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Trending practices & tips for lighting DAY, EXT on low budgets


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#1 Reinis Traidas

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 06:17 AM

Ok, guys, this has been bugging me for some time now. I'm a young working DOP, still learning obviously, done a variety of ads and the one type of scene that I am always unsure of, always afraid of is the EXT DAY scene in overcast conditions. I always get confused about what lighting to rent/order/bring when I know I will have to shoot people outside (city or country) and it's not going to be sunny. Now I have worked out that a very good and basic, solid approach when lighting scenes in SUNNY or THIN CLOUD conditions is to just make good use of the sun's position, set the subjects or objects about so that the sun is either 3/4 of the way or completely behind them and then bounce some fill back around onto them with various reflective things. Or alternatively, if the sun is slightly more side-on, I would use a large butterfly with diffusion or a china silk to take the edge off it, again, bounce some fill and off we go.

But, but, but, flat overcast kills me. Silver reflectors are fine to bounce some fill onto the subjects, but skin tone looks very pale, flat and uninteresting. What would be your approach to lighting in such conditions? Let's say you have a very basic setup of two people sitting at a table, outside in the field. A dialog scene. What would be the best approach? Pressure the agency into rescheduling to get clear skies? Opt for bringing HMIs? And if so, how would you gel them? Add some contrast with powerful, diffused HMIs and then go for a more stylized look in post? All these choices! I've found that Tungsten looks very nice on skin tone, even in daylight. I've sometimes tried using Tungsten lights outside just to add some color to the skin tone, but with mixed results.

Tips, please! Thanks! :)
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 09:04 AM

But, but, but, flat overcast kills me.




Me too. And I don't live in a country where it's sunny all the time.
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#3 Shelly Johnson ASC

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 07:02 PM

Ok, guys, this has been bugging me for some time now. I'm a young working DOP, still learning obviously, done a variety of ads and the one type of scene that I am always unsure of, always afraid of is the EXT DAY scene in overcast conditions. I always get confused about what lighting to rent/order/bring when I know I will have to shoot people outside (city or country) and it's not going to be sunny. Now I have worked out that a very good and basic, solid approach when lighting scenes in SUNNY or THIN CLOUD conditions is to just make good use of the sun's position, set the subjects or objects about so that the sun is either 3/4 of the way or completely behind them and then bounce some fill back around onto them with various reflective things. Or alternatively, if the sun is slightly more side-on, I would use a large butterfly with diffusion or a china silk to take the edge off it, again, bounce some fill and off we go.

But, but, but, flat overcast kills me. Silver reflectors are fine to bounce some fill onto the subjects, but skin tone looks very pale, flat and uninteresting. What would be your approach to lighting in such conditions? Let's say you have a very basic setup of two people sitting at a table, outside in the field. A dialog scene. What would be the best approach? Pressure the agency into rescheduling to get clear skies? Opt for bringing HMIs? And if so, how would you gel them? Add some contrast with powerful, diffused HMIs and then go for a more stylized look in post? All these choices! I've found that Tungsten looks very nice on skin tone, even in daylight. I've sometimes tried using Tungsten lights outside just to add some color to the skin tone, but with mixed results.

Tips, please! Thanks! :)


Hi,

I have a couple of tips I can offer. The subject of day exterior lighting is vast, so I can break it down to a couple of points, focusing on your question about overcast.

For that situation, I find that taking light away is much more effective than adding light. In overcast, you have too much light everywhere. It's not organized like sunlight. It's just light and it's all over the place. I'll usually go with overheads, but instead of framing up grid cloth or silks, I'll have the grips put in solids. I'll then approach the scene by adding shadows where I want them. If I want the face more lit from one side, instead of top-soft, I'll just put frames up and block the areas of sky that are over-lighting the face. I might have 3 or 4 different frames up (12x20's, 12x12's 4x4 floppies... anything black) blocking several angles of light until I get the look I need. This, of course, also takes away light you might need to balance exposure for the background... so you may need to add some light back (bounce card or small HMI) to extend the angle of light you created by letting only part of the sky light the scene.

Overcast days, for the most part, look great when they are allowed to play darker... so even if you take some light away, you can often still expose for the background and get a more gutsy image with your darker foreground.

The second thing to consider for overcast, is sky. What type of sky are you dealing with. Is it the type of overcast that has some cloud detail there or is it just a blank sea of nothingness. You can certainly plan your compositions to take advantage of any sky detail there... or avoid it if it's too bright and lacks detail. A huge (and often overlooked) part of lighting is composition and composing favoring the light's expressive strengths. Location cinematography is always a moving target and one needs to be resourceful in dealing with the natural conditions. Negative fill is a great way to get the image shaped. Never feel like you have to settle for bland just because that is what mother nature is offering-up that particular day.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 08:53 PM

Shelly's advice is spot on -- large frames of black for negative fill can help create some contrast.

In terms of the overcast sky, I had this great sky only for a few minutes in Montana and grabbed this wide shot in "Northfork":

Posted Image

The sky was totally socked-in after that. I didn't use negative fill in the close-ups but because everyone was wearing black with hats and I was using a skip-bleach process for the prints, which gave me super blacks, the increase in contrast worked great in overcast weather.

So don't ignore costume design as a way of adding some contrast to a scene in flat weather, a figure in a black coat against a grey sky still has contrast to it.
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#5 kpv rajkumar

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:27 PM

Shelly's advice is spot on -- large frames of black for negative fill can help create some contrast.

In terms of the overcast sky, I had this great sky only for a few minutes in Montana and grabbed this wide shot in "Northfork":

Posted Image

The sky was totally socked-in after that. I didn't use negative fill in the close-ups but because everyone was wearing black with hats and I was using a skip-bleach process for the prints, which gave me super blacks, the increase in contrast worked great in overcast weather.

So don't ignore costume design as a way of adding some contrast to a scene in flat weather, a figure in a black coat against a grey sky still has contrast to it.

wow, that's a pretty foreboding picture, dave. i'm also imagining it with the red tail lights on ! rajkumar
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#6 Guy Holt

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 03:02 PM

I am always unsure of... what lighting to rent/order/bring when I know I will have to shoot people outside (city or country) and it's not going to be sunny.... Silver reflectors are fine to bounce some fill onto the subjects, but skin tone looks very pale, flat and uninteresting. What would be your approach to lighting in such conditions? Let's say you have a very basic setup of two people sitting at a table, outside in the field. A dialog scene. What would be the best approach?


You've got some great suggestions for “grip lighting”, but on overcast days I find you still need lights? I have always found reflector boards to be useless on overcast days because there is no light to bounce, and what bounce you get is very high in color temperature. By the time you warm it up with CTO, there is nothing left. As a gaffer in New England (about which Mark Twain famously quipped “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change”) I don’t go outside without both a grip and lighting package – especially if we are shooting dramatic scenes over an extended period of time. Then the issue is matching the light as the weather changes constantly.

Since you are looking for low budget solutions, you probably can’t afford big HMIs and the big generator to operate them. The approach that I find works best is to shoot under a full silk with smaller HMIs. Shooting under a silk offers a number of advantages. First, it knocks down the level under it by two and half stops, which brightens the background outside the silk so that it looks like a sunny day. Second, smaller HMI lights will have more of a modeling effect in the lower ambient level under the silk. Shooting into talents' down side under a silk, I find that a 2.5 Par through a diffusion frame is a sufficient key source to create the look of a sunny day on your talent. Third, if the sun breaks through the clouds, the silk takes the directionality out of the sun so the continuity you have established with your lights is not destroyed. The set up pictured below is a good example of this approach.

Posted Image


It is obvious by the rain cover over the lights and ballasts, and the wet sandbags, that it was overcast and raining not too long before this picture was taken. But, now that the sun is starting to break through the clouds, the silk they set up to keep the talent dry will keep the sun from washing out the modeling on their talent that they created with the 2.5 HMI back cross keys through diffusion.

You can easily power this set-up of two 2.5 HMis on nothing more than a modified Honda EU6500is generator if you use a transformer to step-down its 240V output to a single 120V circuit. To record dialogue without picking up the sound of the generator, run the generator out of the back of a van or truck 300-400 ft away from set. To avoid line loss over the long cable run to the generator use a Transformer that will boost the voltage to compensate for the drop in voltage you will get over the long cable run. If you have any questions about using transformers with portable gas generators, I would suggest you read an article I wrote on the use of portable generators in motion picture production. Harry Box, author of “The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook” has cited my article in the just released Fourth Edition of the handbook. In addition, he has established a link to it from the companion website for the Fourth Edition of the Handbook, called “Box Book Extras.”

The “Box Book Extras,” site is also worth checking out because it includes other source material used for the handbook, articles by Harry Box published in other periodicals, related websites, a list of production oriented i-phone apps, as well as more in depth discussion of topics touched upon in the handbook. You can log onto the Box Book Extras site at http://booksite.focalpress.com/box/setlighting/ with our pass-code "setlighting." Use this link for my news letter article on the use of portable gas generators in motion picture production.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SceenLight & Grip, Lighting and Grip Rental & Sales in Boston.
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#7 Vedran Rapo

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 04:10 PM

Thank you Guy, for a very nice post
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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 04:39 PM

The other thing to do is to wait until it starts to get gloomy in the evening, then put in a big softlight biased warm. Then it starts to look like sunset. Of course, if you can build a big enough softlight, you can do that at any time of day!

P
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Metropolis Post

Abel Cine

Glidecam

Ritter Battery

Tai Audio

The Slider

Visual Products

Paralinx LLC

Wooden Camera

Technodolly

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

CineTape

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Willys Widgets

Aerial Filmworks

CineLab

FJS International, LLC