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How to light like a Caravaggio painting


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#1 Sam Frazier

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Posted 21 January 2005 - 05:47 AM

I'm making a short film that I'd like to look as though it takes place in the 1700s. I posted in the First Time Filmmakers forum here and I got a good recommendation to check out the Baroque painter Caravaggio to get a reference for the old world feel.
I did some research on him and it seems he was fond of a single source of light and lots of rich colors against dark shaddows and dark backgrounds. Here's a site with lots of pics and some info about him:

http://www.ibiblio.o...uth/caravaggio/

Here's a picture from there that I think really illustrates some of these points:

http://www.ibiblio.o...eath-virgin.jpg

So, my thought was to light with a dominant but soft key (his light was always soft) and surround the scene as need (but sparingly) with very gentle fill.

So, I was wondering if this sounds like a good approach and if there were any recommendations towards acheiving this goal. We will be shooting on super 16, though I don't have any particular stock in mind currently.
Thanks ahead of time for any thoughts or help!
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#2 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 21 January 2005 - 06:33 AM

Sounds like a good plan.

Caravaggio is my favorite painter.

The only logical light sources of this time were sunlight and candlelight. Thus your look should reflect this.

Use warm gel on your lights (like CTS). He used a single source through a window. The light was generally fairly hard, but seemed to reach everything that he needed lit.

The key to recreating this look is in the darkness. These paintings used light sparingly.

Also, look at the work of Rembrandt as he is a Caravaggisti, and paints in his style.

Many of the Baroque painters have a look similar to what you are talking about.

Kevin Zanit
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 January 2005 - 11:36 AM

Single-source sounds right, although the light was not quite as soft as in a Vermeer or Rembrandt. There was some ambient bounce back into the shadows so you want to expose your key a little "hot" and maybe have some white cards to get a little natural bounce into the shadows, as opposed to just adding a fill light.

I don't think of a Caravaggio as soft or grainy, so I'd use a slow-speed stock.
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#4 Ryan Puckett

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Posted 21 January 2005 - 11:51 AM

Looking at a Caravaggio is an absolute treat. There's nothing like beautiful religious works created by a total closet heathen. Kevin is absolutely right about the type of sources you want to replicate. You will also notice that the light fall off into the shadows tends to be exagerated a bit sometimes compared to the direction and intensity of these sources. Negative fill, and dark colored walls on the set or location should help immensely in controlling your shadows, and contrast. Getting the balance of a very directional source with just enough softness to wrap around the object gently will be the key.
Definitely try to do some film tests to figure out how you want to expose the negative so you can print down or adjust in telecine for really deep blacks.
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#5 James Cotter

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Posted 21 January 2005 - 04:01 PM

Lucky enough to have a caravaggio in my local museum in Ireland and spent a fair amount of time looking at it! In terms of stock, I'd point towards a slow sharp stock that likes blacks - 100t 7248 probably, or if you want to go the whole hog, 50d 7245. I've used 48 on some shoots that needed rich colours, nice blacks and sharpness and found them very effective.
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#6 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 21 January 2005 - 06:33 PM

Get the art department to really pay attention to texture - an example would be the costumes worn by the dark riders in "Lord of the Rings" - there was apparently 50m of cloth in each costume to get that drape, textured look - and loads of subtle play on texture and colour

thanks

R
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#7 fstop

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Posted 22 January 2005 - 05:25 PM

I love Carravagio, I have actually found hanging squares of muslin/silks on the barn doors of bigger sources to give varying softness aswell as tweaking the fresnel to give some very noticable variations of that kind of hardlight- you get ONE beautiful nose shadow, but the edge of the shadow can get gradually more and more softer, SUPER soft but still with the defining shadow. I dunno, I LOVE the effect, and just minor SIMPLE tweaks can make the difference between making it photogenic for a each individual subject. With subtle bounce fill on top you can do amazing work that has all of Caravaggio's drama and theatricality, but also that motivated SINGLE source ambience. I mean stuff like this where you can clearly see ONE shadow only, completely controlled, but there's also that subtle cool colour temperature in the skin tones that suggests a softness:

Posted Image

Everyone tends to think hardlight is this artifice only cliche of two extreme tones, which is a shame and probably the reason why there's way too much crummy, samey looking softlight everywhere these days.

Viva hard light! :D
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#8 Sam Frazier

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Posted 22 January 2005 - 06:46 PM

Just wanted to thank everyone for all the help. I had no idea Caravaggio was that popular for cinematographers, but I agree. He did some beautiful stuff and I'd love to get something close to that look.
The problem is I'm still pretty green. I've got a decent amount of book knowledge, but not enough field experience and know very little about film. Also, I need to be finished with production by the end of March, so testing is going to be hard. I'm used to the help others with their projects and get them to help on yours, but for this and with this time frame, I may just have to find a way and pay an experienced crew. Hopefully it won't be much more than a term in film school, and it doesn't look like I'll ever get the chance to go there, so what the hell.
So basically the plan is to get some 35mm stills using some of the suggestions here and pass those results along to the experts (the crew). There are going to be some tricky things to deal with, such as the scene outside in bright sunlight. Also, the wardrobe is going to be pretty much modern day, but the script is an adaptation of a famous essay made the 1700's-thus the need for the old world look to bring things together. But, I won't have the period clothes to sell the look.
So thanks again for all the advice and support. Wish me luck!
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 12:04 AM

I always have wondered if Caravaggio's "The Matyrdom of Saint Matthew" was an inspiration for the climax to "Apocalypse Now" even if they don't recreate that specific painting.

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Storaro is certainly a follower of Caravaggio, where the single-source look goes beyond naturalism into theatricalism.
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#10 J. Lamar King

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 01:53 AM

I'm fortunate enough to live near the Kimball art museum in Fort Worth where "The Cardsharps" is hung. Great light in this painting! They also have a couple of Georges de la Tour's works which are similar to Caravaggio.

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#11 Felipe Perez-Burchard

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 06:39 AM

Hi,

My freshman year a friend and I recreated the very painting that Tim put up in his post.
While not wholly succesful (the lens is wrong, the camera needs to be closer to the subject, the table is too big and askew and countless other things), I did learn a valuable lesson; and that is the power that you can get with makeup... I couldn't get the shadows right since the physicallity of our model was no where near that of Caravaggio's model, so I ran out of the building and grabbed as much dirt as I could pull out of the little lawn and applyed it softly to create the shadows I wanted (wasn't totally right either, but I learned from it).

I remember only using one big soft source (heavily cut), but looking back at the image, I must have used some fill becasue you can see you specular reflection on the apples (no peaches available).

This was on video, so we white balanced to a slight lavander to get the yellow tone. Unfortunately I have never seen a Caravaggio in real life, so I never know what its truly like, the image I saw was much more golden that the one Tim put up (which seems more green).

But regarding the blacks, the aging process seems to have affected many old paintings (at least as I've perceived them in books) and I don't really see them as having true black, and in fact more of a veiling similar to underexposure... this is obviously contradicting what some of you guys have said; it's just my opinion, and by no means is it backed by the experience that the other members of the forum have.

Just thought I'd share, if it's of any help.

Good luck!

-felipe.

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Edited by felipe, 23 January 2005 - 06:46 AM.

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#12 Sam Wells

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 11:09 AM

Wow David, you make a pretty good case !

Anyway, it's an eye-opener.

To me the genius of Storaro's work on AN was the imposition of a 'classical' western vision onto Third World Asian landscape. So we have to ask, is there a kind of hubris in that ? - and can that be explored ?
(otherwise I have some reservations about Apocalypse Now, but re Storaro, no, it's fascinating)

i.e. maybe it's not just How Caravaggio, but Why Caravaggio...

-Sam

random thoughts while snowbound
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 12:23 PM

It's similar to his own approach to the movie, which was the imposition of artificial light on the natural world, or the conflict between artifical energies and natural energies -- so the army intruding the landscape is represented by searchlights, arcs, light bulbs, etc. cutting through the darkness, flaring the lens, while the Vietnamese and Kurtz are represented by natural daylight, firelight, etc.
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#14 Mark Sasahara

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 03:02 PM

Brilliant!
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