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When did old fashioned hard light finish?


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#1 Tim Partridge

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 06:21 AM

I was wondering if anyone else had thought about this.

As we all know, back when film speeds were much slower, stocks not as fine grained, out of neccessity light levels had to be higher for exposure. To maximise luminance, hard light was more or less number one. There were many innovators who got soft light in there, but knowing how to do hard light, covering large areas was something you had to master, doing it fast and effectively without it looking amateurish.

Now with the proliferation of the Kino-flow and finer grained fast film stocks, it's standard to shoot virtually wide open with soft light in low light levels. The art of hard light doesn't seem to be worth nearly as much today. Now I'm not trying to put down contemporary styles (I am admittedly not a fan), as there were many past era old school masters of hard light who would have gone kinos wide open had the opportunity been given to them.

In this thread I am more interested in putting a date to the passing of old fashioned hard light in favour of soft. According to this website: http://www.cirrolite...ut_kinoflo.html Robby Mueller more or less created the Kino look for BARFLY in 1987, but it certainly wasn't an overnight trend. While soft light had been around for decades before the Kino, as I mentioned before, it had never been so controllable, low on power, easily daylight balanced, convinient and effective as such a small unit. The transition period to my mind is a good five years, perhaps even longer before traditional hard light disciplines started to disappear.

I am thinking somewhere around the early 1990s is where we started seeing the last of the old style. There were many American TV movies produced around this time that looked photographically indistinguishable from a TV movie made in 1970. In features, even if barely detectable, you could still see and feel hard key and fill shadows. If you wanted to look, there was always a slight edge.

In 2006 I rarely see hard light at all, except for when the old style is being spoofed, stylised dramatic effect or present in television newsroom lighting.

To add to the discussion, is there a correlation between the decline in hard light and the increased use of Super35 shooting over anamorphic?
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#2 Filip Plesha

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 11:30 AM

What I find most interesting in older movies is how they used lighting in outdoors, which gave a similar interesting effect like when syncing strobes with sunlight in photography, which is something quite often used by conceptual photographers for that surreal look.

When you take a look at documentary footage from the same time (around 60's) shot with only available light its clear why they did it.
The underexposure latitude of film, even negative was so short, so they probably had to fill every shadow in the significant part of the frame,but it had an interesting sideffect.

Also, the low underexposure latitude created a kind of a painterly look to the image by drawing these thick shadows with crushed blacks, similar to those jumpy gradations you see in oil paintings, without affecting the midtone contrast (thanks to a more pronaunced toe of the characteristics curve).
Something impossible to emulate post exposure without changing the midtone gamma or rising the Dmin level to a gray tone.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 11:39 AM

No, I don't think there is a correlation between the rise of Super-35 over anamorphic and the greater use of soft light.

Mainly I think it is a stylistic trend like anything else -- diffusion, whatever. Even though film stocks were slower in the 1930's than they were in the 1940's (Plus-X and Super-XX were released in 1938), the trend from the mid 1920's to late 1930's was towards softer light and shooting near wide-open. That was considered more glamorous.

And in the 1920's you had the equivalent of Kinoflos in the gas discharge tubed Cooper-Hewitt lamps, which put out a soft light and was used extensively until sound came along (and later color) because the lamps were noisy and put out a blue-green light.

The rise of almost exclusive hard light use rose as a style in the late 1930's and 1940's as part of a growing interest in "realism" and also DP's and directors becoming interested in using deep focus ever since "Citizen Kane". I know it's odd to think of hard light as being more "realistic" but as they say, one generation's realism is considered to be artifice by the next. Realistic as in hard, not as romanticized. Also, clarity was just something people wanted after a decade of heavy diffusion, just like after the 1970's.

In terms of early color photography, yes, hard light was almost a necessity due to the slowness of the stocks. But color really started to become common at the same time that hard lighting was becoming the trend in b&w work anyway.

And after hard lighting had its heydey in the studio films of the 1940's to early 1970's -- a pretty long run -- naturally the tide turned against it. Some people like Ozzie Morris were already well-ahead of the trend. And of course the European cinematographers. It all filtered back to Hollywood through people like Conrad Hall and Haskell Wexler, and Europeans immigrating to the states like Vilmos Zsigmond -- not necessarily all soft-light styles, but starting to mix soft with hard.

Then in the 1970's you had the influential work of Gordon Willis and Vittorio Storaro, again, not all soft-light shooters, but much more source-motivated lighting.

So there was a trend towards embracing more soft light while keeping some contrast. And for the most part, it is more naturalistic than a hard light pointed at a face. We spend more of our lives indoors standing in reflected, bounced, or diffused sources than projected, sharp sources -- especially not projected lamps pointed right at our faces (if anything, humans tend to avoid standing in that sort of light.) Right now I'm typing this facing a window on an overcast morning and behind me is a practical with a lampshade on.

So a more hard-lit style would be a step away from the naturalism we seem to generally cherish in movies as part of the notion that, for the most part, the lighting in movies should not stand out. I remember the praise that Zefferelli paid David Watkin when he said that he knew how to light a scene so that it didn't look lit. It's hard for a hard-lit movie to not look lit. There's something about a hard key that always makes you think where it is coming from.

However, I will admit that in our current range for ALL soft-lighting, it goes beyond realism too, even if to modern eyes it feels natural. People stand around in Vermeer / Rembrandt soft keys in movies no matter where they walk in a room -- they have that soft glow in their faces. It's almost the 1930's all over again but with no heavy diffusion, i.e. another form of romanticism.

So you can just think of it as a trend that maybe will shift. I remember one thing that Nestor Almendros said that old color movies used soft lenses and hard lights and modern movies use sharp lenses and soft lights.

I was just talking to Richard Kline about this last night, at the ASC, when I complimented him on his lighting style that mixed hard and soft so well. We both talked about how an all-soft-lit movie gets rather repetitive and boring, you need a mix to add some snap, contrast, and depth to the image. His style always had a scuptural quality with his use of edge lights. But he also used bounced light quite well.

On the other hand, my experience using mostly hard lighting on "D.E.B.S." taught me that it's a fine line between the lighting looking like a classic 1950's movie and a cheesy 1970's TV cop show. Some of it is art direction -- you blast more light on a set, it better be good! Some of it is just that you are running counter to modern tastes. And it may also be connected to the fact that HD seems to favor softer light as a way to take that video edginess off of the image.

But hard-lit modern movies can sometimes look a little crude. I don't know the reason other than I'm not used to seeing it.

I use hard lighting mainly when it's naturally motivated. Obviously, for example, many shots in "Akeelah and the Bee" of kids standing on stage spelling are lit with stage lights and hard keys, although I sometimes cheated the close-ups. But I also have a dramatic scene in Larabee's office where Lawrence Fishburn is lit by a hard 10K tungsten coming through blinds creating a warm sunset effect of his face, and projected shadows of the blinds.

Sometimes I've lit people with a motivated hard key (like from the overhead track lighting in the room) and had directors make me change it to a soft key because they hated the look of the hard light, even though it was motivated both physically and dramatically.

It's funny that you posted this because I was going to ask a similar question, which is are modern movies high contast or low contrast these days? Generally sharp or generally soft? Where are we headed stylistically?
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#4 Filip Plesha

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 12:36 PM

I know it's odd to think of hard light as being more "realistic" but as they say, one generation's realism is considered to be artifice by the next.


I notice that in US people mostly use soft light in homes and it's mostly somewhere on the side

Over here, most lighting in homes is on the celling, and it's mostly hard light, though in recent years the trend seemed to switch to more diffused light sources.

So realism depends on where you live.
A typical 70's hard light movie scene looks a lot like what you could find in a typical home in this part of Europe.

Most of the simple light sources for home that are being soled today are just simple plates turned down or spheres with holes on the down side with sockets where you put a bare bulb.
So a typical living room, a kitchen or a bathroom here has hard light from above.

In that way, older movies with hard lighting feel more natural to me, while they probably feel unnatural to americans.
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#5 Michael Collier

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 02:13 PM

Right now I'm typing this facing a window on an overcast morning and behind me is a practical with a lampshade on.


I think its funny that even though there is no camera around, david still refers to his desk lamp as a practicle. Shows just how wrapped up we get in this profession.
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#6 Frank Barrera

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 07:45 PM

Just watched (on DVD) Days Of Being Wild 1991 and was amazed at the almost exclusive use of hard light. I'm so used to all the soft lghting out there (as well as my exclusive use of it) that I actually was disturbed by the hard light style at first. I finally got into it and thought it worked for the story. But again I think it works because it's such a stark and tragic story that seems to call for a harsh look. Of course, stark doesn't equal ugly.

I have a short 35 narrative piece coming up and we are going to go hard with most of the lighting. It will be a nice exercise. The rule will be: No heavier than opal.



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#7 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 08:00 PM

Perhaps another factor is the increased movement of the camera in more recent films. Softer light lends itself more to more extensive camera movement.
I think there are no rules concerning style.
We are lucky to have so many options now.
I was watching some Bergman films and the use of really hard fill on exteriors is really quite beautiful while not "realistic".
It really just has to fit the story.
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#8 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 08:15 PM

Ericson Core, ASC, is a contemporary hard lighter (and very good at it). Phil Meheux, BSC, is another (I'm begging that Speilberg would use him instead of Kaminski for Indy 4 - he'd be just right for that job) - Zorro was a joyful nod to the old school matinée and expertly lit.

But hard light is hard in many ways (no pun) - it takes a single source noir-feel to get it right many times. The minute you light it like Oklahoma! with multiple shadows it takes me right out of it. There are tons of very influential films shot with hard lights - but most of them are B/W, which tells you something. As for 'modern' lighting styles, Alien really is one of the first films of the 'modern' style (and maybe the start of the Brit revolution).
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#9 Sam Wells

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Posted 23 June 2006 - 08:36 PM

Of course, stark doesn't equal ugly.


Quite the contrary, I think it's beautiful in close-up. Interesting, Chris Doyle does his best work early on with close work - some of the wider stuff is a bit "lit" looking in "Days" - and then kind of pulls back in subsequent films with WKW and achieves a very interesting & somewhat new take naturalism.

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#10 Michael Nash

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Posted 24 June 2006 - 01:02 AM

Quite the contrary, I think it's beautiful in close-up. Interesting, Chris Doyle does his best work early on with close work - some of the wider stuff is a bit "lit" looking in "Days" - and then kind of pulls back in subsequent films with WKW and achieves a very interesting & somewhat new take naturalism.

-Sam


We had this "hard vs. soft" conversation well over a year ago. I remember Tim and I had a rather lengthy discussion on it.

Suffice it to say that "reality" is a mix of hard and soft lighting, and hard light always comes from a hard source (even if it's a reflection off a car windshield or something errant like that). So if you're trying to use an approach or aesthetic that is, I'll say, "naturalistic," then you need to adhere to the rules of what happens in the real world. But obviously there is no mandate to adhere to reality in film; you can use whatever approach you feel is best. And to complicate matters, you still have to strike a balance between the "rules" of your approach and what simply works well or looks right on film. We end up cheating reality all the time for camera.

I think the approach goes beyond a mere aesthetic or even working technique though; the hard/soft decision has everything to do with the reality or falsehood the filmmakers are trying to use in telling their stories. Hard, artificial, theatrical-looking lighting requires a different suspension of disbelief than something that looks more organic or natural. I have to admit I'm not a fan of the theatrical approach to lighting, unless properly motivated (whatever that may mean :P ). I couldn't hang with Daredevil or Fast & the Furious; Mr. Core's approach just made me "check out" immediately. Million Dollar Baby (Tom Stern) was somehow compelling enough to keep me hooked (maybe because the contrast and graphic quality of the lighting was stronger?), even though it was obviously very theatrical in its lighting approach.

All that said, My two favorite DP's for lighting these days are John Schwartzman and John Matthieson. They both mix hard and soft light in a compelling but believeable way. Schwartzman uses hard highlights for that "snap" and can sometimes border on theatrical, and Mr. Matthieson is exemplary at creating a natural look that still fits the dramatic context of the scene. Chris Doyle is one of my favorite DP's these days for other reasons; his framing and emotional connection to the material are inspiring. I do prefer his softer/colorful lighting though, especially in things like "In The Mood For Love." I can't wait to see "Invisible Waves" and "Lady in Water."

But getting back to the original discussion and David's addendum; what I find interesting is the sort of double-standard between what we're willing to accept with lighting and what we're williing to accept with image quality. For example, I can accept natural-looking lighting that has an overt film treatment like bleach-bypass or grainy B&W; but I have a harder time accepting clean, clear color images that are lit with artificial-looking hard light. It's as though the "world" in front of the camera has to be believeable, but the "eye" or perception relating that can bend. I'm not sure how others feel...
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#11 Bob Hayes

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Posted 24 June 2006 - 01:58 AM

My guess would be soft lighting kicked in after 1982 when EASTMAN Color High Speed Negative film 5293 EI 250 came out. Up to this point the ASA of color film was 125. The next year 1983 Kodak came out with 5294 at EI 400.

For me it was 1985 and John Seale, Witness and then 1988 with Peter Biziou and Mississippi that hooked me on softer more natural lighting. Before then I was Freddie Young and Doctor Zhivago all the way.

With regards to Barfly and Kinos they were a wonderful tool but I think soft lighting would be there regardless. Fast film stocks made using kinos more practicle.
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#12 Michael Nash

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Posted 24 June 2006 - 02:37 AM

My guess would be soft lighting kicked in after 1982 when EASTMAN Color High Speed Negative film 5293 EI 250 came out. Up to this point the ASA of color film was 125. The next year 1983 Kodak came out with 5294 at EI 400.


I remember thinking about this a couple years ago when I caught a "Matlock" rerun that was obviously very Eighties (and yes, I'm old enough to be intimately familar with the Eighties). I was actually surprised that so much of the lighting was as soft as it was (of course, the show skewed heavily toward an older demographic and older guest stars who benefitted from soft lighting). I grew up with '70's cops shows like "The Rockford Files" and "CHiPs," and even earlier things like "Columbo," "McCloud," and "Banachek." Yikes. You catch some of that stuff now on CH. 56 KDOC and you can't believe how low-rent they look. ;)

Again attempting to get my sidebars back on-thread; I think the general moviegoing audience has had its fill with the high-contrast, bleach-bypass look of the late 90's and is starting to embrace a lower contrast, lower color-sat look. Partly due to the predictable backlash that comes with any trend, but also the conjunction of styles that seems to occur with younger generations "re-discovering" themes and styles from an era just slightly before their own awareness. Witness the popularity in fashion of things like ringer T-shirts, boot-cut and low-rise jeans, and aviator sunglasses; all of which are borrowed, informed, or re-interpreted from the Seventies. Most of the kids wearing these things were barely born when these things were popular, which makes the resurgence that much more amusing. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is totally in style now!
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#13 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 24 June 2006 - 10:02 AM

This is an excerpt of an American Film Institute seminar with Ernest Laszlo, ASC, which was conducted by Howard Schwartz, ASC and was published by American Cinematographer in January 1976 (cover THE HINDENBURG).

It shows pretty well the hard light vs. soft light issue from the point of view of a classic cameraman like Laszlo. Mr. Laszlo won an Academy Award for best cinematography and was nominated for seven more, the last in 1976 for the sci-fi flick LOGAN?S RUN.


(?)

QUESTION: I can only think of a couple of films I?ve seen shot by you that have low-key photography. Do you generally use high-key?

LAZSLO: No, I?m considered a low-key man. In every way.

AUDIENCE: (Laughter)

QUESTION: In BOWERY and BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL, there was strinking contrast?.

SCHWARTZ: Are you talking about key or contrast?

RESPONSE: Contrast.

SCHWARTZ: There is a difference.

LAZSLO: You can have a 50 foot-candle key or a 25 foot-candle key, but the import thing is to have balance. That?s something that a lot of people don?t understand, balance. Also, I might bring up one other point. I was hoping that somebody would ask me if I like reflected lighting or bounce lights and stuff like that.

QUESTION: Do you like bounce lights?

AUDIENCE: (Laughter)

LASZLO: Thank you for asking. I?ll answer your question with another question. Did Michaelangelo use one big brush?

SCHWARTZ: But he didn?t have a production manager.

AUDICIENCE: (Laughter)

LASZLO: I believe that motion picture photography supposedly is, and should be, selective. So whenever I use light, I like to use lights of different sizes and sorts, but each light has to have a meaning. You don?t just toss in a lot of light and let it go. Because, you know, famous painters didn?t do that. They used little brushes and big brushes and everything in between. So I believe that every single light you see on a set should have a purpose. Thus, as far as I?m concerned, is my answer to bounce light.

(?)

QUESTION: How do you feel about the look of soft lighting? Not if it?s just done with a large brush, but if the light is a soft light source? And also if there are lights used like ?kickers? or rim lights that give it some depth and clarity, so ot isn?t just a gray. How do you feel about that?

LASZLO: Well, I think it?s possible to use fill light that covers everything and give it some ?kickers? and bounce light. But I still don?t believe that that?s the way to light. I just don?t believe it. Like I said, you have to have a purpose. Each lamp you light has to do something for you.

QUESTION: When you see something that?s lit soft like that with bounce light, how do you feel? Does it seem unreal to you?

LASZLO: Well, it doesn?t seem real to me, truly. It doesn?t. Maybe I?m of the old school, but I just don?t believe in it.

QUESTION: I?d like to ask you a a general question about the ?old school?. It?s built up a tradition over about 50 years, and the A.S.C. seems to be supporting this in some ways. I wonder what the A.S.C. has done to preerve this style that is going now out of fashion.

LASZLO: you mean about being old-fashioned?

RESPONSE: Well, films like AIRPORT and FUNNY LADY seem like a return to that classic period.

LASZLO: I think we are returning to it somewhat. I honestly believe that we?re reaching a turning point where people will go more for entertaiment than sensationalism, like dope and violence and sex and all that nonsense. I really believe that. I think it?ll help to bring the lost audience that we had back to the motion picture again.

QUESTION: Do you think we?ll be entertainted more by good photography?

LASZLO: Well, I would think so. I would hope so.

SCHWARTZ: Ernie, I?d like to say something if I might about that.

LASZLO: Yes.

SCHWARTZ: I think it?s interesting to note what?s happening to felows like Zsigmond and Kovacs and John Alonzo, people like this who started out doing commercials and things of this sort, where they used a lot of flat light. Their first features were pretty much that way. They are coming around, and I think it?s because they, at first, didn?t know this other style of lighting and weren?t that familiar with it. They hadn?t worked in studios where they had all this equipment available to them and were able to light from paralels and scaffolds and things of that sort. Even some of the directors are coming around, so that now they?re not so afraid to use the studios as they used to be; because they were embarrased by the the riches of having a set, and they didn?t know what to do with it. As a result, they always wanted to go on location so that nobody could see that they weren?t sure what they were doing. I think things have turned around, and a lot of these fellows have come around. A good example is PAPER MOON. There was a beautiful job of photography which was probably the first one that wasn?t a soft light job that I?ve seen Laszlo Kovacs do. I think they?re coming around to a more traditional way.

LASZLO: Well, also, too. I think they?ve gained experience, which is a very important factor.

(?)
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#14 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 24 June 2006 - 01:21 PM

My guess would be soft lighting kicked in after 1982 when EASTMAN Color High Speed Negative film 5293 EI 250 came out. Up to this point the ASA of color film was 125. The next year 1983 Kodak came out with 5294 at EI 400.

For me it was 1985 and John Seale, Witness and then 1988 with Peter Biziou and Mississippi that hooked me on softer more natural lighting. Before then I was Freddie Young and Doctor Zhivago all the way.


---Nestor Almendros's 'Two English Girls' 1971 had gorgeous soft lighting.
In the 60s Raoul Coutard was using lots of bounce, but often as a sourceless overall illumination.
Color neg was 50ASA. He was also using it for B/W.

Haskell Wexler was using umbrellas then. They were used for stills quite a bit.

Oswald Morris was soft light rather well to simulate overcast daylight in "Moby Dick" with a 25 aSa stock.
Around the same time he was using hard light on the CinemaScope 'Man Who Never Was', which looks so much better than Fox Cinemascope movies made at their LA studio.

As to the soft lights of the 20s, orthostock is inately sharper than panchromatic stock, I think, because of the shorter wave leghts of blue and ultraviolet light. Thus a switch to panchromatic stock required harder light. & incandescents were quieter.


---LV
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#15 Bob Hayes

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 11:00 AM

Leo,

Very true soft light has been around for a long time before 1983. I was more responding to the request to put a date on the passing of hard light as the flavor of the month to soft light.

Commercials, where I started as an assistant, were using large soft sources a lot in the seventies. I remember going head to head with my gaffer, a feature guy, on my first dramatic short. Me trying to light it with a 2k through a 6x6 silk and him trying to use a hard baby and a hard back light.
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#16 Tim Partridge

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 11:43 AM

Like I said before, bounced and soft light was never anything new, Gilbert Taylor also used it in the late 1940s. Indian cinematographers were also all over it since the initiation of cinematography over there.

Nacho, that's a great interview- that's EXACTLY what I'm refering to regarding old versus new. Infact, 30+ years on and big, bounced soft source seems as dated as and old fashioned as hard light was then. It's hilarious how Lazlo and Schwartz (both of whose work and style I am a big fan of) put Zsgimond and Kovacs taste down to "inexperience"!!! Looking at that article now it seems that seminar wasn't really benefitial to anyone- there certainly isn't any artistic or technical value to those DPs comments outside of basic common sense, and even then it's the realm of contradiction. They say all lights are like different brushes, all have their puropse and place, yet they don't accept soft bounced light as another brush, no matter how specialised it is. Ignorant and arrogant.

I'm not sold on hard light being just down to fashion. All of the older DPs using softlight mentioned here knew damn well how to light hard and would often do it for dramatic effect. Even 15 years ago you had to know how to light hard, but today with the finer grained, heavily accessible high speed stocks, telecine/DIs and lower power/heat flexible Kino units- you don't really HAVE to know how to light hard. It seems to be just some basic reference point that's learned on an academic level as three point lighting. There's also far less balancing of foreground and background today too- it's almost expected to have a blown out sky or window, opening up to expose the face. You saw that kind of stuff every so often in the 60s and 70s, but today it's standard.

What's also interesting is how virtually all of you guys emphasise how you will often use hard light but it has to be MOTIVATED. Admitting to hard fill is almost an embarrassment- everything else fill included can afford to be soft, diffed wth all of the light sucked out of the lamp. That goes for most lighting today because of faster lenses and filmstocks and the ability to film in more or less any light level- there use to be a lighting for exposure issue, whereas today I think we have greater liberty lighting for effect. Contrary to how things use to be, there's alot more taking away of light than lighting up these days. I just find it interesting as it's happened in such a short space of time.

Adam mentioned Phil Meheux and Ericson Core: I love both gentlemen's work, but Meheux was trained the old fashioned hard way with slower stocks in the 60s, he's not really part of the new breed- Core is from the new breed, but admits to being influenced stylistically by noir and expressionist sensibilities, his hero being Stanley Cortez, so there is an informed, post modern element to his work. This is a perspective that Mr. Cortez was more than probably never really aware of.

I agree with Adam's comments about hard lighters and black and white too- perhaps if we were to bring back more b/w as well as super slow film speed anamorphic photography and 3 strip technicolor we might see a renaissance?
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 12:08 PM

Fill light is an odd light because for the most part it is there for more technical reasons, to adjust the contrast (which of course is an artistic tool too.) But it's one of those lights that in a sense you're supposed to notice the least -- unless it is motivated by a source that is filling in the shadows, generally it's not supposed to cast its own shadow, hence why it tends to be soft and frontal, and minimal.

I once asked Roger Deakins about it and he said he didn't really think in those terms. If he wants to see more into the shadows, he softens the key so that it wraps more, or he creates another source that might fill in the shadows, but he doesn't mechanically set up fill light. But of course, he also favors a naturalistic approach and gets aways with no fill often -- it adds that black reference you need in a soft-lit scene.

So hard fill is very hard to get away with. For me, I only use it in close-ups when using something like a Dedolight or Tweenie with a snoot on it right over the lens for eyelight / fill, so that the shadow cast is hidden by the subject itself. Or if it's motivated by an obvious in-camera practical source, and therefore can logically cast a shadow.

Everything is fashion, style, etc. Few DP's work in a vacuum or have total control over choosing the look that we can ignore popular tastes. We may have logical reasons for what we do, but jump another generation and the DP's of the future will have different rationales for solving the same problems. Again, just read interviews with DP's post-WW2 and how they equated hard light with greater "realism". They stripped away the baroque complexity left over from German Expressionism and created a cruder, simpler style. Some scenes in 1950's movies look lit by just parking a 10K behind the camera and turning it on. That sort of brutalistic approach was considered more "realistic" by some DP's back then, but now it looks highly artificial. But it was because in their mind, realism was the rejection of old-fashioned "gloss" and gloss meant hanging a hundred little spotlights over the set and creating elaborate shadow patterns.

So for most DP's the first job is to master modern styles because that will get us more work. With some power, we can THEN start to push cinematography in more idiosyncratic ways. Just look at Storaro's experiments with color -- it goes beyond convention and current tastes because, basically, he has nothing left to prove to people and can indulge his own passions now. He's done the elegant period epics that win cinematography awards, several times over. He can do that in his sleep.

But if you're saying that DP's should try and master the intricasies of hard lighting because they might learn something, I agree. Even if you then go back to a soft-lit approach, it will inform your decisions. But it's hard to find the right projects to use mostly hard light and therefore buck against current trends.

It's sort of like shooting in b&w -- when most films or half the movies were in b&w, you could use it for its visual effect and still be subtle, but now, you are making this major visual statement when you choose to shoot in b&w. It's hard to not be accused of being "arty" when all you really want is to shoot b&w images because you like them!
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#18 John Holland

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 12:15 PM

Hi , dont know if anyone here has seen the dvd of " Catch 22" . If you listen to the conversation between Mike Nicols and Stephen Soderberg , its mostly on Soderbergs part about the cinematography of David Watkin , keeps wanting to talk about the images , and to be fair Nicols to he is pretty stunned , but at one point during the movie , the bombing of the base at night , can just about contain himself and says Watkin is the father of modern colour cinematography , and he is so right . The master of soft light . john holland.
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#19 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 26 June 2006 - 11:21 AM

David Watkin, BSC, or "Wendy" (just don't call him that to his face..) has been tremendously influential and somewhat underappreciated by the newer generation - myself included.

An interesting hybrid is Dante Spinotti, AIC, ASC, who's style in Heat and many other films is a mixture of a slick soft light approach and the crudest hard lights ever. Heat is full of hot sources pointing straight up into trees with the source showing, and nasty sodium lamps pounding down on the nightscape. It's a favourite of mine when it comes to lighting - it's got such a raw nerve and was truly modern when it came (and still is).
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 June 2006 - 12:54 PM

In some ways, Spinotti's work comes closest to what Conrad Hall used to do in terms of mixing hard and soft, if not more so (Spinotti can be a little more "Italian" if you know what I mean, occasionally making the theatrical, operatic gesture ala Storaro.) Kaminski also uses a wide mix from very hard to very soft, harsh and gentle. John Schwartzman too.

It's not so much hard lighting in the classical style like Doug Slocombe or Harry Stradling, for example, but something different.

Watkin is very important in the development of modern color cinematographic style, but I'd also give credit to Ozzie Morris, who was one of the most innovative of the early adopters of color, like Jack Cardiff but perhaps even more experimental (or at least allowed to be by director John Huston), looking at films like "Moulin Rouge", "Moby Dick", "Taming of the Shrew", etc. "Moulin Rouge" is early 1950's 3-strip Technicolor work, yet you have some soft-lit scenes, colored lighting, heavy use of smoke and Fog filters, etc. -- way ahead of its time. Some of this has its precedence like in "Black Narcissus" of course.
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