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Lighting Film Noir


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#1 JaredSmith

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 04:39 PM

Hi there, I am a student at NYFA and I have an upcoming mise-en-scene project.

My idea was to have a man in an apartment with an unlit cigarette in his mouth washing off a gun as the camera sort of pans and tilts just a tad right to reveal one bloody mess of a bath tub (where the shooting obviously would have occurred). As the man exits he would then have the camera follow him from behind his left shoulder then come in front of him as he lights his cigarette then exhales a deep breath of smoke and relief.

I have the idea down and I know it's a little complicated for one of my more simpler assignments, but I'd love to do it. I want a film noir look to it so my only questions are:

1. Any advice on how to set up lights in such a small place?
2. How do I light the hallway of the apt. building (when he exits to smoke)... when there is a hallway light already on?
3. Any advice on where I should put the lighting (equipment listed below)?

equipment:

1. 2 VIP lights 500w
2. 1 Pro light 250w
3. black foil
4. c-clamp
5. umbrella
6. diffusion paper

Thank you for reading and responding in advance and just to let you know I am also trying to do a lot of independent research on my own (regarding lighting, so please don't feel like you are doing my job)...
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#2 Nathan Blair

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 08:18 AM

Jared,

There are many ways to achieve this scene, since noir really gives you a lot of freedom for creativity and the low-key atmosphere involves very little amount of lighting. Your biggest problem will be shading off areas that should be dark when you're in such a tiny space.

What I would recommend is lighting through as many windows as you can (if you are on or near ground level). You can motivate the light by street lamps or moonlight. If you can't light through windows, or it doesn't work for your scene, try mapping out your shots in the apartment, and see if there's a corner that's safe for your lights to live. If there is, consider lighting from there, as it will be much easier and consistent to keep lights setup rather than moving them each shot. Try to keep the lights controlled in hard shapes and patterns by using your barn doors and blackwrap foil. The key is to aim for as much tonal contrast as possible, and to play with light as a design element. You can use one pool of light to illuminate your subject, and another to illuminate any props or set design involved (to create your mise en scene).

I would not recommend using the umbrella for anything unless you absolutely need some fill... but generally soft light is not consistent with the noir style.

For the hallway, consider using the hallway light as a "practical" which lights the scene. You can replace the bulb to your liking. When doing this, I usually replace bulbs with higher intensities to get better exposure, but if the light is in the shot, you may run into flare issues unless there's some type of lamp shade involved.

I hope this helps a bit. Like I said, there are a ton of ways to achieve this, you should have fun with it.
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#3 Nathan Blair

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 08:23 AM

Also, remember to backlight your smoke!
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#4 JaredSmith

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 09:38 AM

Thanks a lot for posting - Since he would be smoking close to a wall (with little area to have a backlight) what position do you think I could put the light?
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#5 Nathan Blair

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 06:18 PM

Since he would be smoking close to a wall (with little area to have a backlight) what position do you think I could put the light?



Ah, yes that's a challenge. Since smoke is transluscent, it can be lit from either the front or the back, but the absolute most important thing, if you want to see thick smoke, is that the background has to be as dark as possible, and the smoke needs to be lit brightly. This contrast is the only way to really accentuate the smoke, otherwise it will be lost in your background. The problem with lighting it from the front, or other angles, is that there will always be spill onto surfaces behind the smoke, which will kill your contrast. I would try to position your light snug against that wall, aimed down at the smoke, and flag the wall off with some of that blackwrap. Having a gobo-arm would help for this, but possibly you could try and figure out a rig with your c-clamp?

If you're working with darker walls, or if you can hang a piece of dark set decoration on that wall, it will help you a lot.
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#6 JaredSmith

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 10:55 PM

Thanks again, that will be a big help because now that you mention it, I do have access to a gobo arm as well. So if I set the c-clamp and the gobo arm up to light the smoke I was thinking: would that be enough light to show the smoker himself?

I would guess so (I will have plenty of time to play around). And one more question: is there anything I should know beforehand when using a light meter?

There are some things I want completely dark... and I was just wanting to know if there's anything extra to say about f-stops and what not.
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#7 Jad Beyrouthy

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 04:57 AM

And one more question: is there anything I should know beforehand when using a light meter?

There are some things I want completely dark... and I was just wanting to know if there's anything extra to say about f-stops and what not.

Read more: http://www.cinematog...5#ixzz1RmzgCw9A



Having completely dark spots (crushed blacks) depends on the medium you're shooting on. Know what are the limits of your camera (sensor/film) and place your shadows on the limit. If the sensor can handle 4 stops of underexposure then this is where you should put your shadows.
PS: if you are using a small digital camera (D-SLR) or HDV... i would strongly recommend that you lift your scene and never put your shadows on the limit you can crush them back in color correction in post. These cameras represent low lights badly, a lot of digital grain will pop out.
Again the most important thing; research your camera / medium and know its capabilities.

Good luck,
Jad Beyrouthy | Cinematographer
Beirut, Lebanon
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#8 JaredSmith

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 07:23 AM

And one more question: is there anything I should know beforehand when using a light meter?

There are some things I want completely dark... and I was just wanting to know if there's anything extra to say about f-stops and what not.

Read more: http://www.cinematog...5#ixzz1RmzgCw9A



Having completely dark spots (crushed blacks) depends on the medium you're shooting on. Know what are the limits of your camera (sensor/film) and place your shadows on the limit. If the sensor can handle 4 stops of underexposure then this is where you should put your shadows.
PS: if you are using a small digital camera (D-SLR) or HDV... i would strongly recommend that you lift your scene and never put your shadows on the limit you can crush them back in color correction in post. These cameras represent low lights badly, a lot of digital grain will pop out.
Again the most important thing; research your camera / medium and know its capabilities.

Good luck,
Jad Beyrouthy | Cinematographer
Beirut, Lebanon


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#9 JaredSmith

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 07:31 AM

Okay ignore that last post - something went wrong in replying and I can't edit it either.

I am sort of puzzled right now... are you saying on some cameras I cannot film completely dark areas (why not if the result I'm looking for is a completely black image?)?

The camera I'll be shooting with is a Arriflex - S 16 mm and I'm not having much luck finding information about their sensor capabilities (somewhat due to the fact that I don't really understand what the sensor is and what it does).
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#10 Nathan Blair

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 09:30 AM

I am sort of puzzled right now... are you saying on some cameras I cannot film completely dark areas (why not if the result I'm looking for is a completely black image?)?

The camera I'll be shooting with is a Arriflex - S 16 mm and I'm not having much luck finding information about their sensor capabilities (somewhat due to the fact that I don't really understand what the sensor is and what it does).



No worries, Jared. Sensors only apply to digital cameras. They are essentially the instrument that interprets light into digital information, and your low-light capabilities heavily depend on the sensitivity of this instrument. As there is less light to record, you will introduce more artificial pixels known as "gain". For more information on this, check out the Great Camera Shootout: http://www.zacuto.co...a-shootout-2011

Since you're shooting on 16mm film, you don't have a sensor. What matters in your case is your film speed - the speed at which your film exposes light. ISO, in a nutshell, means "film speed". 400 ISO film will be much more sensitive to low light than 200 ISO. If you plan on being a DP for many films in the future, I recommend purchasing the ASC Cinematographer's Manual. It contains charts that you can use to calculate what exposure you need for different film speeds. For now, you can simply look at your light meter. Set your meter to the film speed you're using, and it will tell you what exposure you'll be getting using the lights you have. Try to expose things brighter more than darker with film, especially with lower speeds. The darks tend to fall apart quicker than the lights. You'll be surprised to see that you can bring the highlights down by at least 5 or 6 stops in film. In fact they show this in the Zacuto camera shootout posted above.

Good luck! Most importanly: play with these tools, and experiment. That's the entire purpose of these exercises in film school.

Nate
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