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How long does it take


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#1 Joseph Arch

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 06:04 AM

For you to light a scene. I have been on sets where it has taken the D.P three hours, literary, to light and shoot one shot. Other times it has taken a different D.P less then one hour to light and shoot a whole scene and move on within a day. My questions are;

1. Is lighting the most important part of cinematography? Does lighting help that "film" look we all crave to achieve?

2. Does it really matter if a shot is below half a T stop? Who else is going to recognise it but you? The audience will never know the difference about different films stocks, lighting and looks.

3. what has been your experience on a set regarding time and budget mixed with someone's opinion on how long it should take.
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#2 Martin Solvang

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 07:04 AM

2. Does it really matter if a shot is below half a T stop? Who else is going to recognise it but you? The audience will never know the difference about different films stocks, lighting and looks.


I sugest you read some books on these subjects. I am very sure the audience recognices differences in light, and how they affect the look of the film.
Stock choices have more subtle effects on the film, but on a subconcious level they are very important, as all visual choices are!. (look at the wrestler f.ex) In my opinion, one of the biggest mistake one can make is to underestimate the audience, they are often smarten then one thinks (I only know the European cineasts though..)

Read this old-schooler..: Painting With Light..
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#3 Joseph Arch

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 08:21 AM

I do agree with you that audiences are more smarter then before but not in the sense of technical details. They are driven towards more story though not technical details. I have been asking people at the movies and the majority says they are into the story more. Actors came in second place, directors in third and the younger audiences, teenagers mostly, say they want to see visual effects.

This industry can really surprise you in many ways just when you think you are getting to know the game.
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#4 robert duke

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 11:10 AM

I do agree with you that audiences are more smarter then before but not in the sense of technical details. They are driven towards more story though not technical details. I have been asking people at the movies and the majority says they are into the story more. Actors came in second place, directors in third and the younger audiences, teenagers mostly, say they want to see visual effects.

This industry can really surprise you in many ways just when you think you are getting to know the game.



Without light it is just a radio show. Light drives the story sometimes. light can interfere/acentuate with the mood and emotional response the audience has to a story.

I know DP's that have taken six hours to light a shot, and it still looks like crap. I know DP's that can light a masterpiece in 15min. It is all about how the Dp can visualize the shot and has the mastery of the tools at hand.

The audience may or may not be able to see and understand why they are responding because of lighting just as music and sound can enhance a film. Look at movies like "the cooler", "21 grams" "Schindler's list". These movies use lighting to affect the characters and the mood. Some hit the audience over the head with a look/design some in deftly subtle ways inperceivable to most audiences.

A half T stop yeah maybe, but if you are already at the end of a lens or the bottom of the lattitude of the film stock you can definitely notice the appearance of grain and noise.

Light is another tool a cinematographer has to visually tell a story. that is why they are sometimes called Directors of Photography. They direct the visual media that tells the story. Imagine a brightly lit horror film. Or a dark and moody romantic comedy. Or a dark scene that the reverses are lit brightly. the audience will notice. They may not be able to tell you what was wrong but they will notice. Just like crossing the line (camera direction) It can make a scene look funky and awkward, but an audience member may not be able to tell you what was wrong.

I recently worked with a young DP and a Young gaffer, we were shooting on the red. They lit one scene with HMI and the next with tungsten. the two scenes led into one another directly as part of a single timeline scene. they looked fine at the moment it was shot, but once edited it was too weird and money had to be spent in CC. The audience would definitely have caught that.

As to budget/time. Some people are very on top of being quick to keep budgets cutailed but also that falls on the First Assistant Directors shoulders to keep the DP abreast of time and schedules. The AD should know roughly how much time it takes to light a scene and be able to schedule accordingly. I always get annoyed at AD's asking me "how long is this shot going to take to light?" The AD should be experienced enough to see how a DP works and relate the time it will take to light it. If it is a rig I will tell you, how much time it takes. The AD should be forward thinking enough to schedule and adapt a days work around a difficult shot or longer relight. These are conversations the AD, The Director, and the DP should have in advance of production during that time called PRE production. This is where money is saved, by having these conversations. Too many times preproduction is nixed or foregone at the cost of previsualization. This is also where a savy producer should be on set at all times and have the balls to wrangle a DP, Director or Department from making a bad situation worse. I could go on and on with examples.
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 11:27 AM

For me this seems intuitive, but obviously the more experienced a DOP and his/her assistants are, the more quickly they are going to be able to light a shot.

The more complex the lighting is in a shot, the longer it will take to light that shot.

Sometimes it is as simple as setting the F/stop to render correct exposure for the sun and its relation to the highlight in the scene, and having someone hold a reflector to keep the shadows from falling off to black.

If you're shooting a 20-block street chase at night, obviously a bit more time will be involved.


As for your notion of "good enough", sure depending on the director, genre of movie, and budget, sometimes compromises will be taken due to time or budget constraints.

You aren't going to see the same level of craftsmanship on say "Fast & Furious" as you would on a fine-art period piece film.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 11:37 AM

From a technical angle, there is no image without light, so lighting is obviously a key component of cinematography, but not just from a purely practical level, but from an artistic, dramatic, emotional level. I won't go into detail about the obvious ways that's true because we've all heard them before: light that makes a story point or make it more clear, light that sets the appropriate mood, light that makes the actor look their best, etc. Good directors understand the value of light in their movies.

Now lighting and light are not exactly the same thing of course. We mix the two all the time depending on our needs -- practical available light and artificial light. We take away or turn off light too according to our needs.

Once the director has indicated the way he wants to shoot a space, the cinematographer has to achieve that while setting the appropriate mood (again, in collaboration with the director.) That may take a lot of lighting or very little. If it's going to take a lot of lighting, the cinematographer may discuss it with the director to see if the director wants to modify their shots to reduce the amount of lighting needed. If not, then the cinematographer will work with the gaffer, key grip, AD, line producer, etc. to see how much pre-rigging can be done in advance to reduce the amount of time spent during the shooting day lighting the location.

But sometimes it's just not possible to pre-light a location and you end up needing to take up a lot of time. For example, let's say the director wants to Steadicam or shoot from a moving car on an actor's face as they run a block or two down a street at night, and there is not enough available light to get a decent exposure. Whether you decide to go for a big backlight look or a bunch of pools of light, it's going to take time. Condors move very slowly, so just getting them into position and adjusting them can take time. Rigging to a camera car can take time too. Now you can ask "can't he just run down half a block?" But the director may not feel that that is enough screen time.

I recently was filming in the fifth floor of a hospital, all day long, and our last day scene ended up being shot at night. I had a condor outside the windows with an 18K to light up the window but I had to take the time to cover all the windows of the room with tracing paper so I could blow them out and then partially cover them with blinds. That takes time. It's not about me being "an artist" or pursuing "my vision" -- it's about creating a convincing daytime effect at night.

Yes, there are some "slow" cinematographers, slow for various reasons. Maybe their ideas are too complex for the schedule, or maybe they or their crew are disorganized. And then there are times you are slowed down by external forces -- faulty equipment, bad weather, actor who is late. And then there are the times you know how to go faster but the production can't afford any of your time-saving ideas, so they are making the call to spend more time rather than spend more money. The classic example is when you need more lights so that you can light the current location and then send an advance crew to light the next location -- but the production won't pay for any extra lights or extra crew people, even if you tell them that they will lose an hour of shooting time because of that decision.

But most cinematographers work as fast as they can, and they spend much of their time thinking of new ways to be even faster, because you can never be fast enough.

Truth is that most of us reach a point daily on a shoot where we question whether to go any faster at the risk of quality. And the other truth is that the compromises you make on the set to go faster at the request of the director and producers often come back to haunt you later in post, when those same producers and director are going "why is this shot underexposed?" "Why wasn't the actress lit better?" And you feel like reminding them of what happened that night...

As for being a half-stop underexposed, it matters but sometimes you have to live with it. Generally the goal is a consistently exposed negative for every shot in a sequence so that they all "print" at the same levels, because variations in density produce variations in grain levels (or noise levels if shooting digitally.)

Now until you've been shooting for awhile yourself, it's easy to sit back and second-guess the cinematographer and wonder what's taking so long. For someone watching on the sidelines, a set-up can seem like it is taking forever.
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#7 Joseph Arch

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 12:59 PM

Highly informative responses ;)

David is on fire.
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