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Advice for seeing out window behind talent


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#1 dan brockett

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 05:52 PM

Hi all:

Scouted a location yesterday. Director wants to shoot talent in foreground with view behind them out of 25th floor high-rise with LA skyline behind talent. Like a schmuck, I did not bring my lightmeter, this was strictly a scout for location and sound so I didn't even think to bring it (original concept did not involve seeing out windows)

Here is where I need your experience.

Tiny crew doing this shoot on HD. Lighting package is small, no generator, small tungsten (1k is the biggest) package but I do own two of my own Diva 200s with daylight tubes that I can bring. I would like to ND the window but it's a large window, we won't have the time and crew to do it right, I think. We have limited access to this location and a tight schedule.

If director wants to see the city skyline behind talent, we have a small lighting package and scant time, do you think using a 4x4 or 6x6' frame with double netting behind talent would lower contrast ratio enough to capture outside daylight with inside exposure on talent using either both Diva 200s as key or a 1k open face through a Chimera (yeah, I would lose most of it's punch with the CTB, I know) What I really need is a 1200 watt HMI but no budget for it.

Looking for someone who has low end HD shooting experience that would know, I know that this camera doesn't have a whole lot of latitude and my problem is that I don't have any lighting horsepower to balance the contrast out. Would a double net do it or do you think I would need to use ND instead?

Camera will be Panasonic HVX-200. On the plus side, windows look like they may have some dirt on them and perhaps some polarizing/ND type of treatment (slight) already since they are a western facing window with a lot of exposure during the day. Shoot will take place in AM so we won't have direct sun blasting us.

Opinions welcomed.

Dan

Edited by dan brockett, 21 February 2008 - 05:55 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 06:33 PM

No, Double-Net won't be enough probably (it's only a one-stop loss, like ND.30) plus it softens the background as if it were out of focus.

You need to either get them to spend the money on ND, get them to spend the money on HMI's, or get the director to change his concept, or shoot the shot when it is darker outside.
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#3 Michael Collier

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 06:45 PM

if a warmer look inside (or a colder look outside) works for the concept, you can always use 1/2 CTB and balance accordingly. You'll be really pressed for exposure, and you'd have to forget softlighting, but you might be able to get close to what your looking for as far as exposure. But to truely get the outside, you are pretty much limited to ND. If you ND one of the windows and not the other, you can maintain a lot of the ambient light, which would reserve your lights for key. This assumes there will be one windown never on camera however.
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#4 Christopher Santucci

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 09:52 PM

You could try and work the range so a luma key is possible for the window, OR rig a small blue or greenscreen outside the window.

Then shoot a plate shot of the skyline from the window.

Edited by Christopher Santucci, 21 February 2008 - 09:52 PM.

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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 12:24 AM

Yep, even the 1200w HMI won't be enough for that.

I've been tossed that situation numerous times at the last second ("What do you think about shooting him with the city in the background?"). Without significant time to ND the windows (based on how much firepower you have to hit the talent with), it won't happen.

Something that could help a bit would be to shoot that shot with the DCC on.

I've been able to knock backgrounds down with the Westcott Scrimjim, but you need some distance to make it work without seeing the scrim. Maybe if you had an 800w HMI (you can power that from the wall) or two to shoot through a 4x4 silk... and enough distance behind the talent to put up a Scrimjim....and at least a ND9 gel on the window (at least in the part you'll be seeing), then maybe it could work. But that would definitely require a test.
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#6 dan brockett

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 05:36 PM

Yep, even the 1200w HMI won't be enough for that.

I've been tossed that situation numerous times at the last second ("What do you think about shooting him with the city in the background?"). Without significant time to ND the windows (based on how much firepower you have to hit the talent with), it won't happen.

Something that could help a bit would be to shoot that shot with the DCC on.

I've been able to knock backgrounds down with the Westcott Scrimjim, but you need some distance to make it work without seeing the scrim. Maybe if you had an 800w HMI (you can power that from the wall) or two to shoot through a 4x4 silk... and enough distance behind the talent to put up a Scrimjim....and at least a ND9 gel on the window (at least in the part you'll be seeing), then maybe it could work. But that would definitely require a test.


Hi Bryan:

Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately, no access to shoot tests, this is a limited access high security building, we are barely getting access to even do the shoot there. A couple of more questions for you?

1. If I was able to purchase and hang ND, this shot is on the 25th floor of a high rise. There is no access to outside of the windows, we would have to hang ND inside. Is that possible? Will it look okay or would it be too reflective?

2. If it would work to hang ND on the interior of the window, how is it affixed to the glass? Just taped up at the top and bottom out of frame? What about the middle seam between the two or three pieces? Do you just butt up the seams as best you can? I have hired some grips who have squeegied it onto glass with soapy water but I have never done this. I have a three person crew for this shoot so whatever is done with this window, I have to do it myself and do it quickly. Any advice?

I was able to get the producer to give me an HMI 1200 watt PAR so I think I am okay on lighting, I can used CTB on my smaller tungsten instruments for hair/kicker but I am curious on if it were you, if you would use ND 6 or ND 9 for this shot? I suppose, assuming it is sunny, I should go for the ND 9? I still have access to a 6x6' butterfly as well with single and double net. I need the talent to look smooth and reasonably naturally lit so I guess that means knocking down the outdoor window as much as possible so I don't have to blast the talent with too much light?

Thanks,

Dan
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 05:54 PM

You need to scout the location with a spot meter, because you have no idea how much ND the real window already has. If you are really limited to a 1200w HMI, then odds are high that you should get the ND.90 gel, but again, what if this office has heavy ND already?

You can put gel on the inside, you'll just have to be neater about where it joins the sides of the window frame, unless that part is behind curtains. Double-sided tape or snot tape can be used, or soapy water and a squeegee I guess (I haven't done that myself.) You have to put it up carefully to pull the wrinkles / folds out.

A better but more expensive alternative is panels of ND acrylic sheets, which can be cut to fit the windows. Fast to put on and take off though.
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#8 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 06:23 PM

How "neat" the gel has to go on depends on how much of the window you'll wind up actually seeing. If this was a narrative or the like where'd you'd be doing multiple setups around the room, then hiding your work would of course be important.

But usually for an interview, you'll only see a small portion of whatever background you're aiming at so you can get away with more. That helps because time, resources, and crew are generally tight or non-existent.

That said, sure, you can hang the ND on the inside. I carry a roll of N9 around with me in case of emergencies. As luck would have it, most windows I have to shoot "at" are about the same width so I don't have to worry about too much trimming. The top or bottom can just hang over while I secure it with 2" paper tape in order to smooth out as many wrinkles or waves as possible. Down and dirty, but very effective. As long as there aren't any glares from your units hitting the gel, you can double, triple, etc. the gel until you get the background stop down to acceptable levels. Layering takes some extra work, but it can help.

As far as testing goes, you can do a little before you ever get to that room. If you have the unit your going to key with, fire it up with whatever diffusion you have in mind and put your meter on it at about 6' away (the hypothetical distance from lens to talent). That should give you the stop you'll likely be at. Then go to your own favorite window that looks out into the sky and meter that. Now you've got both numbers and you'll have a pretty good idea just how much ND you'll have to throw on the hero window. It won't be exact, but it should get you pretty close.
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#9 dan brockett

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:00 PM

How "neat" the gel has to go on depends on how much of the window you'll wind up actually seeing. If this was a narrative or the like where'd you'd be doing multiple setups around the room, then hiding your work would of course be important.

But usually for an interview, you'll only see a small portion of whatever background you're aiming at so you can get away with more. That helps because time, resources, and crew are generally tight or non-existent.

That said, sure, you can hang the ND on the inside. I carry a roll of N9 around with me in case of emergencies. As luck would have it, most windows I have to shoot "at" are about the same width so I don't have to worry about too much trimming. The top or bottom can just hang over while I secure it with 2" paper tape in order to smooth out as many wrinkles or waves as possible. Down and dirty, but very effective. As long as there aren't any glares from your units hitting the gel, you can double, triple, etc. the gel until you get the background stop down to acceptable levels. Layering takes some extra work, but it can help.

As far as testing goes, you can do a little before you ever get to that room. If you have the unit your going to key with, fire it up with whatever diffusion you have in mind and put your meter on it at about 6' away (the hypothetical distance from lens to talent). That should give you the stop you'll likely be at. Then go to your own favorite window that looks out into the sky and meter that. Now you've got both numbers and you'll have a pretty good idea just how much ND you'll have to throw on the hero window. It won't be exact, but it should get you pretty close.


Thanks again for the advice guys. This is a spokesperson direct to camera sort of setup. I am asking the director in what sort of framing she wants to see the talent but I will suspect it is medium, then a CU so I can probably cover just a portion of that window anyway, I won't have to worry about the outer edges, probably just the seam where I join two pieces. The window is large, 14' wide by 10' high.

In both of your experience, if the sunlight is sidelight on the LA skyline, and I am using a 1200 watt HMI through a medium Chimera with an eggcrate as my key, in pretty close, do you think just using ND 9 and or 6 will cover it? I would like to forget about the net, I don't think I will want or need the 6x6 net for diffusion, just the knock down of the ND for the output from the sunny window. Barry, I cannot get access back to this location before the shoot to do tests to even take light meter readings. Based upon the scout, it looked to me like there was at least some diffusion built in to the window and there was definitely some dirt on the glass as well.

At this point, my game plan is to try to buy an extra hour from the producer and just get in there and ND the window before the shot. I am going to pickup a roll of ND 6 as well as 9 so I will have some choices.

Let me know if you think it will work out with my game plan.

All my best,

Dan

Edited by dan brockett, 24 February 2008 - 09:01 PM.

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#10 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:29 PM

The buildings aren't the issue... the sky is. Without seeing the "shot" it's difficult to predict exactly what is going to fill the space behind the talent's head. You're at the mercy of whatever happens to be sitting outside that window. You may not get the best shot if the horizon is too high or too low. Or if the clouds move in and obliterate the view. Or if it's dark and rainy. Or if it's bright and sunny and the ND you put up isn't working (not enough, glares you can't remove, etc.) With that in mind, since it's likely a somewhat tight shot (moving in to tighter) anyway, what exactly is the point of having a skyline behind the guy?

It's not really ours to ask that question, but presumably, they'll want the background to be in focus (or just slightly out). I only bring this up because without a scout of the location and the shaky weather we've been having, your shot could turn to mush just as easily as it could be brilliant. Depending on a host of factors, you may find yourself shooting wide open which could drop your dof out so far as to render the point of the skyline moot.

If it was me (and it's not), I'd be apt to suggest to the Producer that it could be a better option to shoot the talent against greenscreen and comp a beautiful skyline shot in later. That guarantees great lighting on the talent and a far more relaxed shoot for him to "perform" in instead of one where you may be pulling your hair out because the sky is blown out or suddenly goes too dark because of weather. Anytime you're (we're) dealing with day exteriors without proper equipment, personnel and resources, we're just asking for trouble. Sometimes it works out, but what if it doesn't and trouble could have been avoided?

It's not for us (the Cameramen) to decide such things, but I feel as if it's our responsibility to inform and "guide" decisions that help us do the best job possible as well as to help create the best project overall.

My .02. ;)
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#11 dan brockett

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:56 PM

Well, this is for a new client of the director and I agree, the shot will be hit and miss. But they are asking for it with hardly any budget or crew so I have told them we will have a plan B if the shot isn't working.

FWIW, I took this on the scout the other day and yes, it was raining so it was pretty cloudy. If it's sunny on the shoot day, I understand that this would look a lot different. I can position talent so that I can get a nice framing as far as BG but I do agree, shooting it on green and compositing could look better.

Posted Image

Thanks for your advice.

Dan
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