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filming by real moonlight


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 02:12 AM

Tom Lowe asked me on the RedUser site about the possibility of shooting by real moonlight or starlight.

I'm out in the Mojave Desert visiting my parents, and being a full moon tonight, I decided to take my light meter and my Nikon to see what it would be like to shoot a scene by real moonlight.

Figuring that two-stops underexposed would look about right for a moonlit scene, the real moonlight, according to my incident meter, needs to be shot at 8000 ASA at f/1.3 at 24 fps with a 180 degree shutter to end up two-stops underexposed. Not in the realm of impossible for a digital camera, especially if you are willing to turn the shutter off or nearly so, or undercrank a little, for example, use 4000 ASA but a 360 degree shutter.

I took some photos, at 800 ASA, f/3.5, with a 4 second shutter speed, which is a bit more exposure than what I mentioned above:

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Just for fun, I took a photo of my car with a 30 second exposure:

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Now one thing this experiments teaches me is that a night with a full moon is a bad time if you want to see stars -- normally the desert night sky is full of stars but the moon is too bright tonight to see many.

The photos also suggest that faked day-for-night is not so far off from the look of real moonlight in the desert...
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#2 matt cooke

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 07:47 AM

Wow David, those photos are really great. The strange thing is, that after being conditioned by watching 'lit' night scenes in numerous films, they almost look fake, or as if you did shoot them day-for-night. very interesting. Thanks for posting them.
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#3 John Sprung

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 12:23 PM

Basically, the full moon is just like the sun, only 22 3/4 stops down. ;-)




-- J.S.
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#4 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 01:14 PM

Gosh, that looks beautiful!

Makes you want to shoot an entire film bathed in the atmospheric vibrancy of this mood...

We have full moon in London now, and I still have some sheets of Polaroid 667 ISO 3000 pack film in my Pathfinder... Inspirations for test shots often come unexpected...

(Hmm, Vision2 8000T...)
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#5 gustavius smith

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 01:50 PM

Great illustration. Thanks.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 01:53 PM

It's interesting how the first two shots look like I shot them DFN, used an ND grad on the sky, and added the stars in post...
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#7 Tim Terner

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 02:10 PM

DFN ?
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 02:15 PM

DFN ?


Day-for-Night
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#9 Jon Kukla

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 02:21 PM

Interesting tests. I've been thinking about moonlight a lot this past week, as far as trying to film it.

I actually liked what Eric Gautier did in Pola X for the scene where the protagonist first meets his half-sister Isabelle; as they walk into the woods in the night, the shot cuts to what looks like very underexposed b/w footage. It's exposed enough to see the entire forest, but dim enough that you don't feel like there's any lighting. The copy I watched was only mid-quality, so I may be seeing things, but I could've sworn I saw just the very slightest, almost subliminal, amount of color in frame. I'm guessing that they shot it in overcast day, well underexposed (and if I'm right about the color, desaturated it down to single digits). It might also be an interesting idea, doing a color night scene by using b/w with very slight tinting in post. Since the moonlight is so pale and dim, you can get away with virtually no color information if you keep your exposure low and avoid brash colored costumes.
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#10 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 03:26 PM

It's interesting how the first two shots look like I shot them DFN, used an ND grad on the sky, and added the stars in post...


What are you talking about David, clearly they ARE fakes... :P

moonlit1_5.jpg

I think it also illustrates what I was saying in another thread, that the absence of red saturation is essential to creating a convincing illusion of moonlight. Since these pictures were taken by a camera in real moonlight, the sensors are still seeing red "normally," albeit white-balanced for tungsten (I presume). But our eyes/brain don't see red that way under such dim conditions.

Here I white balanced the images toward cyan and lowered the overall saturation to match the apparent blue saturation of the originals. Since there's not much red in the photos it's hard to tell the difference, but if you look at the warmth of the desert sand and brush and the saturation of the car you can see that it's become more monochrome, more like the way we perceive real moonlight.

moonlit1_4.jpg

moonlit2_3.jpg
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#11 Matthew Buick

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 06:13 PM

They are beautiful, David. I've always loved Moonlight. Nice car, by the way. I't looks haunted in that first shot. :lol:
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 06:27 PM

Yes, I set the camera to tungsten-balance for a blue effect -- if I had used daylight-balance, then the longest exposure shot would look completely normal in color values since the moon is just reflecting the sun.

The reason moonlight feels more monochromatic in real life is that your rods work better than your cones in low light, and the cones in your eye perceive color. I also found it near impossible to focus on anything sharply, through the lens or with my eyes, because it was like a lens with a wide-open iris -- the pictures are sharper than what my eyes could perceive at night.
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#13 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 07:09 PM

I also found it near impossible to focus on anything sharply, through the lens or with my eyes, because it was like a lens with a wide-open iris -- the pictures are sharper than what my eyes could perceive at night.


Yes, this is something I've always wanted to play with also -- using something like a heavy Black Pro Mist or Soft FX to simulate that soft-focus look you see in real life. But inevitably the need to follow the action on a dark screen usually wins out, and you do it all with lighting and exposure.
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#14 David Venhaus

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 09:59 PM

Yes, I set the camera to tungsten-balance for a blue effect -- if I had used daylight-balance, then the longest exposure shot would look completely normal in color values since the moon is just reflecting the sun.

Here is an example of daylight balanced film, shot under a full moon but overcast sky. Looks like night-for-day, since the stars are not visible. Though not a very interesting picture, it demonstrates the normal looking color values, as if it were taken in overcast daylight. - Fuji Velvia 100asa- 30 min. exposure at f2.8
Posted Image

Edited by David A Venhaus, 27 September 2007 - 10:00 PM.

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#15 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 10:56 PM

Though not a very interesting picture...[/img]


Wait a minute, isn't that one of the background plates from 2001: A Space Odyssey? :P

screenshot6.jpeg
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#16 David Venhaus

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 11:25 PM

Wait a minute, isn't that one of the background plates from 2001: A Space Odyssey? :P

Yeah, the rocks do look almost the same. Forgot to mention, my picture is from Joshua Tree Nation Park, also in the Mojave desert.
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#17 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 11:29 PM

The first time I saw J Tree I was AC'ing a music video there. We drove out at night under a full moon, and turned the headlights off. To this day I don't think I've ever seen a more spectacular natural vista...
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#18 Felipe Perez-Burchard

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 11:40 AM

Figuring that two-stops underexposed would look about right for a moonlit scene, the real moonlight, according to my incident meter, needs to be shot at 8000 ASA at f/1.3 at 24 fps with a 180 degree shutter to end up two-stops underexposed. Not in the realm of impossible for a digital camera, especially if you are willing to turn the shutter off or nearly so, or undercrank a little, for example, use 4000 ASA but a 360 degree shutter.

I took some photos, at 800 ASA, f/3.5, with a 4 second shutter speed, which is a bit more exposure than what I mentioned above:

The photos also suggest that faked day-for-night is not so far off from the look of real moonlight in the desert...


The 30 second picture is really educational in terms of the quality of light of a full moon isn't it ; it might be a bounce source, but its so far away it just looks like the sun when the fill level is the same...

I think an important thing in DFN though is using shallow DOF to mimic the effect that our eyes are doing, do you think? I was wondering why you shot the stills at f/3.5, was it just the limitation of your lens?

When you say you could get there using 360 shutter and 4000 ASA, do you mean to get to that ASA using say 3 stops of gain on a 500 ASA camera (given that under-cranking doesn't give you more exposure on digital cameras)?

Thanks for this great post... its something I think of a lot!
:)

Best,

-felipe
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 12:12 PM

I think an important thing in DFN though is using shallow DOF to mimic the effect that our eyes are doing, do you think? I was wondering why you shot the stills at f/3.5, was it just the limitation of your lens?

When you say you could get there using 360 shutter and 4000 ASA, do you mean to get to that ASA using say 3 stops of gain on a 500 ASA camera (given that under-cranking doesn't give you more exposure on digital cameras)?


Sure undercranking gives you more exposure on a digital movie camera. You run the camera at 12 fps with a 360 degree shutter and your exposure time is 1/12th of a second per frame.

You could gain three stops of exposure by boosting the gain by two stops and opening the shutter from 180 to 360 degrees, for example. Or boost the gain by one stop, open the shutter from 180 to 360 degrees, and drop the frame rate from 24 to 12 fps for a total of three stops more exposure.

Yes, my Nikon 18-55mm zoom is limited to f/3.5 at the wide-angle position, and only f/5.6 when zoomed-in. I'd love a faster zoom that didn't go dark at the telephoto end...
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#20 Stephen Williams

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 12:40 PM

Yes, my Nikon 18-55mm zoom is limited to f/3.5 at the wide-angle position, and only f/5.6 when zoomed-in. I'd love a faster zoom that didn't go dark at the telephoto end...


Hi David,

Sigma have a couple of Zooms 18-50 & 50 - 150 both f 2.8 that don't ramp, sort of lenses that might get rebuilt for 4K digital cameras :lol:

Stephen
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