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Tips for Outdoor Winter Shoot


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#1 Craig Knowles

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 02:20 PM

I've got my first outdoor winter shoot coming up in January and I was hoping to solicit some advice, tips and tricks relating to filming in cold weather. Here are the specifics of the shoot and some of my general assumptions for debate/peer review:

Specifics:
-- S16 Eclair ACL
-- Vision2 50D
-- Cold midwest winter environment and conditions. Could be snowing, very likely below freezing.
-- Snow on the ground everywhere. Most of the frame will be white.
-- Most of the material involves two people standing in the middle of a large field.
-- Ten pages of dialog
-- Several dolly shots

Assumptions:
-- I can get enough fill light on the actors from bounce cards, I can get a nice enough exposure on the actors that they don't go dark relative to the all-white background.
-- If I can get enough light from my bounces, I won't have to deal with generators, lights, flying gryphs, etc., which could make the soundpersons job even more difficult.
-- If I shoot from inside some sort of tent/closed environment/doghouse/production van, I can minimize blowing show, precipitation, etc.
-- If I keep my batteries warm and have a backup, the cold won't be an issue with regard to battery life.

Any help or sage words you can offer would be much appreciated.
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 05:52 PM

Your lighting and exposure really depend on the weather. If it's overcast you won't get much of anything from bounce boards, at least not beyond what the snow on the ground is already giving you. In tight closeups you can work a bounce in pretty close to fill in a little and add a highlight in the eyes, but that's about it. Shiny boards and mirror boards can give you a little more, but again only in closeups. The thinner the clouds the more you'll get out of them.

Your actors won't go dark unless you expose them that way, or try to pull down the overall exposure in telecine to make the snow darker. It's just that skin tones against a plain white background can look a little dull, with perhaps the illusion of being dark because of contrast. It's not video -- you don't have to underxpose faces to hold the white detail, although you might want to add light to faces to make them a little more appealing. Otherwise under flat overcast light, if you simply expose for the incident light on the person's face you'll have a normally exposed face and normally exposed snowcover in the background. There's more discussion about it here.

But as a DP think about this artistically as well as technically -- there's probably a reason this scene is set in the middle of a snowy field. Take advantage of the visual opportunities the setting provides to underscore the drama of the scene. Would dark-ish figures in gray-white environment be appropriate? Or a blinding-white background with normally exposed faces? Don't feel that you have to "normalize" or compensate for the character of the setting, when it's put there for a reason.

With 10 pages of dialogue and multiple setups (including laying dolly track), it's important to remember that the days are very short in Winter and you lose light extra-early when it's heavily overcast. Schedule accordingly.

My only bad experience with shooting film in below-freezing weather was a static buildup in the mag that caused some lightning-like streaking on the film. I'm sure others here from cold climates can give you better camera advice.
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#3 Ben Ruffell

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Posted 19 December 2007 - 04:48 PM

Just keep the camera and lenses outside in the cold environment. Don't be tempted to bring them inside a van. It is the temperature change that will give you all sorts of problems. Each night, dry them out. Keep the gear in a warm room (with heaters and dehumidifiers). In the morning it goes once from hot to cold - and you will be fine. Keep your cases out of the snow if possible. Rest them on apple boxes or tarps or magliners.

Have your batteries in insulated bags. (See my website for examples). And if it is very cold, keep them on the dolly or apple boxes.

Just expose normally. A quick and dirty check with a spot meter on snow and then expose 2 and a half stops under that reading often works well.

Good luck.

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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 12:57 AM

A few tips for you that you might not have thought of. I shot in Rochester in school and got quite comfortable shooting outdoors in the winter.

Try to stay active, especially if you are operating. Do a few jumping jacks every now and then. It will help keep you from getting stiff and perhaps sore and operating sub-par.

Over dress on your feet. Wear warmer socks/boots than you think you'll need. There's a lot of standing around that will make your feet very, very uncomfortable after a few hours.

Those chemical hand-warmers are your friend. Get the kind you boil to recharge. They get hotter for longer than the powdery type.

For block batteries, you can keep them nice and warm by wrapping them in a space blanket (shiny side in) with a hand warmer in the package. Then just keep it up off of the cold ground on an applebox or a case.

This last one is more my feeling than substantiated proven fact but: wear sunglasses. I feel that staring at something as bright as a field of snow all day can wear your eyes out and make you make poorer decisions visually than you might when your eyes are fresh.

Edited by Chris Keth, 20 December 2007 - 12:59 AM.

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#5 Paul Bruening

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 10:59 AM

This sounds really obvious but it helps: Dress in layers. The temp will vary through the day (warmer at noonish). As well, you'll have times of increased activity where you can peel off a couple of layers. You don't want to get too cold and you don't want to get too hot. You absolutely don't want to ever sweat into clothes that can't vent off the moisture quickly. Moving clothes on and off your body through the day is a pain in the butt. Getting sick during the shoot because you didn't tend to your survival is worse.
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 12:47 PM

I've got my first outdoor winter shoot coming up in January and I was hoping to solicit some advice, tips and tricks relating to filming in cold weather. Here are the specifics of the shoot and some of my general assumptions for debate/peer review:

Specifics:
-- S16 Eclair ACL
-- Vision2 50D
-- Cold midwest winter environment and conditions. Could be snowing, very likely below freezing.
-- Snow on the ground everywhere. Most of the frame will be white.
-- Most of the material involves two people standing in the middle of a large field.
-- Ten pages of dialog
-- Several dolly shots


Would an extra man help Craig? I thought filmmaking and Cleveland didn't go together anymore ;)

I have access to some silver circular reflectors if you need more than what you have. Sounds like you just have some cards.
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#7 K Borowski

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 12:54 PM

I've got my first outdoor winter shoot coming up in January and I was hoping to solicit some advice, tips and tricks relating to filming in cold weather. Here are the specifics of the shoot and some of my general assumptions for debate/peer review:

Specifics:
-- S16 Eclair ACL
-- Vision2 50D
-- Cold midwest winter environment and conditions. Could be snowing, very likely below freezing.
-- Snow on the ground everywhere. Most of the frame will be white.
-- Most of the material involves two people standing in the middle of a large field.
-- Ten pages of dialog
-- Several dolly shots


Would an extra man help Craig? I thought filmmaking and Cleveland didn't go together anymore ;) I'd be happy to offer my services as a loader, AC, added hand, assuming you have need of one

I have access to some silver circular reflectors if you need more than what you have. Sounds like you just have some cards.

As far as avoiding static marks on film, you just have to give the film time to acclaimate to the weather. Don't have room temperature film all of a sudden thrust into a 20-30 degree F environment where you will shoot it. If you're shooting in the cold and have the mags preloaded, give them a few hours to "cool down" before shooting them, or you could just keep them in the cold, like a cold garage (assuming that you don't have a dusty one).

As far as film goes, it's actually nice here this time of year to keep film in cars or trunks on cloudy, snowy days without fear of damage, although, being Cleveland, weather is always unpredictable. Keep in mind also that you will need a stretch of time where you can schedule the shoot. I tried shooting a movie in the snow in December I think two or three years ago and the damned weather was NICE the whole time I had!
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#8 Matti Poutanen

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 01:27 PM

I worked in a movie shoot in here Finland last winter, on some days it was between -25 and -30 celcius. When (or if) you have some idle time and standing still, we had something very simple but valuable: pieces of thick (like 1-2 inch) styrefoam, big enough to stand on. It insulates the cold form the ground very well, and your feet won't freeze that easily. And I agree everything about dressing well in this thread.
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 02:31 PM

I've got my first outdoor winter shoot coming up in January and I was hoping to solicit some advice, tips and tricks relating to filming in cold weather. Here are the specifics of the shoot and some of my general assumptions for debate/peer review:



The easiest thing to do would be to choose a different script that takes place in warmer weather! :P Will the writer be forced to stand out there all day with everyone else? :ph34r:
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#10 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 04:31 PM

Assumptions:
-- I can get enough fill light on the actors from bounce cards, I can get a nice enough exposure on the actors that they don't go dark relative to the all-white background.
-- If I can get enough light from my bounces, I won't have to deal with generators, lights, flying gryphs, etc., which could make the soundpersons job even more difficult.


You don't want to balance your actor's faces to make them closer to the exposure level of the snow. Besides, if there's snow everywhere, you're already getting a ton of bounce from your surroundings.

I would focus more on working with and achieving negative fill. Try watching films like "A Simple Plan": http://www.youtube.c...p;search=Search

Or the Nepal sequences of "Batman Begins". The DVD extras for Batman show some examples of how Pfister employed flags to boost the contrast a bit in a snowy atmosphere.
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#11 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 04:45 PM

But then again, adding bounce boards at the axis of the camera to create an eyelight is always a good idea. But as another idea, keep flags and scrims in mind.

Edited by Jonathan Bowerbank, 20 December 2007 - 04:45 PM.

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#12 Matthew Buick

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 05:30 PM

I've been storing my all my film under a brick outside recently. Perhaps just keeping it outside until a day or so before you need it, then putting it inside a glove compartment of a car with the engine on idle? Please just take this as theoretical, I haven't a car, or the extreme cold weather to try this out.
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#13 Ben Ruffell

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 06:11 PM

Don't leave your film outside. Don't put it in the glove box. Those are both really silly ideas.

Just treat it normally. It will be fine.
Big temperature fluctuations are where the problems are. Just keep it constant and you will be fine.

I have loaded millions of feet of film in all kinds of temperatures and I have never had a problem.

Just treat it with respect.

(Oh... and don't go doing jumping jacks on show and ice... thats an accident waiting to happen).

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#14 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 07:10 PM

I second that, about keeping film temperature constant. Although I must say, nothing sucks more than loading in a tent and having to roll up your sleeves (Gaaaah!!!) to put your arms in...I think heated changing tents would be awesome.

I hate the cold and have very little natural defense to it so I usually layer up and I move around a lot. As long as you're moving around, that's really the key. The only thing I remain frustrated with is the issue of gloves. I have yet to find a decent pair that aren't clumsy.

Oh also, drink a lot of water.
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#15 K Borowski

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 07:17 PM

Don't leave your film outside. Don't put it in the glove box. Those are both really silly ideas.

Just treat it normally. It will be fine.
Big temperature fluctuations are where the problems are. Just keep it constant and you will be fine.

[. . .]

Ben Ruffell
Cameraman
www.ruff.co.nz


I agree the post about storing film under a brick reveals the poster's puerile mentality. I hope forum moderators will remove this bit of misinformation, as it is dangerous to have someone posting here who attempts to deliberately misinform the uninformed.

However, before shooting on a cold day, I will often put the gear in a car early or leave it in my garage, loaded, the night before (not batteries, just film and mags), making sure that there are no humidity issues. It is just an added precaution to make doubly sure that the film has enough time to reach equilibrium with the surrounding environment. I have heard stories from still photographers and filmmakers who have had problems from something as minor as having a camera in the trunk of a car driving frome one shooting location to another being enough to lower the film's temperature enough to cause static marks upon commencing shooting again indoors.

It's better to be overly cautious than underly cautious when it comes to investing great deals of money in a film.
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#16 Craig Knowles

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 12:45 AM

Would an extra man help Craig? I thought filmmaking and Cleveland didn't go together anymore ;)

I have access to some silver circular reflectors if you need more than what you have. Sounds like you just have some cards.


Karl. We'd love to have you on board if you're free Jan. 19-20. I remember you contacted me awhile back through this board but when I tried to reply, your inbox was full and wouldn't accept my message. Email me off-board and I'll send you more information: craigknowles at hotmail dot com.
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#17 K Borowski

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 04:09 AM

Karl. We'd love to have you on board if you're free Jan. 19-20. I remember you contacted me awhile back through this board but when I tried to reply, your inbox was full and wouldn't accept my message. Email me off-board and I'll send you more information: craigknowles at hotmail dot com.


Craig, it's still full. I have five messages that I want to keep, but have only a five message capacity, and am too cheap to pony up the $50 to join here. So my apologies for the electronic stone wall.

Craig, is it OK if I just call you tomorrow, errr this morning? I'm to be up all night making package prints at the photo studio. Our computer there caught on fire, and I haven't gotten around to fixing it (so much for "digital workflow" in still photography ;-) ), so it'd just be easier if I could give you a buzz while working in the darkroom.

~KB
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#18 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 06:15 AM

This sounds really obvious but it helps: Dress in layers. The temp will vary through the day (warmer at noonish). As well, you'll have times of increased activity where you can peel off a couple of layers. You don't want to get too cold and you don't want to get too hot. You absolutely don't want to ever sweat into clothes that can't vent off the moisture quickly. Moving clothes on and off your body through the day is a pain in the butt. Getting sick during the shoot because you didn't tend to your survival is worse.


I was watching the Discovery channel show about that guy who goes all over the world as a survivalist. He made a really big point out not sweating when in the extreme cold. He had to dig a place to sleep overnight in the snow by digging into a snow bank and then layering the opening above him with branches and leaves. While he was digging into the snow he actually took some of his outer layers of clothing off to make sure he didn't sweat. I don't recall where he put his clothing after he took it off since leaving it in the snow would make it too cold to put back on.

He also made tea out of tree bark (I think it was tree bark???) and green things that grow in the woods by placing them in boiling water. He made a really interesting point about his dog sled. He stated that if he stepped off the dog sled and the dogs suddenly took off, he would be stranded as he would have no way to catch the dogs.

Can you imagine falling off your dog sled or just stopping to take a leak and the dogs take off and suddenly you are stranded miles and miles away from civilization, what a nasty way to freeze to death. I'm not assuming you are getting a dog sled, but if you did, don't let go or fall off the sled. By the way, this survivalist had to be "rescued" by helicopter as the lake he had sledded over started to melt and there was no way back.
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#19 timHealy

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 04:48 PM

This sounds really obvious but it helps: Dress in layers. The temp will vary through the day (warmer at noonish). As well, you'll have times of increased activity where you can peel off a couple of layers. You don't want to get too cold and you don't want to get too hot. You absolutely don't want to ever sweat into clothes that can't vent off the moisture quickly. Moving clothes on and off your body through the day is a pain in the butt. Getting sick during the shoot because you didn't tend to your survival is worse.



I agree with this sentiment about how to dress.

Also, after doing a film in Vermont in February I suggest trying to keep batteries under ones jacket with a battery cable running down your sleeve. Obviously that will only work with belt batteries or batteries that have some sort of shoulder strap, but a warm battery makes all the difference.

Also on that shoot I was using a Arri SR and we had trouble running the camera with a full magazine on it. The solution turned out to be running the camera for a minute prior to doing a shot without the mag. The slap the mag on and do the shot. I think the temperature was at the bottom end of the SR's range which I believe was -5 degrees fahrenheit.

Anyone know what the manufacturers temp range is for the ACL and what the typical weather is for Ohio in January?

No one seemed to mention it specifically, but the reason you want to bring your equipment out once and leave it out is condensation. Condensation on the lenses and optics of the camera will drive you crazy and could halt the work.

Best

Tim

Best

Tim
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#20 Matthew Buick

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 05:04 PM

I agree the post about storing film under a brick reveals the poster's puerile mentality. I hope forum moderators will remove this bit of misinformation, as it is dangerous to have someone posting here who attempts to deliberately misinform the uninformed.


The film is under a concrete slab in my garden because the weather is sufficienty cold, and room in my fridge is needed for food. We don't all have buckets of room.

I do ABSOLUTELY NOT try to misinform people. You are a slimy little worm who hates and denegrates my constantly. I quite frankly astonished at your ability for obsessiveness, I have never seen anyone in my life who can keep on finding reason to hate like you have.

And I was a terrible idiot at one time, I admit. But that time is gone, I have tried my utmost to improve my image, it's ignorant heartless people like yourself who love no more that to try and undo everything I've strived to do. I've tried to show you all the real me, and I think I've done a decent job, but it's ignorant, arrogant people like you who never seem to have enough imagination to maybe review what they think of me.

I may not have a vash technical knowledge like you do, Karl, but at least I'm happy. The way you carry on you evidently aren't.

Don't reply.

Edited by Matthew Buick, 21 December 2007 - 05:06 PM.

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