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Interior House Lighting at Night


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#1 Chris Durham

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 11:50 AM

Hey guys, I've got some ideas and I've done a search here and a couple other places to augment them. I'm shooting a break-in/shoot out scene at night on an XL2 with limited lighting resources - Lowell DV lights: 750w Tota, 500w Rifa (softbox), 500w Omni, & 250w Pro. I also have a couple of photofloods and worklights I could diffuse if needed, but I can't really gel them. I don't have a way to gel the softbox either. I'm really limited.

The setup is like this: The bad guys are in the large foyer the good guys come into the foyer from further back in the house and the gunfight happens in the foyer. Sounds like I'm playing cops & robbers when put that way, but there it is.

I'm thinking of blue gelling the 500w Omni outside a window as my key, throwing the Rifa into the kitchen to spill light around the corner where my good guys are, and blue gelling and bouncing the Pro off a surface to add a little ambient light and pick up some details. I suppose the details of what I can gel aren't all that important since it's digital and I can correct easily in post.

Any suggestions or amendments to this plan?
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#2 Drew Ott

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 10:09 PM

It really depends on the look you're going for.

To sell the night effect, one method is to fill the room with daylight balanced ambient light (china balls, Kino, HMI through the window, etc.) and have 3200k balanced practicals everywhere you can.
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#3 Chris Durham

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 10:11 AM

What I did was shined the 750 Tota through the window to the left of the foyer. I put the 250 Pro in a sill above the door where there was a little window. and then I found a ledge where I could raise the 500 Omni within inches of the ceiling (which was around 18' I think) and flooded the room. The only reason I did the Omni at all, was that one actor had a really dark complexion that wasn't showing detail because where I had her standing there was blocked from the Tota by a pillar. Everything was gelled blue and I can always make it darker in post so I went that way. Really I think there were only a couple of angles where it was a big deal.

The thing I would have done if I had the gel would be to have replaced the Omni with the Rifa softbox and gel for better diffusion. Maybe I should have tried bouncing it off an umbrella, but I think that would have been a bit harsher. Also, if I had it, I think a diffused 250w on her would help overcome the skin tone issues while not killing my sources.

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Drew, In the scene, there really are no practicals - except a little spill from the kitchen and outside light that have very little effect on the room. So I understand what you're saying though, use Daylight sources through the windows and tungsten practicals; but do I gel the windows or daylights. I wanted the scene to have that cliche moonlit look. So what do I need to do? How would I white balance or what stock would I use if shooting film? Just trying to learn. Thanks
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#4 Drew Ott

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 10:06 PM

Well you can color correct if you want the scene to look more like blue.

What would help sell night time is having dark areas and light areas. Right now everything is pretty evenly lit. Having most of the scene fall off into shadows and motivated areas of brightness will help a lot.
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#5 Chris Durham

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 11:23 PM

Yeah, that was the idea, and I kind of got that in the first one (other takes of it actually has the background totally unlit), but getting in enough light around the obstacles to light her face made me throw more light. Working with limited resources, you know? You live you learn.
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#6 Matt Read

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 03:26 PM

Chris,

You're images look flat. That's because they aren't using the camera's full latitude.

All images, no matter what time of day they are supposed to take place at, should have tones ranging from completely unexposed to completely overexposed. When working with video it is especially important to always have something in frame that is slightly overexposed. This usually ends up being the white of an actor's eye in a close-up or a highlight or reflection somewhere on the set.

When you don't use the full latitude of your recording medium, be it film or video, you end up with something that looks underexposed, or like a day-for-night shot.

The key to making something look like night is the fill light, or lack thereof. Always have a key light and properly expose for it. When shooting a night scene, it's usually, but not always best to have the key coming from behind your actors, somewhere between right behind them and directly to the side of them. This way the least amount of their body is lit. Then add your fill light.

As for the set, it looks like you have some pretty nice stuff going on, but again it's too flat. There isn't enough contrast. Get rid of most of your fill light and leave (or maybe boost) your accent lights.

Take a look at some movies with night scenes and see what other DPs do. "The Assassination of Jesse James," "Batman Begins," "Eyes Wide Shut" and "After Hours" come to mind as good examples.

Hope this was helpful.
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#7 Chris Durham

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 04:10 PM

All images, no matter what time of day they are supposed to take place at, should have tones ranging from completely unexposed to completely overexposed. When working with video it is especially important to always have something in frame that is slightly overexposed.


Thanks Matt. That's a great piece of advice. I'll keep it in mind next time I'm shooting and see how it effects my results. It was my original intention to achieve this kind of latitude in camera, but on seeing the need to bump the light I went to plan B, which is to create it in post. I'll post shots of the final output. Of course, getting a better look in camera is my goal and so I'm wondering what kind of tips you might be able to give to this end. How can I better capture unexposed and overexposed tones and the range between? Can you suggest camera settings? Lighting techniques (well, these you already did but any other thoughts from other folks?)?

thanks for the help
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#8 Matt Read

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 10:34 AM

You should be able to use your camera's full latitude no matter what the settings are. Like I said, it's really all a matter of controlling your fill light and setting a proper exposure on the camera.

What it looks like you've done in these three pictures is try to make your scene look like night by stopping down. Unfortunately, that only makes your images look underexposed.

Here's what you need to do:
First, light your set. It's a night scene, so probably not too much. Simulating some moonlight or a street light through a window should be enough. It's a matter of preference on how bright this light should be. Somewhere between two stops under and two stops over should be good.

Second, bring in your actors (or stand-ins if you have them) and set their key lights. Like I said previously, for a night scene, setting the light somewhere between being a side light and a back light will keep your scene looking like night by not having too much light on your talent.

Third, set your exposure on the camera. You said you were working with an XL2, so you might be tempted to do this without a meter because you can just look at the LCD screen, but that's a bad idea. Get a lightmeter and find out what your camera's effective ASA is (DV is usually around 300 ASA, but find out for certain. Call Canon if you have to.). Set the iris on the camera so that the key light on your actor is properly exposed.

Fourth, step back and look at your scene. It's probably too dark still because you have no fill light. How much fill light you add is your discretion. The less you have the harsher (more film noir-like) your image will be. You could give the entire set a wash of fill light from a heavily-diffused and -scrimmed down light. You could also only give certain areas a bit of fill light by using barndoors or flags.

Fifth, add in any other lights you care to add. Maybe a rim light for your hero or a random accent light on something in the background. If you go for the rim light, let it blow out a little bit and this will be your something completely over-exposed. If you don't want the rim light, a reflection off a gun or a window will probably be providing your over-exposed area already.

I know that you are stuck doing it now, but in the future, never depend on your post work-flow to get the look you want, especially with video and especially when you are trying to brighten something on video. On film, you've got to preserve your blacks because once the film is exposed, you can't stop light from passing through it. On video, you've got to preserve your whites because once you've recorded something, you can't make there be more of it without introducing tons of noise. You'd be much better off having a raw image that looks too bright and then crushing the blacks in post.

I hope that's helpful. Feel free to ask more questions. Best of luck.
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#9 Chris Durham

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 01:52 PM

Hey Matt,

Thanks for all the advice. There are a couple points on here that I want to answer to; but I also want to drop a diagram on here to give you a little perspective. (not exactly to scale though)

Posted Image

You should be able to use your camera's full latitude no matter what the settings are. Like I said, it's really all a matter of controlling your fill light and setting a proper exposure on the camera.

What it looks like you've done in these three pictures is try to make your scene look like night by stopping down. Unfortunately, that only makes your images look underexposed.


Actually, this is shot wide open between f/1.8 and f/2.4 I think, depending on the zoom. The XL2's 3x wide is becoming my go-to lens and that's what was used in all three of these, but not on the entire shoot. I've got a rule about never going above 0db gain, and of course keeping everything at 1/48 shutter so in a situation like this I have to stop the camera all the way up.

Here's what you need to do:
First, light your set. It's a night scene, so probably not too much. Simulating some moonlight or a street light through a window should be enough. It's a matter of preference on how bright this light should be. Somewhere between two stops under and two stops over should be good.


See the diagram. This was the intention of the 750W Tota. That damn pillar blocked the light from her face. Without it, or if she'd been lighter-complected, I think that light would have sufficed. So I was faced with putting her somewhere else or making other concessions. Without much room to move and make a gunfight work, I went with the latter. Something I wish I had was another 250w with a softbox - I think by just pointing that at her I could have gotten what I want without having to make those concessions. (Or I could have knocked the pillar out - but it's my boss's house and I don't think his wife would approve).

Second, bring in your actors (or stand-ins if you have them) and set their key lights. Like I said previously, for a night scene, setting the light somewhere between being a side light and a back light will keep your scene looking like night by not having too much light on your talent.

Third, set your exposure on the camera. You said you were working with an XL2, so you might be tempted to do this without a meter because you can just look at the LCD screen, but that's a bad idea. Get a lightmeter and find out what your camera's effective ASA is (DV is usually around 300 ASA, but find out for certain. Call Canon if you have to.). Set the iris on the camera so that the key light on your actor is properly exposed.


You, know, I went out and bought a Spectra IV and followed some tips on rating ASA for my camera; but none of the readings ever seemed to jibe with anything reasonable. Of course since then my knowledge and experience have grown so maybe it's time to pull it back out and start running some tests.

Fourth, step back and look at your scene. It's probably too dark still because you have no fill light. How much fill light you add is your discretion. The less you have the harsher (more film noir-like) your image will be. You could give the entire set a wash of fill light from a heavily-diffused and -scrimmed down light. You could also only give certain areas a bit of fill light by using barndoors or flags.


I really wish I'd been able to gel my softbox. I wouldn't call it heavily diffused and scrimmed-down, but I think it would have provided better fill than the Omni I was using.

Fifth, add in any other lights you care to add. Maybe a rim light for your hero or a random accent light on something in the background. If you go for the rim light, let it blow out a little bit and this will be your something completely over-exposed. If you don't want the rim light, a reflection off a gun or a window will probably be providing your over-exposed area already.


Would it have been a good idea to shine some light behind the 'hero' - the guy in white with the beard-stache (that's me by the way) - as though it were coming from the windows in the other room? One regret I have about the image is the lack of separation between those two characters and the background. You can't even make out the cowboy hat.

I know that you are stuck doing it now, but in the future, never depend on your post work-flow to get the look you want, especially with video and especially when you are trying to brighten something on video. On film, you've got to preserve your blacks because once the film is exposed, you can't stop light from passing through it. On video, you've got to preserve your whites because once you've recorded something, you can't make there be more of it without introducing tons of noise. You'd be much better off having a raw image that looks too bright and then crushing the blacks in post.


Well, there is a school of thought that favors a post-intensive process, and I can see the validity of it. One notion is to shoot low-contrast because you have less chance of clipping or going into noisy black regions, and the brightness and contrast, as well as other attributes making a good image can be achieved in post, and - assuming a solid workflow - with negligible degradation of the image; particularly in an SD format. While I ascribe to that ethos - particularly as a methodology for no-budget, micro-crew filmmaking - I also know that it's not universally valid. Particularly when I move to film, the notion of capturing the image in camera is necessary. And even given a post-intensive DV workflow, my post work is made easier with a solid image to begin with. And this is what I'm striving for.

I hope that's helpful. Feel free to ask more questions. Best of luck.


It's been more than helpful. Not only seeing what I did wrong, but what I could do to make it right. This is a good exercise. I appreciate it.
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#10 Matt Read

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 11:20 AM

Actually, this is shot wide open between f/1.8 and f/2.4 I think, depending on the zoom. The XL2's 3x wide is becoming my go-to lens and that's what was used in all three of these, but not on the entire shoot. I've got a rule about never going above 0db gain, and of course keeping everything at 1/48 shutter so in a situation like this I have to stop the camera all the way up.


Wow, you're wide open? That tells me one of two things. Either you've got some weird settings going on in camera, or you need more light. Write down what your settings are now (in case you want to go back to them later) and then go back to the default settings.

I totally agree with you about the 0db of gain and 1/48 shutter though.

This was the intention of the 750W Tota. That damn pillar blocked the light from her face. Without it, or if she'd been lighter-complected, I think that light would have sufficed. So I was faced with putting her somewhere else or making other concessions. Without much room to move and make a gunfight work, I went with the latter. Something I wish I had was another 250w with a softbox - I think by just pointing that at her I could have gotten what I want without having to make those concessions.


I don't think the tota was a very good choice of light for this. What it's doing is not lighting the set, but rather being a fill light. When I say light the set, I mean a streaks of light on the wall or a square of light (ostensibly from a window) somewhere. Don't worry about the light actually coming through a window. You're audience won't be able to tell. Just make it look like it could be coming from a window. A couple streaks of light going across the background behind the cowboy hat guy (you) would have helped to make him stand out.

When I say light the set, I don't mean an even wash of light. Think of it as a key light for the set. You don't have to light everything, just enough so that the audience knows what's going on.

I really wish I'd been able to gel my softbox. I wouldn't call it heavily diffused and scrimmed-down, but I think it would have provided better fill than the Omni I was using.


Why can't you gel the softbox? You could put the gel on a c-stand in front of it.

Would it have been a good idea to shine some light behind the 'hero' - the guy in white with the beard-stache (that's me by the way) - as though it were coming from the windows in the other room?


This would definitely be a great place for a backlight. But don't get hung up on rationalizing where the light comes from. Just put it there because it makes your image look better. I guarantee that 90% of your audience isn't thinking about where the light is coming from as long as you're telling a decent story. Just stick a light right behind him and as low down as possible.

I think the problem with your lighting is that your are trying to do everything in broad strokes. You lit the entire scene with one lighting setup. While this will save you time, it will not get you the best looking image you can get. You should have a general lighting plan for each scene (i.e. the key comes from this direction, my key-to-fill ratio is X:Y), but you should really be having a new lighting setup for each camera setup. Do your master wide first, then move into mediums and close-ups. Plan the order that you will be doing these so that you will have to move the least amount of lights when you change to a new setup (i.e. do everything on the stairs, then the stuff at the bottom of the stairs, then the stuff at the doorway).

And don't be afraid to use your worklights as well. Lights are lights. You'd also probably benefit from some homemade flags, diffusion and bounce-boards. Thick, black, flame-resistant fabric stretched over a PVC or wood frame for a flag, a white sheet for diffusion and anything big, flat and reflective or white for a bounce-board. You'll probably want to buy some clamps (not C-clamps, but alligator clamps). You can get this stuff from a fabric store and a hardware store. C-stands would also be a good investment or you could rig up your own.

Well, there is a school of thought that favors a post-intensive process, and I can see the validity of it. One notion is to shoot low-contrast because you have less chance of clipping or going into noisy black regions, and the brightness and contrast, as well as other attributes making a good image can be achieved in post, and - assuming a solid workflow - with negligible degradation of the image; particularly in an SD format.


I don't want to be a bastard, but I don't agree with this at all. This is just another way of saying "we'll fix it in post," which is just another way of saying "I don't want to do all the work now, so I'll cut corners and let someone else deal with the problem later."

A cinematographer's job is to get a good looking image. Part of a making a good image is limiting clipping and preventing noise. Having clipping and noise is bad at one extreme, but having a super low-contrast image is bad at the other end of the spectrum. Preventing one problem, but causing another is not a solution.

Even if you have the best post workflow ever, there's no excuse for not getting a usable image during principle photography. What happens if your post arrangements fall through after production wraps and you're stuck with low contrast images and no way to fix them? Relying on post is just asking for trouble. Post should only be used for fine tuning or doing things that would be impossible during production.

I also disagree about how a post-heavy SD workflow won't result in image degredation, particularly when you are working with miniDV. The format just doesn't record enough information, especially color information, to support heavy manipulation in post. (An HD to SD-finish workflow is much better setup for heavy manipulation. HD records more information (in terms of resolution and color) than miniDV, so any post image manipulation will degrade the image less initially and then down-resing to SD (which you have to do when you burn to a DVD anyway) will hide virtually all additional imperfections.)

If I may suggest, go out and buy Reflections: 21 cinematographers at work by Benjamin Bergery and read it cover to cover. I read it and it totally changed the way I go about lighting. Really, really great.

Keep the questions coming. I'm glad I can help.
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#11 Chris Durham

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 02:23 PM

The XL2 has 3 presets so I can just jump to another one and restore defaults on it. If I can find some time this weekend I'll shoot a couple quick clips on each and compare the two.

You're right about me doing this in a broad stroke. I'm wearing a lot of hats on this film: writer, director, actor, editor, and since the guy I had running camera on the first few shoots is unavailable, I'm also DP now, with my AD and co-editor running the camera. So a lot of this is motivated by working with the tools available to me. Given 4 hours to shoot the scene and 9 setups I went for a single lighting arrangement. I was also sort of experimenting with what it might look like to have my lights motivated by an exterior source (the moon). My fill really killed me, but you're right that different setups per shot would have looked a lot better. The reason I couldn't gel the softbox, btw was simply that I didn't have a piece of gel big enough. Guess what one of my next purchases is going to be?

I have other setups to shoot in the same set, that happen just prior to this scene. Would it break continuity to shoot them as you suggest with their own lighting treatment, or would I be better off setting up what I had? My guess is the former, but better to ask.

As for the post-dependent workflow, it's something I rely on at the moment because I can. I am a filmmaker, really, and not so much a DP; as evidenced by how much I'm doing on the set here. I have control over every step of the process and so I have a tendency to look at the process as a whole, and at the individual steps in the process as ways to answer those things I can't control. Of course the answer tends toward fixing it in After Effects. Like I said, for right now, that serves me well; but I am nowhere near satisfied by that as the general answer - hence my questions here as to how to do this better during principal photography. Moreover, as I become more interested in working on the individual aspects of filmmaking - having now DP'd a couple of other peoples' shorts - I am interested in doing an individual job the best way possible. And on that note, let me say that when I've DP'd something or been credited as a DP that I am in no way calling myself a DP - that's a title I really respect and is reflective of an artistry to which a guy like me putzing around with my video camera aspire to.

Again, thanks for the help.
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