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Expose for neon signs and the like...?


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#1 Michael Althaus

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 02:43 AM

How would you use an incident light meter (don't have a spot light meter available at the moment) to expose correctly for something that emits light like neon signs/ads or a light bulb etc.?
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#2 David Rakoczy

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 08:43 AM

Generally speaking, at 100iso neon looks good at a t2.8. If you are in a (Bar or Pub let's say) you can simply tape a sheet of ND over it... it won't be pretty up close but from a distance and by throwing it a bit out of focus you can get away with it. If you plan to continue to DP I suggest you purchase a Spot Meter and run your Neon 3 stops over. Now, if you are 'featuring' a piece of neon (like in a close up) you had better close down to a t4 - 4 1/2 or 5.6 depending...
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#3 John Sprung

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 08:30 PM

For a more general method, supposing we have something unknown that emits light, and only an incident meter:

Put a known object, person, etc. next to the mystery source, and light it/them to look normal in comparison with the unknown. Meter that light, and that's your exposure for the unknown. Test with a digital still camera if you can.





-- J.S.
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#4 boy yniguez

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 08:43 AM

How would you use an incident light meter (don't have a spot light meter available at the moment) to expose correctly for something that emits light like neon signs/ads or a light bulb etc.?

the simplest way is to point your exposure meter at the source from 1 foot away and take a reading!
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#5 David Rakoczy

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 09:33 AM

the simplest way is to point your exposure meter at the source from 1 foot away and take a reading!


That won't work. A Lamp (neon for example) may be very bright (reflected) but not emit much (ambient) light.

The only (true) way is to take a reflected reading.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 11:11 AM

It works OK in a pinch -- you have to imagine a shot where a face is leaning next to the neon sign or table lamp, very close. If you took an incident meter reading very close to the light, exposing for the face, generally you'd also record detail in the neon or lamp because it's not too overexposed, being so close to the face.

So basically put the incident meter dome right next to the light source, take a reading... and then stop down (maybe one or two more stops) and you're pretty sure of capturing detail on film.

The other thing to remember is that if all you want is the neon exposed and the surrounding area can go black, it would be hard to underexpose too much. For example, look at old 3-strip Technicolor movies from the late 1930's -- the practical ASA was around 3 or 5, maybe 10 ASA by the time "Gone with the Wind" was made, yet candle flames exposed fine, though sort of a deep orange. In other words, there is a range of f-stops you can shoot a neon sign at where it will still record an image as colored lines.

I mean, I can take a wild guess and load the camera with 100T stock, set the lens to f/5.6, and I'm sure I'd get a neon sign exposed in all of its colors. There isn't a single "right" exposure. For example let's say you are exposing for a clear light bulb in a macro shot, filling the frame. There would be a range of a couple of stops where the filament would be visible, just that the more underexposed shots would record the color of the filament and the hotter exposures would make the filament whiter and it would start to flare.

You can also do what I did for the several years I did not own a spot meter - use your still camera to take reflective readings.
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#7 David Rakoczy

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 12:28 PM

I did that when I first started way back when but it is useless.. as David M. says you are as good (or better off in my opinion depending on your experience) to simply guess.

Get a get a Spot Meter ;)
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#8 John Sprung

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 10:54 PM

It works OK in a pinch -- you have to imagine a shot where a face is leaning next to the neon sign or table lamp, very close.


I think we have very similar approaches to this. Instead of imagining a face, I'd just have someone stand there and adjust the light on them to look right compared with the neon or whatever. Read that, and that's your exposure. You're right that such things tend to look fine over a wide range of exposures, so it's not too critical.





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#9 boy yniguez

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Posted 11 December 2009 - 02:13 AM

That won't work. A Lamp (neon for example) may be very bright (reflected) but not emit much (ambient) light.

The only (true) way is to take a reflected reading.


is it just cinematographer's imaginatiom then when motel rooms are awash with neon light from the sign outside the window?
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#10 David Rakoczy

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Posted 11 December 2009 - 02:47 AM

What may be awash to your eye may be an E or t.7 to Camera.

Hold on a second... Boy?... didn't you operate B-camera for me on Doomsdayer.... we shot that in Subic Bay, Philippines?

Is that you???
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#11 boy yniguez

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 08:54 AM

What may be awash to your eye may be an E or t.7 to Camera.

Hold on a second... Boy?... didn't you operate B-camera for me on Doomsdayer.... we shot that in Subic Bay, Philippines?

Is that you???



you may be right about the amount of light a neon lamp throws but wrong about me - i've shot hundreds of tv commercials by the time you graduated from being camera operator. you've got the wrong boy.
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#12 David Rakoczy

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 09:13 AM

Boy... I did not mean to be insulting... no need to take it that way. Sheeesh. How do you know when I transferred from Camera Op to DP anyway?! Because I didn't.. I went from Gaffer to DP and (later) worked a TV Series as Operator. You've got the wrong David :lol:

Anyway :rolleyes: , if you see Rufo or Renee, the Balikas Bothers (the Grips), please tell them I said hello. They did a great job and I really liked those guys! I also miss the Scuba Shack in Subic Bay... what a great place to hang out.

Have a great day Boy.
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#13 Michael Althaus

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Posted 15 December 2009 - 12:14 AM

Thank you for all your replays. I ended up using the spot meter of an SLR camera. I was a little bit worried because I was shooting reversal film, but it turned out fine :) It's just awesome having a community available that knows an answer for pretty much everything...
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Gamma Ray Digital Inc

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