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#1 Phil Thompson

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 08:07 AM

Hello everyone.

I've attached a grab from Millers Crossing. Cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld. I have a few questions.
I have a konvas 35mm camera with a set of lenses, fastest being a 2.2 35mm. In order to create a scene as beautiful as this. How would one light? Are they using super fast lenses, say 1.2 where they need very little overall light? How could I compensate. his hands and chest are perfectly exposed. How do you think they achieved this?

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 11:05 AM

Hello everyone.

I've attached a grab from Millers Crossing. Cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld. I have a few questions.
I have a konvas 35mm camera with a set of lenses, fastest being a 2.2 35mm. In order to create a scene as beautiful as this. How would one light? Are they using super fast lenses, say 1.2 where they need very little overall light? How could I compensate. his hands and chest are perfectly exposed. How do you think they achieved this?

Posted Image


Don't make the classic mistake of assuming that a dark image involved working in low light levels. I think "Miller's Crossing" was shot around the time that Sonnenfeld was in his phase of shooting whole movies on slow 5247 color negative (125 ASA), so the light levels were probably quite high actually.

There's no reason why you'd have to light to f/2.2 to get this look, you could light a scene like this to f/5.6 if you wanted to -- this is all about classic lighting to desired contrast ratios of key-to-fill versus relying on available light. The lamp in the frame isn't providing much actual illumination on the scene. The key on his face could be coming from a 1K, 2K, 5K, or 10K for all that matters, and the fill balanced accordingly. And there is some fill light, it isn't black on the shadow side of his face.

On modern 500 ASA film, maybe rated at 400 or 320 ASA, I'd probably use a 2K for the key light at that distance, maybe through a light diffusion frame or with a Chimera with lightweight diffusion, flagged off the walls, and probably would be at an f/2.8-4 with the key on the face set 1-stop under. I'd use some bounced fill maybe 3-stops under overall (i.e. 2-stops under the key.) The fill too would have to be flagged off of the walls unless they were dark wood (which they might be in this case). Dark wood-paneled rooms tend to easily go black if you aren't careful.

Then I'd have to put a small accent light over the top of the desk and maybe a few other spots, could be a 650w Tweenie or something smaller (150w Peppers might work), and then each window would have a Tweenie outside six feet back or farther to create the edge on the window panes (but odds are high that I'd end up scrimming the Tweenies.)
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#3 Guy Holt

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 11:11 AM

Don't make the classic mistake of assuming that a dark image involved working in low light levels.


To that I might add, “don’t assume a dark scene is “underexposed.”” As David explains very well, it’s not that a dark scene is underexposed, but rather that the exposure values in a scene are balanced relative to a proper exposure so that most of the scene remains dark but serves up the full contrast range the medium is capable of. There are a few tricks, all of which are evident in this shot, that should be followed to do this well.

1) Edge light objects in frame. Use reverse keys for talent and underexpose flesh tones by at least two stops or more. As long as you define the contours of your subject with subtle underexposed edges, don’t be afraid to let your talent fall off into black. There is a scene beautifully lit by James Merifield in the “Deep Blue Sea” of Rachel Wiesz and Harry Hadden-Paton standing in a dark alley way. They are back light by a practical at the end of the alley. Their contours are defined by the rims motivated by the practical, but otherwise their fleshtones fall off to complete shadows.

2) I personally believe you should always have a hot spot in a frame – a practical in the scene or something in the deep background. You can shift your overall exposure in the camera or in post to create a dark scene, but without a hot spot reference in the frame it will lack contrast and look underexposed. A hot spot in the frame serves as a reference point and creates contrast. Practicals should be close to clipping and appear to be the source of light in a scene.

3) Don’t try to light your talent with only practical’s because they will blow out – the hot spot in your scene has to look natural. Not only is supplemental lighting required to light your talent, but you must also treat the practicals to make them look realistic. I find that practical lamps never look convincing unless one treats the lampshade as well as boost the bulb wattage. That is because if you stop down to keep the shade from burning out, the output of the practical, on the table it sits on or the wall its on, looks rather anemic. I find you get a more realistic look if you boost the wattage of the bulb and line the inside of the shade with ND gel. It is a delicate balance to obtain.

You can obtain this delicate balance without a monitor, by using the old school method with incident and spot meters and a selection of practical bulbs including PH 211, 212, and 213 bulbs. Years ago Walter Lassaley, BSC, instructed me to balance practical’s such that an incident reading of the direct output one foot away from the bulb is one stop over exposure. I have found that rule of thumb gives a realistic output to the practical - the light emitted downward onto the table top and upward onto the wall or ceiling is realistic. After establishing the practical’s output using an incident meter, you then use a spot meter to determine how dense an ND gel is needed to line the inside of the shade so that the shade does not become too hot.

4) Define the edges of your frame with a little detail. As long as you define the edges of your frame with a little detail, as Sonnenfeld does here, you can leave most of it black without it looking under exposed.

5) Soft sources like China Balls and Kinos are the wrong kind of fixtures for this kind of scene. You will need fixtures that you can easily control because you will need to cut them off large parts of your set. It will be hard to keep china balls and Kino Flos from spilling light all over the place and filling shadow areas that you want to keep dark. Fresnels with light diffusion inside the doors, cut with flags and nets, will give you the control you need.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting and Grip Equipment Sales and Rentals in Boston.
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#4 Carlos Herrera

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Posted 05 April 2017 - 05:38 PM

2) I personally believe you should always have a hot spot in a frame – a practical in the scene or something in the deep background. You can shift your overall exposure in the camera or in post to create a dark scene, but without a hot spot reference in the frame it will lack contrast and look underexposed. A hot spot in the frame serves as a reference point and creates contrast. Practicals should be close to clipping and appear to be the source of light in a scene.

I know this is an old thread, but I just wanted to mention this is such a great piece of advice. I'm going to try lighting in my garage later tonight with this in mind Guy :D


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