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Shooting HD for Black and White


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#1 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 03:12 PM

First time I am shooting HD for a black and white end result.
I was wondering about what governs the choice of camera since color space is not really an issue.
There will be no slo-mo necessary for this movie.
What is the most flexible post production workflow to obtain black and white: desaturation in Final Cut Pro or other means?
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#2 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 03:16 PM

First time I am shooting HD for a black and white end result.
I was wondering about what governs the choice of camera since color space is not really an issue.
There will be no slo-mo necessary for this movie.
What is the most flexible post production workflow, desaturation in Final Cut Pro or other means?


Seems to me I'd want to see the image on the Monitor in B&W on Set... not wait till it is in FCP to see what I had.... how else can you make your corrections while shooting?

Enjoy the Project!
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#3 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 05:51 PM

You have much more control in post over contrast/gray tones if you shoot in color and then desaturate later. You lose that control if you shoot black and white on set. Of course if you could calibrate the monitor to be black and white, and still shoot color that would be ideal, but shooting in color allows you to manipulate the gray tones of the color channels independently in post.
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#4 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 07:08 PM

Exactly... I did not get that across on my post... (Oh Brother/ Mr. Deakins is a great example).

Obviously, we want to do what is best for Post because 'in the end' that is all there is... but as a DP we (have) to see or know (via meters) what we are doing/ getting. So if there is a way to (see) what we are shooting (in color)... on a monitor (in black & white) ... that would be optimum. I shoot mostly color film and use a B&W monitor (for framing only) so I am no expert in this area but I sure know as a DP what I would expect to get the job done... right.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 07:44 PM

You can shoot in color and monitor in b&w and just take the attitude that later in post, you will have some flexibility because you can manipulate the color channels before turning the image b&w. That should work fine -- I mean, I suppose there is a way to look at each color channel separately on the set to know what you will be able to play with later in post but that seems time-consuming on the set. I'd rather just look at the b&w monitor as a rough guide for lighting purposes.

The thing to remember is that you don't just want to turn the image from color to b&w as the first step in post and then starting timing it, you want to be able to play with individual color channels first -- the most common example would be to turn a blue sky darker first by playing with the blue channel before turning the frame to b&w.
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#6 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 07:53 PM

That approach seems haphazard to me Mr. Mullin... I want to (know) what the camera is seeing in relation to what color image the post folks are manipulating into black and white and what exactly (that) looks like... ultimately isn't it 'our' responsibility to deliver a final image based off what has occurred along the way?

Full and complete Test is again best... Mr. Salzman... there has got to be a way.... good luck!
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 08:32 PM

That approach seems haphazard to me Mr. Mullin... I want to (know) what the camera is seeing in relation to what color image the post folks are manipulating into black and white and what exactly (that) looks like... ultimately isn't it 'our' responsibility to deliver a final image based off what has occurred along the way?

Full and complete Test is again best... Mr. Salzman... there has got to be a way.... good luck!



Short of actually color-correcting on set using the separate color channels, there is no way to completely know all the color-correcting possibilities in post while shooting the movie. It's the difference between accuracy versus precision. You can set up a b&w monitor to accurately show you ONE possible b&w version of the project, and if you're fairly happy with that version after lighting the shot, etc. then the fact that there are further possibilities in post to keep working on the image is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you won't be there for the color-correction -- but then that's whole other issue that goes way beyond this one. So it's possible to shoot accurately for one b&w version while not precisely knowing all possible variations that could take place in post. But that's true if you shoot color negative film for post, there are a lot of post possibilities due to the flexibility of color negative images.

But yes, there is certainly a way to monitor each color channel separately using a waveform and vectorscope, if you feel that information will be necessary to have on the set to contemplate your post options later. You could even bring in a color-corrector system to the set. I just think in terms of shooting a narrative project, let's say you're shooting five pages of dialogue a day, 30 set-ups or more a day, etc. then you're going to want to simplify things on the set in terms of judging the b&w image. Certainly you could take the time to color-correct the shots, or take frames home with you and play with them in Photoshop, though that's after-the-fact. One way you'd probably simplify is to reduce as much of the art direction and costuming to monochrome tones that can be judged merely in terms of luminance rather than chroma.

But ultimately we all make an individual choice on a production to what degree we can or want to control everything, or even know everything, eliminate all risk or potential for error. We all make different choices of course, we take calculated risks but we don't do it the same way as someone else would, or to the same degree. Some people will spot meter a scene to death while others will eyeball everything, not even take out a meter (I'm sort of in-between). And both types of personalities have won Oscars for their cinematography.

Again, the question is whether you feel you are getting accurate information by which to make a decision on a set. If you can't find a way of knowing that, then of course, it's a real problem. But getting an accurate idea of what you can do on the set is not the same thing as knowing all the possible versions you will be able to do later in post. Those are separate concepts. If you can't get an accurate idea of what you are doing on the set, then you need to solve that problem. But that's not the same thing as knowing on the set all possible versions that can be created in post beyond the single one that you already accurately know you are getting.

In high school, a math teacher once explained the difference like this -- you put an male engineer and a mathematician at one end of a room and a beautiful woman at the other (this assumes that everyone in this story problem is heterosexual, but remember I was in high school in the 1970's...) and tell them that they can only cross the room halfway, and then half of the rest of the way, then half of what's left, then half of that, etc. So the mathematician gives up right from the start because he knows that there is no mathematical way he can ever reach the woman, whereas the engineer goes ahead because he knows he might be able to get close enough for "practical purposes" (the teacher did not define "practical purposes").

So the question is not whether you can eliminate all room for error, but whether you can get enough accurate information to proceed practically. So it's not "haphazard" if you know that you are going to be able to recreate the version you got on the set monitor later in post -- you know one possible result and you are presumably OK with that version, you just don't know every possible variation that could happen later. But if I shot a movie on color negative, for a color movie, and I wasn't there for the final D.I., there are all sorts of things that someone else could do to the image, some possible versions I don't even want to contemplate. But it's not like that knowledge would have affected how I shot the movie originally, the notion that someone could take my image later and really screw it up.
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 09:16 PM

Dan, if you end up with a LOG camera like the Genesis or F35, one possible approach is to shoot some tests, charts, etc. under daylight and tungsten lighting and take them to your post house and create some LUT's in there -- maybe a couple variations -- and then download them into your on-set LUT box (the GDP if using the Genesis, I don't know what an F35 uses.)

Then with a waveform/vectorscope, you can switch between monitoring the LUT'ed signal versus the non-LUT LOG signal.
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#9 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 01:28 AM

Maybe it's just me, but this seems like a really complicated way of looking at shooting black and white in HD color space... I mean, you're not sending a rocket to the moon. And I appreciate that all the technology associated with filmmaking and especially cinematography is immensely complicated, but what's the problem with just having a calibrated monitor on set to see that "one" possibility, and work off of that to the desired end. Ultimately, the editor/color corrector will have final say over how the image looks, so it seems like a lot more work for little payoff to have a vector scope and waveform monitor to check out every color channel... As christopher doyle said, you don't have an infinite budget, so you can't change the color of everything. What I take from that, is that at some point you just have to accept how things are and work within those constraints. Theoretically you could turn every object and costume in the frame to a gray tone... Not very practical for most people (unless you're James Cameron).

I think there's something beautiful about not having every single detail planned out the day of shooting. Certainly there are things that do need to be prepared, many things... But tests and waveform monitors and vectorscopes (in this context) just seem like a lot more work, a lot more money, and a lot less spontaneity over something that you as a cinematographer ultimately don't have the final say in (since the editor/director/color corrector will tailer the image to their own liking later). I think there are more productive ways to achieve the "look" you want, such as good lighting, and good camera work that will speak louder than whether or not you had a vector scope to monitor every color channel individually on the day of shooting.

Not to diminish the technical side, which I have immense appreciation for... Just been hearing chris doyle talk too much maybe.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 01:49 AM

I tend to agree with you and Chris, Jason... I was merely trying to suggest a way in which one might know what one was recording with an aim to manipulate it later, but in general, I agree that the simplest methods are usually the best: get a good working approximation on the set using a monitor you can trust set to b&w (this is assuming you are shooting digitally), light to make it look good on that monitor, knowing you can play with it further in post if needed because you'll have access to individual color channels that you can isolate and correct separately, as opposed to the simpler overall desaturation you used on the set by playing with the monitor settings.

One advantage of an on-set LUT system though is that you can shoot in the flatter LOG format but create an on-set b&w image using a LUT that has a lot of snappy contrast added so you will be "forced" to light for that presentation contrast but record more exposure information in the LOG original. Of course, you could just monkey around with the contrast & brightness levels of the monitor...

The thing is that if you are shooting digitally, don't rule out using the monitor image (properly set-up) as a guide because why avoid one of the advantages of shooting digitally in the first place?

I personally don't use waveforms and whatnot much either when shooting digitally, though I do use zebras and other guidelines... the thing to remember about digital however is that you don't have the headroom to play with as with film negative, so exposing is a bit more critical. So it's harder to take a casual attitude to exposing.
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#11 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 12:55 PM

The project will be shot digitally, sorry if that wasn't clear in my original post. Of course there will be a b&w monitor on set but I was most interested in the choice of camera besides depth of field considerations with smaller sensors and of course the quality of the lenses. The best post production workflow for a b&w final is also interesting - working with color channels before desaturating.
Is there any major increased flexibility doing this in a TC suite as opposed to Final Cut Studio Pro?
As usual the producer wants the best results for the least amount of money.
And David Rakoczy, I and I'm sure David Mullen would appreciate if you spelled our names correctly.
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#12 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 06:26 PM

And David Rakoczy, I and I'm sure David Mullen would appreciate if you spelled our names correctly.


I'm the only other person who participated in this discussion, but I didn't use anyone's name... so I don't understand.
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#13 David Rakoczy

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 06:37 PM

Sorry for the misspelling of your name David... I hope the fact that I push your book like no one else can make up for that type-o. Dan, if you write a book (and it is good) I'll push it as well... my apologies on your name as well. ;)
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 07:32 PM

Sorry for the misspelling of your name David... I hope the fact that I push your book like no one else can make up for that type-o. Dan, if you write a book (and it is good) I'll push it as well... my apologies on your name as well. ;)


I suspect, David, that you've had to suffer from having your last name misspelled a lot more often than I have!
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#15 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 08:42 PM

Sorry for the misspelling of your name David... I hope the fact that I push your book like no one else can make up for that type-o. Dan, if you write a book (and it is good) I'll push it as well... my apologies on your name as well. ;)


I think I'll call my book "What do you know about cinema, you're not a lawyer"
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 08:54 PM

I think there's something beautiful about not having every single detail planned out the day of shooting. Certainly there are things that do need to be prepared, many things... But tests and waveform monitors and vectorscopes (in this context) just seem like a lot more work, a lot more money, and a lot less spontaneity over something that you as a cinematographer ultimately don't have the final say in (since the editor/director/color corrector will tailer the image to their own liking later). I think there are more productive ways to achieve the "look" you want, such as good lighting, and good camera work that will speak louder than whether or not you had a vector scope to monitor every color channel individually on the day of shooting.

Not to diminish the technical side, which I have immense appreciation for... Just been hearing chris doyle talk too much maybe.


I think you're trying to address the complicated non-technical issue of emotional "soul" in cinematography and whether it's possible to lose it in an attempt to master the technical intricacies.

Part of me feels that they are two different sides of the brain, that learning technique and technology doesn't get in the way of exercising your creative side -- if anything, technical mastery allows you to express a creative idea more easily.

Plus I've always been uncomfortable with any hit-or-miss, throw everything until something sticks, type of artmaking, I tend to feel that it has to be repeatable or else it falls too much under "dumb luck". Certainly in a commercial art, like filmmaking is generally, repeatability is key for a professional artist, you can't just rely on luck and inspiration-on-the-day.

Having said that, I do feel that as a cinematographer learns more and more, he has to search for new ways of making it seem fresh to him, to still be able to approach it with some of the awe and enthusiasm of youth. I believe someone like Conrad Hall was like that. He once said that it's not so much that he took fewer risks as he got older, but that as you know more and have done more, what would be risky to someone else is not really a risk for you because you know what the results will be -- so you have to reach further to take risks, you take different types of risks. Which is the only way to advance.

And I don't think you get there through willful ignorance -- I think that's just an act of Chris Doyle's, he knows what he's doing technically -- but you can end up taking the attitude that the technical side is not as important or difficult as some others make it out to be. Your perspective changes, you develop other priorities once you've mastered a certain level of technical proficiency. So to an outsider, it may sound like you don't think much about craft and technique, when the truth is that you simply have a different perspective on it.

But how to maintain your soul as an artist when working in the commercial field of cinematography... well, it's a challenge. You do it in different ways, perhaps by revisiting your artist roots and early role models now and then, perhaps by diving into entirely unknown territory, perhaps by learning something entirely unrelated and hoping it later informs your artistic decisions. I certainly have found that traveling has broadened by outlook on things, though it's perhaps most directly visible in how it has affected my cooking skills...
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#17 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 01:22 AM

I agree with everything you said David. I think it's a balance between the "artistic soul" whatever you want to call it, and the pure technical knowledge that is necessary to express that. I think they're interdependent on one another, with neither taking greater importance than the other. The technique is empty without ideas and feelings, and you can't express those ideas without a certain degree of technical knowledge. At the same time, I see a much greater predominance in the style of thinking of self-taught cinematographers (myself included) in the overriding fascination with technique and technology. I should mention that I'm self-taught (always learning).

You take a guy like Chris Doyle, who obviously does know his technique. But the guy didn't pick up a camera until his late twenties, and didn't shoot a feature film until he was 31... What was he doing in the meantime while he wasn't acquiring technical knowledge? Acquiring experience and perspective. And as he has said many times, his experience is what informs the way he shoots. The technique is the means by which he expresses that, and certainly a part of the creative process in an important way, but the technology while giving one the possibility of more creative options and freedom, doesn't inherently make a film better looking or more creative. Ultimately if you gave chris (or any great director or cinematographer) a $50 hi-8 camera, you would be hard pressed to disagree that they could do something interesting and compelling with what would by most be considered low grade technology. There are no better examples than looking through film history at some of the greatest films to date, that by today's standards would be considered primitive by technological standards.

Everyone has their own way of working, and I respect that. And I respect the constantly changing technology in filmmaking, and how that is used to great effectiveness. I advocate for a less technical based outlook simply because I think its something that's neglected far more than the technological side (particularly at the professional level where there's understandable pressure from the producers). People are generally far more impressed that someone is shooting Super 35mm in and of itself than how strong the artistry and perspective is behind that technology. Originality and creativity shouldn't depend on the format they're shot on, but the perspective and the ideas of the person shooting it. And while high end gear and vectorscopes/waveform monitors can no doubt be used very effectively in the right hands, in my opinion they don't give a film any automatic credit as far as creativity is concerned. Also, regardless of how technically savvy Chris is, I think his philosophy on filmmaking is what I find most valuable, that despite how much he probably does in fact know technically, he doesn't lose perspective on the story or what's happening in the script at any point and has found the balance that you speak of between technique and artistry that's commercially viable. And he's certainly not the only example of cinematographers whose visuals were, (and are) first informed by experience: Laszlo Kovacs, Vilmos Zsigmond, Subrata Mitra, and Vittorio Storaro also come to mind.
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