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Lighting night exteriors


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#1 conrad george

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 03:14 AM

Hi All,

I'm new to this forum, so I apologise in advance if my questions are to low level. But I would appreciate some help. I'm shooting on video, with Canon XLH1s on standard def.

I'm shooting a night exterior scene with limited practical lights. I'm conscious of creating enough additional light to sufficiently light the actors but worried about flooding the scene with too much light and losing the night effect. I was thinking about using a couple (or maybe three) 2Ks at a distance just to provide enough general light to shoot with. I had thought to use some red heads as key lights which would give me some contrast? But I can't do this in the wide shots (there are some quite wide shots mixed in with close fighting shots), plus i'm worried about matching lighting.

I'm also shooting a scene in a car at night driving along a road. This raises similar questions. I want to have enough light to shoot with, but want to make sure it looks like night. We are thinking about staging it on a trailer on a back road. I was thinking about rigging up some lights (maybe a bank of kinos) and then simulating some passing light sources manually by flashing them across the actors?

One final question. I want to use a light meter, but i'm not sure how to set it up if i'm using video i.e. what do I use as the ASA and shutter speed? With reference to the first question should i underexpose the shots?

Any assistance would be appreciated!

Cheers
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#2 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 08:31 AM

Not that I want you to be unprepared, but, things will be a lot clearer when you're looking through the camera.

You can lay out all your lights, then if it's too much, you can turn some of them off. Generally, your backgrounds look better if you light them at a raking angle. A common trick is to hide your lights on the ground behind 2'x3' or 4'x4' solids.
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#3 Micah Kovacs

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 10:33 AM

I've noticed that night car interiors are most realistic when lighting is minimal. You wouldn't even need to have a moving vehicle.

I would try a mini-flo "car kit" mounted in the dashboard/instrument panel, and use that as your only constant light source on the talent.
Then you can put a fresnel in front of the car and have someone tilt it up and vertically across the car. It sounds too simple but it should look like a street lamp is passing over - you can gel it to match those low pressure sodium lamps too. You can also gel the mini-flo slightly blue or even slightly green to match the light coming off the dash.

I'm not sure exactly how you'd manage tilting the fresnel over and over, but it would be a lot easier than a moving source and I think a fresnel matches the quality of a streetlight better than a larger kino.
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#4 David Regan

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 11:27 AM

My friend accomplished the car shot by putting the car on the back of a flatbed, and then was able to light from the flatbed, and then had the truck drive down the road, thus achieving the moving lights in the background. There is a picture in this thread:

http://www.cinematog...p;hl=Goot Times

As for the video camera's ASA, I'm not the best person to describe it, but I have come across the subject many times on this site, so search the threads and you will be able to find your answer.

Good Luck
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#5 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 11:44 AM

One final question. I want to use a light meter, but i'm not sure how to set it up if i'm using video i.e. what do I use as the ASA and shutter speed? With reference to the first question should i underexpose the shots?


I usually get a grey card, zoom in on it then hit the auto-iris to see what the camera's own meter determines. Then I set my ASA so it read the same f-stop as the camera. For instance, with the DVX100, I find I usually get an ASA of 500 or so. And I generally try to underexpose just a little bit, but not so much that I'm sacrificing my actors' faces.
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#6 Michael Nash

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 05:57 PM

Try taking your camera to the locations during a tech scout and shoot some test footage to see what the ambient & practical light gives you. Shoot some stand-ins in the framings you're thinking of using, and see what works and what's missing. Make sure to note your exposure and gain settings for refernce. Of course most of it will probably be too dark, but your test footage will give you a good idea of where to start your lighting.

Adding your own lighting at night takes some practice and skill, but start by trying to emulate realistic sources (streetlamps, storefront windows, etc.). Backlighting and edgelighting night exteriors is the easiest way to add some detail to the frame without killing all the natural ambience or "night" look. When adding key lights, take care to blend them into the existing lighting as much as possible. The biggest mistake I see people make when attempting night exteriors for the first time is having their lights too bright. Any light that's visible at night typically needs to be slightly underexposed to look convincing on camera. Most visible light at night stays concentrated in pools near the light source, and only very low-level ambience penetrates the background. So if you've got a bright light that's lighting up the background, you know you've done something wrong! And of course, carefully flag your lighting so that it only hits the subject your trying to light, and doesn't spill everywhere else.

Your car scene is perfect for poor-man's process. If the car is travelling down a country road at night, not only would you not see anything in the background on camera anyway, but you wouldn't miss it when doing PMP.

I could tell you how to use your light meter with a video camera, but I won't. ;) It will only confuse you on a shoot where it sounds like you have your hands full already. Instead, concentrate on properly exposing the video image.
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#7 conrad george

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Posted 12 July 2007 - 02:33 AM

Hi all,

Thanks for the tip on the mini flow car kit. I'm going to test it out this weekend before the shoot with the XLH1. Hopefully this will avoid a more complicated set up. Will keep you posted and may seek some more advice Monday.

PMP? The car scene is meant to be a highway, but i figured i'd stage it on a back road and try to simulate the highway?

David checked out your mate Matt's page. Looks good. The car set up was kind of what i was planning. The steering wheel and front window frame seemed a little hot but thats a triviality really. I liked the overall look.

Thanks for the tip Jonathon, I'll give that a go with the greyscale. I'm intrigued to know more though! Michael, if you have a chance and feel like elaborating i'd like to hear your thoughts too. It maybe overload, but i'd appreciate your insight.

I'm also going to do a test shoot this weekend at the Park to check out light levels. As you suggested Michael, i'm going to see what i can get and work up. I think i was going to be creating too much light. So I'm going to switch to trying to generate some light sources from above rather than ground level, which will be more intuitive and hopefully control the levels a bit better.

Cheers all!!! I really appreciate your assistance, and sorry for all the questions.

Conrad :)
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#8 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 July 2007 - 05:12 PM

PMP? The car scene is meant to be a highway, but i figured i'd stage it on a back road and try to simulate the highway?

Thanks for the tip Jonathon, I'll give that a go with the greyscale. I'm intrigued to know more though! Michael, if you have a chance and feel like elaborating i'd like to hear your thoughts too. It maybe overload, but i'd appreciate your insight.


I meant that a "back road" may not give you enough lights and/or lit subjects to really see out the window anyway, so then you'd be going through the hassle of process photography just to see black in the BG. At that point, it actually looks better to do PMP.

Metering video cameras has been discussed many times, so try a search. In general what you're trying to do is get your light meter to agree with whatever you determine to be a "proper" exposure on your lens. You can start with shooting an 18% gray card (not a gray scale) and using the auto iris, but be aware that the auto-iris may not give you a "proper" exposure. Many times the auto iris in cameras is set too high, and will put gray up around 60 IRE or higher. You want it between 45-55% for a "normal" look and a predictable response for the "average" scene. If your camera displays percentages (like the DVX does) you can find the exposure that way, or shoot some tests and import them into an NLE that includes a waveform monitor and check the luminance that way. In any case, you'll want to adjust the ASA on your meter until it matches the reading on the lens, using whatever shutterspeed you're shooting with (generally 1/48 for 24P; 1/60 for interlaced video).

Metering an actual scene can be tricky though, since video doesn't respond like film to different light values. Exposing for a proper midtone may give you highlights that clip, and adjustments to your image like different gamma settings or black levels can throw your standard of reference out of whack unless you take them into account. So while it can be helpful to know the general sensitivity of your camera and to use your meter for pre-lighting, Final lighting and and exposure should always be done by a properly calibrated monitor and/or waveform monitor. More often than not you'll spend too much time trying to reconcile the discrepancies between your light meter and the image on screen, when the image on screen is all that counts.
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#9 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 12 July 2007 - 08:15 PM

It is indeed tricky, which is why I mainly use my meter for determining contrast ratios and just for quick checks to see if available light has changed dramatically.
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