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Best movies that are available or minimal lighting only


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#1 XiaoSu Han

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 04:01 PM

Doing research for a movie where we are going to use very little artificial lighting and thus wanted to get some inspiration from the masters.

What are the best uses for natural and available light? Of course there are the Malick and Hou Hsiao-Hsien films but am looking for as many as possible.

Thanks for any input.

cheers, Xax
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#2 Tom Jensen

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 04:11 PM

The best example that I can think of is "The Crossing Guard," which Vilmos Zsigmond shot for Sean Penn.
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#3 Andrew Rieger

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Posted 20 May 2010 - 02:56 AM

The most recent film I can think of is Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, shot with a Red using only available light. According to Steven, they only used artificial light in one scene (not sure which one).

Trailer Link:

I hated the film and found it boring as hell, but there were some good shots in there and it is a must see if you want to shoot using only available light.

Posted Image

Edited by Andrew Rieger, 20 May 2010 - 02:58 AM.

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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 20 May 2010 - 08:33 AM

Lost in Translation has a lot of available natural light scenes.
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#5 Bruce Southerland

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Posted 20 May 2010 - 09:41 PM

Emmanuel Lubezki,ASC,AMC shot the majority of Children of Men with natural light.
he talks about it in an article in the Dec. 2006 issue of American Cinematography.
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#6 Jay Stewart

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 09:39 AM

The benchmark example of shooting with available light is Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 09:56 AM

While I'm not sure totally how much lighting was used on BL, I wouldn't really call Barry Lyndon available light as much as I would call it extreme low light shooting. Then again, we all can't have F0.7 lenses... Another good example of shooting with relatively low levels of light from Kubrick would be Eyes Wide Shut, in the opening dancing sequence lit primarily with xmas lights on strings.
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#8 Jay Stewart

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 10:42 AM

While I'm not sure totally how much lighting was used on BL, I wouldn't really call Barry Lyndon available light as much as I would call it extreme low light shooting. Then again, we all can't have F0.7 lenses... Another good example of shooting with relatively low levels of light from Kubrick would be Eyes Wide Shut, in the opening dancing sequence lit primarily with xmas lights on strings.


BL was mostly candle light - and only available lighting, but you have a point with the extremely fast lenses.
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#9 Brian Rose

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 10:57 AM

Doing research for a movie where we are going to use very little artificial lighting and thus wanted to get some inspiration from the masters.


There are many ways of using available/natural light, and they are not all the same. What would help us is, WHY are you shooting with minimal artificial light? Is it for budgetary reasons, hence, you want to see examples of very polished lighting done in a low-budget way? Or is it a conscious choice? Do you want something gritty, ugly looking? Or striving for something approaching naturalism? Will you be manipulating the available light through reflectors and diffusers? Are you shooting film, and so can push the stock, or are you shooting digital? What kind of digital? You see, there are many questions that could help us in referring you to the right kinds of examples.

I understand that "Amadeus" was shot largely using available light, yet it is a very polished film (though at times a touch soft, with some grain due to high speed stocks and (I believe) some push processing).

Likewise, Malick is known for employing available light to quite stunning effect.

Vilmos Zsigmond is famous for using a combination of pre-flashing and push-processing the negative to get extraordinary results in extremely low light conditions. In "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," there is a fantastic shot in the late evening, and the only other light source is the flicker of a flame as a character lights his cigar. Legend has it Stanley Kubrick, then in pre-production on Barry Lyndon, called up director Robert Altman to ask how he got the shot.

Zsigmond later used flashing and pushing on Altman's "The Long Goodbye," and (he claims) to have not used ANY artificial light. That film, as a result, has a very low contrast feel, with colors that register as very muted pastels.

As others have said, while "Barry Lyndon" is cited as an example of shooting in low/available light conditions, I'm not so sure I count it among the others, because they did have access to an extremely fast lens, which was originally made for NASA. I doubt you'll be able to rent it for your shoot! :)

As you can see, there are
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#10 Mei Lewis

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 02:47 PM

As others have said, while "Barry Lyndon" is cited as an example of shooting in low/available light conditions, I'm not so sure I count it among the others, because they did have access to an extremely fast lens, which was originally made for NASA. I doubt you'll be able to rent it for your shoot! :)


Would faster modern films or digital acquisition allow for the same shots to be done on a slower lens nowadays?
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#11 Brian Rose

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 03:02 PM

Would faster modern films or digital acquisition allow for the same shots to be done on a slower lens nowadays?


You know, that's a great question. I bet with some 500 speed film pushed a stop, coupled with a reasonably fast prime could do the trick. If you're shooting digital, one of the DSLRs might work as well. Of course in all cases, the DoF would be shallower than a mo-fo, but considering how obsessed people are with getting shallow DoF, with lens adapters and such, I doubt few would complain.

BR
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#12 Andrew Rieger

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 06:48 PM

You know, that's a great question. I bet with some 500 speed film pushed a stop, coupled with a reasonably fast prime could do the trick. If you're shooting digital, one of the DSLRs might work as well. Of course in all cases, the DoF would be shallower than a mo-fo, but considering how obsessed people are with getting shallow DoF, with lens adapters and such, I doubt few would complain.

BR


I think a better question is why a company like Zeiss has not tried to market a lens that fast since barry lyndon, Leica is the fastest at the moment at F0.95 but there is no modern cine glass faster than T1.0. The lens would be through the roof in price but everything is chump change to studios so there would be some takers.

For now, a Red One with the MX upgrade and a master prime at T1.3 should produce low light performance that will allow a Lyndon-like scene lit only with candles.

Edited by Andrew Rieger, 22 May 2010 - 06:51 PM.

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#13 Tim Partridge

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 04:35 AM

David Mullen has often mentioned that Barry Lyndon used exterior, artificial lighting for interior scenes (arcs fired through windows, I think).

Paul Greengrass' film Bloody Sunday I believe was all available light shot wide open and I think pushed by Ivan Strasburg. If you can, track it down.

I don't know the tech specs, but Adrian Lyne's first film Foxes looks really natural and the artificial lighting mostly undetectable. A lot of it looks really unlit and wide open soft.
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#14 XiaoSu Han

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 04:52 AM

Thanks for the thorough answers,

I am sorry for not having delivered more information but it's a very special project for us as well.

First of all it's going to be a road movie in China and we are travelling to remote areas and thus can't really take that much equipment with us (budget and director wants small crew).

At some point we thought it might be wise to buy two LED lights or something similar, maybe with batteries but the director kindof opted against it and again called for natural light. We're still thinking about shooting options but it might look like at the moment the RED ONE with M-X sensor is a good bet for us. We don't have the resources and unfortunately also not the experience to do flashing with negative stock and push-processing. Also the director is a avantgardist on the DV front so digital it would have to be (unfortunately?).

As we probably won't have a focus puller we definitely have to stop down to at least 2.8 most of the time and therefore the new M-X sensor with it's low noise floor will definitely help.

We're not interested in very high speed lenses as we can't pull the focus anyways and don't want the infamous 5D shallow focus effect everybody sports.

I was therefore looking for "classic" examples by the masters for great natural light cinematography (yes we want and will shape the light using reflectors and diffusions) - not really interested in what Soderbergh has done with his natural approach as in my opinion it does not look too good photographically.

Thanks for the Zsigmond references, stuff like that was what I was looking for. Masters pushing their boundaries to create something special because of an artistic choice. That's the feeling and cinematography we want to create on this piece, not "the RED camera is so great we can just run and gun".

To contribute I've read that Gerry by Harris Savides (dir. Gus van Sant) has been shot with a lot of natural lighting and fireplace lighting as they had lights set up for a fireplace scene but the genny went out just before and they shot it "natural". Great read in "New Cinematographers" by Alexander Ballinger.

Thanks for all the references and inspiration! There has to be more!! :)
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#15 Andrew Rieger

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 05:02 AM

I was therefore looking for "classic" examples by the masters for great natural light cinematography (yes we want and will shape the light using reflectors and diffusions) - not really interested in what Soderbergh has done with his natural approach as in my opinion it does not look too good photographically.


Well since you are shooting red, that is what it is going to look like. Natural light is natural light. You can modify it with bounce and mirrors but there is only so much you can do. I would suggest checking your locations at different times of the day to best use sunlight to your advantage. Not really a ton of examples of pure available light mainstream films. The Soderbergh stuff looked good in some scenes and not in others. It is hard to be totally dedicated to available light work. It will look very documentary like which is a look I personally like. District 9 also had a great deal of available light shooting, both for interior and exterior scenes.It helped keep the budget down and aid in providing that documentary feel.
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#16 XiaoSu Han

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 05:32 AM

"Well since you are shooting red, that is what it is going to look like." - That's EXACTLY what I want to avoid. Natural light coming from behind the camera is not the same as natural light coming from the side of the camera.

We did a almost natural/available light only feature film in NYC last year where we just used a couple of 500w photofloodbulbs in home depot like fixtures, and tried to steer away from the "RED look" as much as possible. As I am not a 100% satisfied with the result I wanted to find examples by the masters, how they did it if they had to do it. (http://www.cinematog...showtopic=40503)
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#17 Mei Lewis

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 07:12 AM

I'm missing some subtlety here. Why would using a Red camera in natural light be much different to using it under artificial light?
Why would using it lock you into a specific look?
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#18 Andrew Rieger

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 01:40 PM

"Well since you are shooting red, that is what it is going to look like." - That's EXACTLY what I want to avoid. Natural light coming from behind the camera is not the same as natural light coming from the side of the camera.

We did a almost natural/available light only feature film in NYC last year where we just used a couple of 500w photofloodbulbs in home depot like fixtures, and tried to steer away from the "RED look" as much as possible. As I am not a 100% satisfied with the result I wanted to find examples by the masters, how they did it if they had to do it. (http://www.cinematog...showtopic=40503)


That look is not exclusive to Red. Soderbergh's film would have looked the same if shot on film. Natural light is natural light. I thought the pics in the link you posted looked stellar. Very natural. I often think lighting in mainstream films looks forced and very very fake. I love the work of guys like Doyle and Deakins because they take natural light and augment it with other lights to strengthen the effect, it still feels very natural. Your low budget film looked much much more professional than films with way higher budgets using three grip trucks worth of cinema lighting. The Red one does not have a set look if you know how to work with it. I recently saw the Academy Award winner for best foreign film. I could have sworn it was shot on film, it looked so, well, filmic but i later found out it was shot on Red. There have been a number of films that looked a little digital to me only to find out later that they were shot on film.
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#19 Brandon Del Nero

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Posted 26 May 2010 - 01:48 PM

That look is not exclusive to Red. Soderbergh's film would have looked the same if shot on film. Natural light is natural light. I thought the pics in the link you posted looked stellar. Very natural. I often think lighting in mainstream films looks forced and very very fake. I love the work of guys like Doyle and Deakins because they take natural light and augment it with other lights to strengthen the effect, it still feels very natural. Your low budget film looked much much more professional than films with way higher budgets using three grip trucks worth of cinema lighting. The Red one does not have a set look if you know how to work with it. I recently saw the Academy Award winner for best foreign film. I could have sworn it was shot on film, it looked so, well, filmic but i later found out it was shot on Red. There have been a number of films that looked a little digital to me only to find out later that they were shot on film.


Well put. I feel you have to think very far outside the creative box when working with natural light. And if you're working with exclusively natural light, you'll have some ups and downs, unless you have complete control of where and when you shoot. My advice is when tech scouting your locations, ALWAYS have at least one practical source and keep an array of 100-250 watt light bulbs available at all times. At least then, you have control with your interiors.

And as Andrew said, the Red has a decent level of flexibility, but I strongly feel as a DP, you have to think about post and finish too. What look can you achieve in a DI session (if you're scheduling one)? Is there a through-line to your work, or are you just pressing record when you find an angle that looks passable?

The more I think about what I just wrote, the more elementary it sounds, but we tend to forget about the basic foundation of photography with natural light. The basics may be exactly what works in this case.
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#20 Robert Costello

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Posted 26 May 2010 - 02:46 PM

I think a movie worth viewing might be Pather Panchali/Song of the Little Road (1955) which I beleive
made a point to use only natural lighting. The film was shot in India, and has a lot of EXTeriors in a
tropical region. It is available on youtube in 10 or so parts.

What else? Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960) Made it a point to use only natural lighting...

Both of those movies are black and white though.

I'd say the use of only natural lighting is quite common in many, many films.

It is the nightmare of your life trying to match up footage on multiple takes if continuity is a goal.

Edited by Robert Costello, 26 May 2010 - 02:48 PM.

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