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The real look?


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#1 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 09:28 AM

Why is it that so often an "exterior" scene shot on a set indoors has a look in the "air"
that hollers "indoors" while stepping outside has that outdoor "air" look?

Also, I was shooting a film a while ago in a big cornfield and a storm came up which, as often
happens, resulted in a big drop in barometric pressure. It was still sunny and the colors became
incredibly beautiful and everything was much sharper. I've learned that when the barometric pressue
drops significantly; the atmospheric pressure is reduced on one's eyes and thus things are seen
with greater resolution and colors. Now, the "lenses" of our eyes are softer than the glass of
camera lenses but I've often wondered if some of this "low-pressure" look could be captured.


Now, less pressure on glass wouldn't seem to affect a camera the way in which less pressure on
somebody's eyes would work but I have shot on some beautiful days and seen some of that on screen.
Did I see the part of the day that was from the rich colors of the sky and the landscape or do you think
that it's possible to get a different look shooting when the barometer is at say 28.00 inches of mercury
as opposed to 32.00 inches of mercury? (I'm no meteorologist but that's how my barometer measures
- as opposed to millibars - but at any rate when it gets down to lower pressure like 28.00 inches of
mercury it seems that you can see things differently.)
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#2 Hal Smith

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 09:43 AM

Why is it that so often an "exterior" scene shot on a set indoors has a look in the "air"
that hollers "indoors" while stepping outside has that outdoor "air" look?

Also, I was shooting a film a while ago in a big cornfield and a storm came up which, as often
happens, resulted in a big drop in barometric pressure. It was still sunny and the colors became
incredibly beautiful and everything was much sharper. I've learned that when the barometric pressue
drops significantly; the atmospheric pressure is reduced on one's eyes and thus things are seen
with greater resolution and colors. Now, the "lenses" of our eyes are softer than the glass of
camera lenses but I've often wondered if some of this "low-pressure" look could be captured.
Now, less pressure on glass wouldn't seem to affect a camera the way in which less pressure on
somebody's eyes would work but I have shot on some beautiful days and seen some of that on screen.
Did I see the part of the day that was from the rich colors of the sky and the landscape or do you think
that it's possible to get a different look shooting when the barometer is at say 28.00 inches of mercury
as opposed to 32.00 inches of mercury? (I'm no meteorologist but that's how my barometer measures
- as opposed to millibars - but at any rate when it gets down to lower pressure like 28.00 inches of
mercury it seems that you can see things differently.)

Interesting thought. I could be a change in relative humidity, etc. Big mesocyclonic storms like the ones that spawn tornados we see in the Central Plains are often triggered by drylines. So three things happen after the storm blows through, the air got a good cleaning, the sun comes out, and the relative humidity drops, all of which would be good for photography. People in this part of the country are often quoted after the storm commenting on how beautiful the weather was after the tornado flattened their home.

Hal Smith, NWS trained Advanced Storm Spotter
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#3 Rory Hanrahan

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 10:18 AM

Why is it that so often an "exterior" scene shot on a set indoors has a look in the "air"
that hollers "indoors" while stepping outside has that outdoor "air" look?


In a way, you've answered your own question. There are so many variables and influences outdoors (haze, humidity, wind, the above mentioned barometric pressure) that it is virtually impossible to replicate these conditions in a controlled environment. So even when an exterior-set scene is done successfully indoors, it is hard to fool the perceptive.

Also, consider the sun as a source of light: because of its size, distance and intensity, it lights in a unique way. Even though we can light indoors to the perceived brightness of the sun, a man made source at a workable distance still will not wrap around a subject, or move throughout the day (causing minor shifts in color temperature) that we are all naturally used to.

This is an interesting investigation into exterior influences though, and I'd love to hear more opinions and experiences regarding this subject.
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#4 Dan Goulder

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 11:21 AM

Don't overlook audio (non-looped), which takes on a different character when recorded outdoors, away from reflective surfaces. It can affect your perception of a scene every bit as much as the visual.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 11:32 AM

This has been much on my mind lately as I am to face dealing with the huge backyard set for "Big Love" and make it look like it's outdoors.

The most successful interior sets faking day exterior have almost always been forest / jungle sets (Legend, Greystoke, Congo, Jurassic Park III) because you can justify breaking up a single sunlight key into multiple spotlights as if breaking through a canopy of trees, and because you have less skylight to simulate.

The other time you can get away with a set on a less tree-covered setting is when you are faking twilight or heavy overcast, because it's easier to put up a bunch of soft lights (like space lights, maybe even covered with a silk).

The hardest thing to fake is a projected sharp source like a sun that hits the entire set with one unit. You can't back a light far enough away and even if you could, it wouldn't be bright enough anymore. "From Earth to the Moon" solved it for their Moon set by bouncing a bunch of 7K or 10K Xenons into a curved mirrored surface, but it was tremendous rig that had to be water-cooled.

The other problem is OFF-CAMERA ambience -- in other words, you could light a tighter shot and fake the natural sunlight, but the subject won't be facing an off-camera world in sunlight, which you can tell by looking in their eyes. So you need to light an awful lot of off-camera space just to get the eyes and other reflective surfaces to reflect that. There is a haze over the eyeballs in real daylight exteriors that comes from reflecting the whole world in front of them.

Another problem is that you are likely to shoot a real day exterior on slower-speed film stock at a deeper stop than a set where you will be using high-speed tungsten-balanced stock at wider apertures (so at least, if you are going to mix the two, it may help to use the same stock outdoors with heavy ND.) Also, I think there is just a fundamental difference in how objects appear in an all tungsten-lit setting versus a daylight setting, even if you correct the color temp on the film stock using filters. I don't know why.

For "Big Love" we've noticed that the same colors painted on the houses look different in the day exterior than on the sound stage. Now some of that is a subtle difference between 5212 with an 85 filter outdoors versus 5218 with no filter indoors, but it's also because of the harsh desert sunlight that hits the real houses outdoors.

Of course, there is also the color temp difference between direct sunlight and overhead skylight.

And atmospheric haze over greater distances.
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#6 Hal Smith

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 11:52 AM

For "Big Love" we've noticed that the same colors painted on the houses look different in the day exterior than on the sound stage. Now some of that is a subtle difference between 5212 with an 85 filter outdoors versus 5218 with no filter indoors, but it's also because of the harsh desert sunlight that hits the real houses outdoors.

I asked my expert scene painter friend about this (he works for a still studio in Dallas that hosts major corporate and advertising shoots). He mentioned pretty much everything you did but added the thought that outdoors there are paints that will fluoresce due to all the UV in real sunlight.
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#7 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 07:05 PM

Also the colours of the set depend not only on the daylight color temp - I mean the light that comes from sun + clouds - but also on how it's reflected before it hits it. I mean that light it receives is sun + sky + reflection on the environment : ground, walls, trees etc. A talent under a tree may look green while one may look a bit yellow on a beach or get the cast of a close wall (remembers me a problem with yellow walls on a set BTW...). Then when you are outside, you have to meter the color temp where by the talent was. When you go in studio, you don't reproduce the same envirronment. You won't set the off-set/frame walls trees etc. So you may "match" the light source just as well as you can (I mean balance a tungsten light to a daylight source for instance), the talent won't be lighten the same anyway... He may have get a bit of red from there in his back on the right and a bit of yellow from something else in another direction etc. The reflected light on the set around can provide up to 30 % of the light on a subject ! And the color shifts may be hardly noticable by eye on the set if you don't pay attention, though it will be seeingable on the daylies...
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#8 Kim Vickers

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 07:56 PM

This has been much on my mind lately as I am to face dealing with the huge backyard set for "Big Love" and make it look like it's outdoors.


Do diffusion filters or netting help? Not too much to be obvious, just enough to give you a little extra glow???
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 08:03 PM

Do diffusion filters or netting help? Not too much to be obvious, just enough to give you a little extra glow???


Well, real exterior photography can be quite crisp, and the show is generally shot without filters, but I have wondered about using the lightest Smoque filter or something to give some feeling of atmosphere on the stage without using smoke, which would be all wrong. But something that makes the sky feel hot. I'm not sure.
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#10 Hal Smith

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 11:47 PM

This has been much on my mind lately as I am to face dealing with the huge backyard set for "Big Love" and make it look like it's outdoors.

My scene painter friend Don had quite a bit to say about how exterior paints differ from interior paints. Exterior paints tend to be semi-gloss of one degree or another, they use different pigment chemistry, and their anti-weathering chemistry makes them look different. Don says that exterior paints always look different to him, he also talked about how weathering affects exterior paints.

Don's the Artistic Director of the little Equity company I work with and an experienced actor with Broadway touring experience - he's pretty hip to live theatre. Working in a photo studio for his living now he's pretty darn good at making things look like what they really aren't in the theatrical/photography world. The studio's clients are heavy hitters like national magazines, major retail companies, mail order catalogs, etc. so he's definitely working on the cutting edge.

If you want his email address to chat with him, PM me and I'll shoot it back to you.
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#11 Kim Vickers

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Posted 27 July 2006 - 11:38 AM

Well, real exterior photography can be quite crisp, and the show is generally shot without filters, but I have wondered about using the lightest Smoque filter or something to give some feeling of atmosphere on the stage without using smoke, which would be all wrong. But something that makes the sky feel hot. I'm not sure.


I'm kind of thinking about the look Richardson got on JFK. It seemed like he used filters or netting throughout, even outdoors. I loved the "humid" look to that film. I think there's a scene at a racetrack early on with Jack Lemmon, where the effect was more subtle. A warm, low-con look.

I suppose, though, it would only work for your purposes if the interiors were shot using the same type of technique, otherwise you go "outside" and it looks like there's a different DP at work.

I haven't seen the show, but, thinking editorially, is it possible to get an actual outdoor establishing shot of the neighborhood, or the house, under partially overcast or completely overcast conditions? If that's the first shot I see, and I don't see harsh sunlight, it might make the job a little easier in terms of matching.

Edited by Kim Vickers, 27 July 2006 - 11:41 AM.

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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 July 2006 - 12:41 PM

I haven't seen the show, but, thinking editorially, is it possible to get an actual outdoor establishing shot of the neighborhood, or the house, under partially overcast or completely overcast conditions? If that's the first shot I see, and I don't see harsh sunlight, it might make the job a little easier in terms of matching.


Sure, but in the course of 12 episodes covering even more story days than that, you can only do that trick a few times. Besides, it supposed to be set in sunny Salt Lake City...
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