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#1 M Joel W

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 09:01 PM

Short Question: How do I deal with partly cloudy conditions on a budget? (Reflectors, no lights powerful enough to make a difference (except maybe a 100w flourescent for close ups), no butterfly).

Longer question: I have to shoot under partly cloudy conditions for a scene that will work either under completely cloudy conditions (at any time of day; this would be ideal) or in late afternoon with a clear sky. I have to shoot about 30 seconds of footage total, give or take, and it has to match--it's largely shot/reverse shot with an extremely wide master two shot. It's on a roof if this matters.

Should I delay the shoot? The forecast is 12mph winds, and "mostly sunny." I only have reflectors and weak lights (tungstens 1k and under, a 100w daylight flourescent) and no butterfly. I can't get my actors back, but I can cancel the shoot and reshoot in three months, which I don't want to do either.

How do I deal with this? I REALLY need help.

Thanks so much,

-Matt
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 09:11 PM

Well, if you don't have the tools necessary to control the daylight (large silks, large flags, large lights) then it sort of leaves accepting what God gives you that day, doesn't it? Either that or getting some of those items...

You can't get something for nothing. If you don't have the correct tools, then all you have is how you stage the scenes, what direction you look, what direction the sun is in the sky, what time of day you shoot, whether you shoot under the shade of a tree or building, what the background is, whether you use long or short lenses to manipulate the depth of field, etc.

To some degree, shooting outside requires some flexibility of concept, i.e. accepting what you get that day, weather-wise, rather than fighting it.

But it helps to have some tools to control things once you've established a look in the wide shot. But if I had a situation where I was told "OK, we're going to hike in a camera and some actors up this trail with no grip equipment other than a white card and a black flag" I'd sort of be willing to make the best of what I encountered on the day.

When I shot the opening credits to "Astronaut Farmer" I wanted clear weather to make the sand dunes more sculpted by shadows as the sun set, but it was hazy overcast. Luckily I had a black horse on white sand dunes to create contrast, and when the sun finally set, I got some amazing clouds so I shot low and silhouette against the sky. You make do.
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#3 M Joel W

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 10:06 PM

Well, if you don't have the tools necessary to control the daylight (large silks, large flags, large lights) then it sort of leaves accepting what God gives you that day, doesn't it? Either that or getting some of those items...

You can't get something for nothing. If you don't have the correct tools, then all you have is how you stage the scenes, what direction you look, what direction the sun is in the sky, what time of day you shoot, whether you shoot under the shade of a tree or building, what the background is, whether you use long or short lenses to manipulate the depth of field, etc.

To some degree, shooting outside requires some flexibility of concept, i.e. accepting what you get that day, weather-wise, rather than fighting it.

But it helps to have some tools to control things once you've established a look in the wide shot. But if I had a situation where I was told "OK, we're going to hike in a camera and some actors up this trail with no grip equipment other than a white card and a black flag" I'd sort of be willing to make the best of what I encountered on the day.

When I shot the opening credits to "Astronaut Farmer" I wanted clear weather to make the sand dunes more sculpted by shadows as the sun set, but it was hazy overcast. Luckily I had a black horse on white sand dunes to create contrast, and when the sun finally set, I got some amazing clouds so I shot low and silhouette against the sky. You make do.


This is mostly great advice (as I've noticed you usually give), but it applies more to big budget shoots, I think. I really can't afford any additional equipment.

I should have been more specific about how low budget this shoot is, though; there's basically no crew and it's on video. The plus side is that I can shoot all I want... And the set up time is next to zero. (No lights, a small tripod, no need for light meter readings.) The down side is that I have no control over light except, basically, black and white foamcore.

If I shot the master while it was overcast, could I then shoot shot/reverse while it was sunny if I held a large shower curtain over the talent? I'm trying to cover all bases here. Sunny or shady: either look is fine, but I can't have massive continuity problems. Since I'm on a roof, I can't put the talent in the shade, either. (Plus, video's poor latitude would prohibit this in the first place.)

Oh well, maybe I'm just unnecessarily worried...I only need half a minute of footage.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 10:23 PM

If I shot the master while it was overcast, could I then shoot shot/reverse while it was sunny if I held a large shower curtain over the talent?


Sure, and try to frame something darker behind their heads (like trees) so that you don't notice that they are darker under the diffusion. Use a long lens / wide aperture so you can't tell there is hard sunlight on the background because it's in soft-focus.

You know, there are degrees of budget that allow some grip & electric equipment -- it's not all feast or famine, either you have a huge budget and a lot of equipment, or no equipment at all! Even if I were doing a three-man video shoot, I may get a 8'x8' frame and diffusion material if I really felt it was necessary, or a large Photoflex, or a 1200w HMI PAR, etc. Just depends on the budget and the needs of the shoot.

Saying that my advice only applies to big budgets is simply not true. Even on the smallest feature shoots I've done, even student films, I had some grip equipment for shooting day exteriors! Spending any money is not the same as spending a lot of money -- you can't accuse someone who says "get a large diffusion frame" as only giving you big-budget advice. They are going to stop giving you any advice after awhile.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 10:37 PM

Just to piggyback onto what David has already said, when I shoot, it is mostly with very little in terms of resources and time so I am forced to "make do." That said, it doesn't mean that I have to be a victim either and wind up with a lousy looking shot. For video in this situation, don't look for trouble by placing unlit talent against bright backgrounds. Find a backdrop that has a similar "stop" to the one that is on the talent's face. If the talent is facing the sun and fully lit up, then you don't want to shoot against a darker background. Yes, it is a compromise in terms of framing, however the alternative is having a shot with a compromised exposure which almost always looks like a mistake. The audience will never know that you really wanted "that" background over there instead of the one they are looking at onscreen.

As far as the partly cloudy sky goes, you roll with it...or not as the case may be. Find breaks in the clouds and roll then. If the clouds come in during the middle of the shot, stop if possible or just do a pickup afterwards if you are going to cut the scene up anyway. Even if you were going to silk off the talent, you'd potentially still see a lighting change in your background which may or may not be what you want.

Exteriors can be tough and require a lot of patience on everyone's part. As long as the talent and director are aware of your technical limitations, you've got yourself covered.

Good luck! Oh, and wear these: B) You can use them as a "mirror" while you're shooting so you don't have to look backwards, up into the sky to see where the clouds are.
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#6 M Joel W

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 11:46 PM

Sorry if I sounded dismissive; trust me, it's the last thing I mean to be. I actually appreciate the support a tremendous amount.

This particular project is borderline home video in budget and I have no crew (maybe one person) to help, so any negative responses on my part are mostly me (unintentionally) venting my frustration that I don't have better resources, especially since this is part of a project which I've been shooting and reshooting for over a year, now, and of which I'm extremely proud but with which I'm equally frustrated.

I have some thin shower curtain that works a lot like light diffusion, so I'll see if I can build a frame out of it, and I'll buy some more foamcore as a reflector. Or would a shinier material work? I fear it would cause hotspots.

Anyhow, thanks again, and I do mean it.
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 08:11 AM

Sorry if I sounded dismissive; trust me, it's the last thing I mean to be. I actually appreciate the support a tremendous amount.

This particular project is borderline home video in budget and I have no crew (maybe one person) to help, so any negative responses on my part are mostly me (unintentionally) venting my frustration that I don't have better resources, especially since this is part of a project which I've been shooting and reshooting for over a year, now, and of which I'm extremely proud but with which I'm equally frustrated.

I have some thin shower curtain that works a lot like light diffusion, so I'll see if I can build a frame out of it, and I'll buy some more foamcore as a reflector. Or would a shinier material work? I fear it would cause hotspots.

Anyhow, thanks again, and I do mean it.


Reflecting a very shiny object at the actors tends to make them annoyed and squint. Whenever possible, go with a white reflector for a less harsh light.


And while a "silk" over the talent's heads is a good idea, if you have no crew and little equipment, don't discount the safety factor before investing any money in rigging something. If you can't fly it over them safely with proper C-stands and sandbags and people to hold it (in case a gust of wind comes up), then don't try it at all.
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#8 Matt Sandstrom

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 09:51 AM

this has sort of been addressed i guess, but decide whether it's mostly sunny or mostly cloudy, pick one, and wait every time before you roll. happens all the time, even on shoots where there's plenty of grip equipment available.

/matt
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#9 JD Hartman

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 12:55 PM

Part of succeeding is being resourceful and flexible. If you shoot the master and the light changes before you are done with the CUs, wrap production until another favorable day. But with no crew, not even friends or family to lend a hand, it makes things much more difficult. No money to rent a large overhead? Consider using the frame for a shade canopy and some muslin. But you still need some extra people to wrestle the frame and keep thing safe. No sandbags? Try 5 gallon pails filled with concrete or water (7.? pounds per gal x 4 gals=30lbs). Free pails can be found behind most resaurants (ask first) or anyplace they are doing sheetrock. What kind of grip equipment did Thomas Edison have when he shot the first film?
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#10 M Joel W

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 01:33 PM

Part of succeeding is being resourceful and flexible. If you shoot the master and the light changes before you are done with the CUs, wrap production until another favorable day. But with no crew, not even friends or family to lend a hand, it makes things much more difficult. No money to rent a large overhead? Consider using the frame for a shade canopy and some muslin. But you still need some extra people to wrestle the frame and keep thing safe. No sandbags? Try 5 gallon pails filled with concrete or water (7.? pounds per gal x 4 gals=30lbs). Free pails can be found behind most resaurants (ask first) or anyplace they are doing sheetrock. What kind of grip equipment did Thomas Edison have when he shot the first film?


He had the Black Maria! But, yeah, fair enough. The weather forecast is now "sunny" rather than "mostly sunny" so I may just start the shoot an hour or two early and make sure the weather is good. The shoot's on a roof so I'm not supposed to bring heavy equipment up, both because it could fall and because the roof isn't too strong. Heh...

But the concrete pail muslin shade canopy advice is great. I think I must have intentionally set myself up for frustration (no crew, bad conditions, prohibitive location), but if I can't use that trick now, I'll definitely be using it in the near future.

Anyhow, thanks again for all the advice. I'm still very new to cinematography, although very passionate about it, and this forum constantly proves to be invaluable.
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