that there is an abundant supply of quality second hand lenses for Canon cameras (as there are for Nikon), which means that you don't have to spend a lot to get a few fast primes.
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 06:28 PM

I shot a s16 music video last year which had some 6 lights in frame, pointing directly at camera. The dSLR images showed huge amounts of flare, almost unusable shots. I was worried, because I was shooting most of the video on Canon zooms, and if the flare looked bad on a dSLR with a prime lens, then surely it was going to be worse with my zoom? No, it was absolutely fine. Even though dSLR's have better latitude than video cameras, they're still not as good as film, and I'd obviously pushed it too far.


Sometimes I feel that when I'm overwhelming the video tap and even my digital stills camera, like with a nuclear beam of light in the frame, I must be close to getting something interesting on film!
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#19 J. Lamar King

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Posted 14 February 2006 - 12:51 PM

I was looking at the D70 also or the new one called a D200 I think? Anybody used one of those yet? I'm not looking to spend a ton on a Digicam. I'm concerned that it be easy and fast to look at the images and sometimes manipulate them on a laptop or perhaps in Look Manager.
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#20 Robert Edge

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Posted 14 February 2006 - 02:35 PM

I was looking at the D70 also or the new one called a D200 I think? Anybody used one of those yet? I'm not looking to spend a ton on a Digicam. I'm concerned that it be easy and fast to look at the images and sometimes manipulate them on a laptop or perhaps in Look Manager.


The D70 is selling for US$900 and the D200, if you can find one, is US$1700. The latter sounds like a good choice if you are going to subject a camera to hard use and/or are doing event/sport/action photography. The only review I've seen that compares the D70 and the D200 is at www.kenrockwell.com.

Canon is expected to announce a new, competing dSLR at the PMA show in Orlando starting Feb. 26. It will be interesting to see how it is priced.

Looking at the specs for the D200, one thin I noticed is that the minimum ISO is 100, compared to the D70's ISO 200. The way that I use my D70, the difference doesn't matter, but it may make a difference for some people.
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