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Night exterior exposure?


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#1 Riku Naskali

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Posted 12 November 2007 - 05:13 AM

Hey,

Didn't find any particular posts about night exterior exposure. How do you generally expose your night exteriors with big backlightish moon sources? Do you keep all your sources underexposed or do you let the big backlight go even a bit hot? I've done both, but I think keeping everything under exposed looks far more realistic...? But on the other hand, there may not be any bright areas in the frame so the blacks might look a bit mushy. Any examples with exposure data...?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 November 2007 - 11:56 AM

Just depends on the content of the scene and the appropriate mood. Generally for moonlight, when it's the only source in the scene, I'll expose the backlight at key (not over or under) and then any soft light in the faces will be two stops underexposed. I figure I can always print it darker from there.

If I have to do a circular shot where the moonlight is not a backlight, then I have to underexpose a little more, maybe do a stop-pull as I move into backlight and open up more.
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#3 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 November 2007 - 06:12 PM

Hey,

Didn't find any particular posts about night exterior exposure. How do you generally expose your night exteriors with big backlightish moon sources? Do you keep all your sources underexposed or do you let the big backlight go even a bit hot? I've done both, but I think keeping everything under exposed looks far more realistic...? But on the other hand, there may not be any bright areas in the frame so the blacks might look a bit mushy. Any examples with exposure data...?


Keep in mind that midtones and even dark tones can look "bright" against black. You don't have to go all the way to white to create contrast in the frame when you're starting from black shadows/black night sky to begin with.

Here the word "contrast" is 25% luminance against black. That's like a gray card that's roughly 2 stops underexposed.
screenshot1.jpeg

Here "50%" is just that. Notice that it looks sufficiently bright against black.
screenshot3.jpeg

Realistically, at night we don't see much of anything as "overexposed" except the light sources themselves and maybe some areas immediately next to a light source (like the pole immediately under a streetlight). To that end I've always found night exteriors much more convincing when I don't let anything appear overexposed. As for camera exposure, you may choose to overexpose a little to ensure a rich negative and print/transfer down. But the idea is to end up with dark-ish luminances on screen.

Also keep in mind with backlighting that many subjects have a surface sheen (like hair, for example) that kick back a lot of light from that angle. So sometimes even a backlight exposed at key can show up as a "hot" rimlight.

Here's a digital still I shot last week and color corrected to emulate what I saw by eye. Except for the white car that clipped in camera (it certainly didn't by eye!), you'll see that almost everything is 50% or lower. Of course the light sources clip as white and provide a lot of "snap" in the frame, but the illusion of night would still be there without them.

screenshot4.jpeg
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#4 Riku Naskali

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 09:40 PM

Okay, thanks. I did almost what David said, kept my key correctly exposed and let my fill go 2.5 - 3 stops under. Well, the DOP did, I just gaffed :)

By the way, how do you meter your fill at night when using low light levels? Maybe I should trust my eyes more, but I find it a bit nerve wrecking when I can't meter my fill at all because there's not enough light. Strangely we got a lot of variation from two Sekonic meters at the low end, the other one said error while the other one just kept metering. Do you just trust your eyes?
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#5 Andrew Koch

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 04:12 AM

Okay, thanks. I did almost what David said, kept my key correctly exposed and let my fill go 2.5 - 3 stops under. Well, the DOP did, I just gaffed :)

By the way, how do you meter your fill at night when using low light levels? Maybe I should trust my eyes more, but I find it a bit nerve wrecking when I can't meter my fill at all because there's not enough light. Strangely we got a lot of variation from two Sekonic meters at the low end, the other one said error while the other one just kept metering. Do you just trust your eyes?


When the meter gives you an error because the light level is too low you can keep doubling your ISO on the meter until you get a reading and then compensate back. I find that footcandles are very helpful for low light. If your meter can read in footcandles, this might be helpful. I think eventually you can trust your eyes, but obviously this takes some experience. I would like to get to that point one day, but considering I have only been out of school for a year and a half, I still do last minute cover my ass checks. I would hate to gamble with someone else's money. I would imagine that for some of the more experienced people on here, that they know it so well that it is not a gamble at all.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 12:31 PM

If you are rating and developing a stock normally, not working on the edge of exposure and pushing to compensate, then to some extent, you can fill by eye -- if it looks balanced to your eye, it probably looks balanced on film. I've made more mistakes by over-metering and over-filling because I was scared rather than just trusting my eyes -- in other words, in generally low light levels (not super low) how it looks to your eyes is how it looks on film and if it looks wrong to your eyes because you were going by your meter, it will come out wrong on film.

That said, sometimes you learn that once you get it right, that everyone else (the director, the producers, etc.) expected it to be more lit-up afterall...
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Visual Products

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Tai Audio

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

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