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Lighting an open field at night


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#1 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 21 July 2008 - 09:11 PM

OK. So I have a short film coming up soon which I'm a little worried about. The largest scene in the film is a party scene in the middle of a field at night. Trying to pick some light sources for the party, the directors like the idea of candles and china balls rather than a bonfire. The location is a clearing in the middle of some trees and I'm thinking of stringing some china balls along the perimeter of the party on the trees and also have lots of candles on the tables in the middle.

My concern is that I won't be able to motivate a source when I go in for closeups in the middle of the field. The china lanterns will provide great light for the wide shots, but I can't stage everything next to a candle. I guess I'm in the less than ideal position of needing to light faces even if the source is unrealistic and I'm struggling with how to do that. I don't want it to appear overlit, but I also need to see some detail, something more than candle light.

We're shooting on the HPX3000 with a very small crew. Hopefully there's vehicle access to this place and we can back a generator up there. Which brings me to my next problems: noise and line loss if we have to use putt-putts instead of a truck.

Anyone have any thoughts?
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#2 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 21 July 2008 - 09:20 PM

Yes, you can cheat the china balls closer for the close ups and no one will notice. It has been done countless times and it works always, unless it is too bright or something radical like that/

Just make sure you have enough back light on your actors on both the wide and c/u's and you should be fine with your china balls as practicals lights that you cheat in for your c/u's.
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#3 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 07:44 AM

My concern is that I won't be able to motivate a source when I go in for closeups in the middle of the field.
[/quote]


Why is that? You sure can.. it is done every day. If there is a Chine Lantern to the right of someone's head (even deep in the background) simply 'cheat' a soft source to your (Camera) right and 'Wrap' that 'supposed' Lantern Light. Make sure the 'cheated' source has the same color temp as the Lantern and you are good to go. This is how Lighting is done. We 'cheat' sources all the time... you have that license... use it. Say you are shooting in a Bar and there is a Green Neon Sign to the right of the Talent you are doing a close up on.. you can stage a Light with a matching Green Gel Package (as it may take several sheets to match it exactly) to your (Camera) right and use that Light as a BackLight, Kicker, Side Light and almost front 3/4 depending how far you want to push the 'cheat'.

I would also recommend using 1/2 CTBlue on your Fill.. certainly you can use a warm Fill.. motivated by all the Lanterns and Candles, however, I, personally, would use a bit of 1/2 Blue in my darker Fill Areas to give a bit more color contrast and 'Night' feel. But that is just me...

Edited by David Rakoczy, 22 July 2008 - 07:47 AM.

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#4 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 08:18 AM

Well I'd love to build up a base light with a 4K HMI or something and let it go a little blue, but we simply don't have the crew or budget for it. I guess my question really is how to light the wide so that bringing in a lamp for a closeup will match the wide. Sorta tricky if I can't run any big lights on the wide.

I like the idea of letting the grass go a little blue in the distance. That's a good idea. I'm just not crazy about blue on the faces when they're next to a candle or lamp.
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#5 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 09:16 AM

Well I'd love to build up a base light with a 4K HMI or something and let it go a little blue, but we simply don't have the crew or budget for it. I guess my question really is how to light the wide so that bringing in a lamp for a closeup will match the wide. Sorta tricky if I can't run any big lights on the wide.

I like the idea of letting the grass go a little blue in the distance. That's a good idea. I'm just not crazy about blue on the faces when they're next to a candle or lamp.



That is not what I meant (see above again). I would use 1/2 Blue on the DARK Fill Side... if and where NO Lantern or Candle is illuminating... and not in all cases... but where appropriate. I use very little.. but usually it is there 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 stops under. As far as your Master goes you can only get what you can get with what you have... consider shooting that at 'Magic Light' just after Sunset... but when you go in, don't be afraid to start moving Lights and cheating their direction. Have a bunch of extra Lanterns on C-Stands ready to be brought in... you could wrap one in 1/2 Blue for use when you have that dark dark Fill.

Lucky for you you will be Lighting via a monitor so you will always know what you are getting and how to adjust it.. it is much different than flying blind and trusting your Meters only as in Film... I LOVE that excitement!

Good Luck.

Edited by David Rakoczy, 22 July 2008 - 09:21 AM.

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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 01:02 PM

Well I'd love to build up a base light with a 4K HMI or something and let it go a little blue, but we simply don't have the crew or budget for it. I guess my question really is how to light the wide so that bringing in a lamp for a closeup will match the wide. Sorta tricky if I can't run any big lights on the wide.

I like the idea of letting the grass go a little blue in the distance. That's a good idea. I'm just not crazy about blue on the faces when they're next to a candle or lamp.


Shooting wide shots at dusk works pretty well for a wide night shot if you've got practical lights in shot. Best to wait until it's as late as possible, usually with the lens wide open and sometimes with a small amount of gain and don't shoot towards the light part of the sky. You could put an ND grade into the sky according to taste, but usually the sky is an extremely deep dark blue that just registers.

It's easy to set up on video with a monitor, with film it's matter of waiting until you're scared that you won't get anything, since nothing is registering on the meter.
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#7 John Sprung

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 01:46 PM

I don't want it to appear overlit, ...

The biggest mistake is to have some small areas up to full exposure, with vast areas of dead black between them. You can get away with hard light if you use it on the far BG, keep it like 3 stops down, and avoid casting shadows that reveal the hardness. It's a lot easier to lift a big area up with hard light. If it's down far enough, people won't think about where it's coming from. Look the location over at night, there'll probably be a mix of things you can barely see, and things you can't see at all. That's what you want to recreate.




-- J.S.
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#8 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 02:09 PM

It's easy to set up on video with a monitor, with film it's matter of waiting until you're scared that you won't get anything, since nothing is registering on the meter.
- qoute -

Amen Brian!

and Amen John!

You guys should be charging for this stuff!!!

Edited by David Rakoczy, 22 July 2008 - 02:10 PM.

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#9 Paul Bruening

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 02:35 PM

The viewer will tolerate more than you may assume. Old school Hollywood it. Just hide the heads and light the background in spots. They used this style on Oh Brother to fine effect. You don't have to have that Musco look. Just dash some blobs of light here or there to create the illusion of depth. Your viewers will buy it if they don't see any heads or burns. It may take a lot of extension cords, which is the only problem with this technique. Beg and borrow. Beg and borrow.
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#10 Kiarash Sadigh

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 11:31 AM

well, this may sound a bit off topic but it's very important for you to think about bugs when you're sparking lights in the woods in summer time...I've had a terrible experience...rent a couple of bigger sources for this purpose, spark them up before hand, and this will hopefully attract the bugs away from the set...
good luck.
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#11 John Sprung

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 02:10 PM

Wow, that brings back memories, Kiarash. .... chasing moths off a silk, up on some parallels punching a nine light thru it. Some of them were as big as large saucers or small dinner plates.




-- J.S.
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#12 J. Lamar King

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 01:00 AM

I assume you are talking about using the china balls as practicals as if they were put up there for the party. Remember that in life there are two kinds of light at night. Moonlight and man made light. If this party took place in an environment lit with china balls...it is a lit environment thus moonlight plays a minimal or even a non-existent role. An example would be if you were looking at a whole street of houses at night. You would see most of the area bathed in moonlight punctuated by, house light, window lights and street lights. If you got close to one of the houses and looked at the front door, now your seeing mostly the house lights.

You should have no problem in the wide shot stringing up a bunch of china balls bathing the main action area in warm light then using a small HMI to hit the back ground with a subtle underexposed moonlight effect. When you go in close cheat the chinas in closer or even just bounce a redhead off a 4x beadboard slightly above the subjects eyeline. I do that all the time. You could just use tungsten back light then because you are now inside of the lit environment. Understand? Could be a bit easier for you than trying to include both types of light in all of the shots.
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#13 David Rakoczy

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 08:18 AM

[quote name='J. Lamar King' date='Jul 24 2008, 01:00 AM' post='243657']
I assume you are talking about using the china balls as practicals as if they were put up there for the party. Remember that in life there are two kinds of light at night. Moonlight and man made light. If this party took place in an environment lit with china balls...it is a lit environment thus moonlight plays a minimal or even a non-existent role.

I would take this approach as well... using the Blue Fill on talent as they drift to the edge of the 'Party Light'.. and that Fill would become a Key Light when they are very far from the Party Light.
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#14 Kiarash Sadigh

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 01:36 PM

Wow, that brings back memories, Kiarash. .... chasing moths off a silk, up on some parallels punching a nine light thru it. Some of them were as big as large saucers or small dinner plates.




-- J.S.


That's exactly it! my gaffer caught a huge moth and he called it a "spinning totem pole" ...that's how crazy it was!...I lit a white tent from inside..it was a dream sequence...and after 5 minutes the tent turned black...we had to stop shooting and planned to do the sequence in studio instead...
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#15 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 11:07 PM

...in life there are two kinds of light at night. Moonlight and man made light.


That's a good way to think of it. Thanks. I think I'll try to keep things pretty warm in the middle of the party, keep the backlight low and just put the lanterns out of focus in the background. I'll probably bounce a 2K off some beadboard for the closeups.
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#16 John Sprung

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 01:26 PM

Sounds like a plan -- Please post some stills when you're done.



-- J.S.
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#17 Chris Keth

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 02:12 PM

That sounds like a fine plan, Lindsay. I wanted to add one tip that I was given for wide shots in low key scenes. This knowledge comes from ignoring that advice I was given and lighting some very bland night exteriors on one film.

You may consider hiding some fixtures for kickers for the wide shots. Generally, the farther away you get from people in a dark scene, the hotter you will want to light them to keep a good contrast in the scene.

For example, in your closeups, you may want to light the bright side of a face to about key or somewhat above depending on what you want it to look like.. If you back off to a super wide where your entire party takes up a third of the frame and there is a lot of negative space, you may want your highlights to be a couple stops over key. Yes, they will be logically much too hot but it will look about right since they are a much smaller part of the frame. If you leave them at key and back away to that super wide, the scene will probably look somewhat flat.
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#18 J. Lamar King

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 06:17 AM

You may consider hiding some fixtures for kickers for the wide shots. Generally, the farther away you get from people in a dark scene, the hotter you will want to light them to keep a good contrast in the scene.

For example, in your closeups, you may want to light the bright side of a face to about key or somewhat above depending on what you want it to look like.. If you back off to a super wide where your entire party takes up a third of the frame and there is a lot of negative space, you may want your highlights to be a couple stops over key. Yes, they will be logically much too hot but it will look about right since they are a much smaller part of the frame. If you leave them at key and back away to that super wide, the scene will probably look somewhat flat.


This is good advice. I do it almost without thinking about it because you need some horsepower to hit people with edges in wide shots so you go clean. When you move in you inevitably fly a frame in to soften and knock it down.
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#19 Lindsay Mann

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 11:09 AM

Excellent, thanks Chris. I'll keep that in mind. It does help that it's video and I can just check the monitor. Next on my agenda is figuring out generators and power.
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