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Exposing for a sunset


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#1 Matt Read

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 11:08 AM

How would you set exposure on a film camera for a sunset?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 11:16 AM

How would you set exposure on a film camera for a sunset?


Carefully?

Actually, it depends on many factors, like how you want the sunset to look and if it's OK to silhouette someone against it or if you're trying to split the exposure difference.

Also depends on the size of the sun itself in the frame. A wide-angle shot is more about the sky & cloud formations and a telephoto shot of the sunball is more about the exposure for the sun.

Truth is that since the sky has so many exposure areas in it, and color negative has such latitude, that there is no "right" exposure, just depends on what details you want to hold. If I'm in a hurry and need to shoot a sunset sky full of clouds, I usually incident meter the sunlight and then underexpose two stops to expose more for the sky than the ground. Usually this works fine. But to be precise, you'd use a spot meter and meter whatever part of the sky you feel is close to 18% grey in brightness, perhaps a patch of blue sky or the shadow part of a cloud.
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#3 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 12:13 PM

I usually incident meter the sunlight and then underexpose two stops to expose more for the sky than the ground. Usually this works fine.


I'll say it does...watch the funeral scene in "Astronaut Farmer"

I've seen people spot read the sun itself and have the idea in attempting to throw enough ND & polarizers on there to get an 18% grey exposure for the sun...ITSELF. It's fun to watch them get so confused.

So yeah, don't try doing that. It mostly depends on how much detail you want on the shadow side of your subjects/objects. Underexposing the incidental reading has worked for me as well as your reflective reading is undoubtedly going to be a couple stops higher, plus you'll get a nice silhouetted look for your subjects.
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#4 Hal Smith

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 12:24 PM

What an incredible resource we have in David Mullen. He shoots a gorgeous movie, posts notes from the set, the movie gets wide release in theatres so we all get a chance to see it, and then he graciously answers questions from seasoned pros and newbies alike.

I for one am extremely grateful to David. It may not be his way of describing his contributions but for me it's one heck of a ministry on his part!
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#5 Stephen Williams

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 01:08 PM

Carefully?

I usually incident meter the sunlight and then underexpose two stops to expose more for the sky than the ground. Usually this works fine.


David,

For clarity, are you pointing the dome of the meter at the sun or is the sun to the back of the meter.

Stephen
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#6 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 01:21 PM

I usually try to expose so that I get the "best" color out of the clouds and/or haze that is sitting near the horizon and/or sun itself. So that means finding the "correct" incident sky exposure then underexposing by one or two stops. I also find that riding the stop (opening up) during the last ten minutes or so gives me the best results. Of course that means that it is important to have as much room to work as possible, so removing all glass (NDs) and anything else (wider shutter) that might cause me to begin the shot near wide open is necessary in order to milk magic hour as long as possible.

That's for a straight sunset. If I have a body in the shot that I want to keep "correctly" exposed, that is, lit relative to the sky without looking lit, I expose as above for the sky and also "ride" any lights I have pointed at the talent. Dropping scrims in works for a while, but I find that actually physically backing the unit(s) off as the sun is dropping is the most effective is producing a "natural" light quality on the talent.
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#7 Stephen Williams

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 01:34 PM

I usually try to expose so that I get the "best" color out of the clouds and/or haze that is sitting near the horizon and/or sun itself. So that means finding the "correct" incident sky exposure then underexposing by one or two stops.


Hi Brian,

Thats exactly why I asked the question, I think David is exposing nearer 5 stops under, so a very dramatic look.

Stephen
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#8 Tony Brown

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 01:35 PM

Its actually very easy.There is always a specific part of the sunset that you wish to be represented as a mid tone. Point the spot meter at it.

Thats your exposure.
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 03:06 PM

Hi Brian,

Thats exactly why I asked the question, I think David is exposing nearer 5 stops under, so a very dramatic look.

Stephen


Yes. :) Of course the exposure is dependent upon how well your film stock and/or video camera handles contrast ratio. Some days might call for one stop under while others might call for five. Sometimes I don't underexpose at all for the appropriate exposure. No telling until you get there.

I've also found that I can "fake" a sunrise and/or magic hour by rolling roughly ten minutes prior to the sun breaking the horizon. At that point in the morning, there is just enough illumination in the sky overall so that when I "fade up" using the iris (slowly and smoothly, of course), I can pull off a kind of time-lapse-ish effect. Again, it's all situation dependent, but I've gotten some great results by just playing around to see what works.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 05:50 PM

David,

For clarity, are you pointing the dome of the meter at the sun or is the sun to the back of the meter.

Stephen


I'm pointing the incident dome at the sun, imaging I was shooting a face in the last rays of light, and then underexposing two stops to expose for the sky instead. Although truth is that two stops under is not really a silhouette for the ground -- it's more like three stops under but I'd rather print down a little if shooting negative.

The dailies for that sunset funeral in "Astronaut Farmer" showed a lot more shadow detail on the ground than I expected -- I could have probably underexposed by three stops instead of two. But it printed down fine.

Now if the sunset is really hazy, almost overcast, and the light is flatter, you probably would underexpose less because you don't have as much of an extreme contrast difference between the ground and the sky.
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#11 boy yniguez

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 06:53 PM

How would you set exposure on a film camera for a sunset?

i understand the question to mean that the shape of the sun is the most important part of the scene, so i would normally get my exposure with a spotmeter reading just outside that circle. it would also mean that on hazy days that even the shape of the sun is not clear, you would not shoot it!
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#12 Miguel Bunster

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 04:20 PM

Hi,
I was reading this post and find it really helpfull. I am shooting a film on 7218 and a lto takes palcec with low sun or sunset sun but a lot of shots doont include the sky more backlit trees, tall grass etc and I do a similar thing for exposing this where I under expose two stops to expose the backlit elements well (even if they come a little higher) and the faces or elements toward camera two stops under which i think in 18 give a nice shadow detail that doesnt feel super dark but in shadows. I would love to hear how some other people aproach this.
thanks
M


Image attached...
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#13 Jason Maeda

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 04:32 PM

"Its actually very easy.There is always a specific part of the sunset that you wish to be represented as a mid tone. Point the spot meter at it."

this has always been my method. if you are lighting a forground character, be careful how far you go dumping the background (do you guys say that in film?) if you go too far it starts to look really fake, which may of course be what you want, but i think most people here tend towards verisimilitude.

jk :ph34r:
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#14 Miguel Bunster

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 04:42 PM

right. I understand what you say. I was curios about scenes (like the picture) where no sky is in shot but trees and similars are backlit.
Best
M
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 05:12 PM

Understanding that you do have some latitude when shooting color negative, generally you have to decide whether the frame is mostly made up of shadows or highlights and then bias the exposure to whatever is dominent in the frame. If a tiny figure in a vast desert landscape is backlit, then you'd probably favor exposing for the ground or sky rather than the shadow side of the person, but if that person was big in frame, and behind them was a hill also shadowed because of the backlight, so most of the frame was in the shade, then you'd favor exposing for the shade.

Generally, though, even in this last case, you'd still probably expose the shade one stop under in order to still feel like it's the shadow side of the sun, rather than expose the shade fully at key.
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#16 Miguel Bunster

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 06:00 PM

David,
Thanks for your replay once again.
Thats what i have come to after some time of shooting. following what you said I have leaned to underexposing the shadow two stops in 18, some feel si to much but my actors are lighted skin and incident wise is two under but feels really good to the eye and this time I am going to telecine not a print.
How do you feel about 18 un this regard. I like it a lot and after some time have become sure enought to light by eye with it and I measure one place of the frame and let the rest fall by eye.
best
Miguel
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#17 Elliot Rudmann

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 07:52 PM

This post has been really informative, thank you David and everyone else who has given their input. I really wish I had known this information 2 weeks ago when I was shooting a sunset scene. I took a normal incidental reading pointing back at the camera and stopped down 1 stop, but the sky still ended up being really blown out. Luckily the colorist was able to bring down the exposure and pull a lot of information in the sky, but not without making it really noisy. :(
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#18 Matt Butler

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 01:39 AM

When shooting a sunset landscape or scene with a discernible horizon line or similair that doesn't "blend" too much across your foreground action or talent, then a 2 stop soft graduated ND filter works a treat, if you are able to position the grad (up or down)to suit your framing.
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