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Understanding low lit scenes


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#1 Jesse Aragon

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 09:18 PM

Ive been wondering how it is one would light a scene to produce something like apocalypse now in the cave scene or lighting so that the subject has a very low lit light on him/her. Would you light the subject with plenty of light, then get a correct exposure, and then stop down to a desired level or is there another way? Im thinking along the lines of Gordon Willis where the scene is way underexsposed, is that him lighting the scene with plenty of light and then stoping down the lense or what?
example: light subject, ambient meter says 5.6 (middle gray) then stop down 2 stops to dark gray?
any help would be much appreciated
thanks
jesse
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 09:34 PM

If Depth of Field is no object, you can just light dimly. if you need DoF then you need to light brightly[er] and stop down a bit. . . depends on what stop you want to work with, but I personally find it easier to light less and open up as opposed to light more and stop down. That's just me, though.
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#3 David Regan

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 10:10 PM

I think the answer your looking for is contrast. In that if you want an exposed subject with dark environment, as Willis/Storaro did in the examples you mention, light your subjects, in the way that works for you and the story, but keep light off the walls or whatever you want to be 'dark.' The difference between your dark areas and your lit subject will determine the extent of the effect.

i.e. for simplicities sake, imagine you take an incident meter reading under the light that is illuminating your subject, and it reads a T4.0 Then you take a reading in your shadow areas, the darker parts of the room where light isn't falling directly, and it reads a T2.8. Thats only a stop difference, so your shadows won't really be that deep, and especially if you are shooting film, you will still be seeing plenty of detail.

Using this as an example, how the scene looks is about controlling that ratio. In the example above there is only twice as much light (one stop difference) between your subject and your shadows. I don't know exactly what the differences in those movies you mentioned, some could be manipulated in post for sure, but just consider that for the effect you talk about, you need a high contrast ratio between your subject and the shadows.

Hope this helps, good luck
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 11:48 PM

Dave is right on the money. Dimly lit scenes are often not dimly lit nor are they even underexposed sometimes. What they usually are is sparsely lit. If you put light on someone's face and nothing else, it will still give the viewer the overall illusion of darkness as long as they are not too brightly or flatly lit.

One thing that Storaro does a lot in that movie is he'll rimlight people in dark scenes and then fill just enough to get detail so we can see performances. Now quite often, those rims are overexposed but you don't really think they're too bright or that the scene is bright because they are such a small part of the frame.

That brings me to a rule of sorts, though we all know that rules are only there to be broken. In general, the smaller someone is in frame in a dark scene, the brighter you will want to light them.

See this example from Road to Perdition. Notice how different the levels of light are between the wide and the tighter shot.

Posted Image
Posted Image

Now in the first image, everything in that hanging light is definitely lit over key. It goes to more of a correct exposure in the tighter shot. Both shots have the overall impression of a dark room and they cut together well.
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#5 Jesse Aragon

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 04:37 AM

Thank you all for the excellent comments and examples, I see now how contrast plays a role in creating these types of scenes, by the way i love conrad hall's work on that film, ive watched it quite a few times now!!
thanks jesse
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