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What Are Your Lighting Standards?


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#1 Cole Parker Christine

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 03:38 PM

One of the more common tenets of cinematography is that there is no "right way" to accomplish a look. However, in the pursuit of a high-quality image that will best convey a story visually, some standards exist that can assist in the creation of a professional image.

My question to everyone is: What are these standards for you, and why? In thinking about this question, permit me to ask the same question in the context of musical composition.

There is no correct way to compose a song, but many artists utilize musical scales as guidelines to aid them in creating quality music. What would you define as the equivalent for lighting, or the "musical scales" of cinematography?

In my endeavor to create quality images, I often find myself asking questions about what separates a professional image from a non-professional one, aside from the limitations imposed by equipment quality; great images can be captured with poor equipment, and great equipment can render poor images.

What standards do you apply for yourself when creating quality images?
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#2 Vincenzo Condorelli AIC

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 04:54 PM

if the image tells something on its own, something that cannot be delivered by any other medium, then it is a great image. for me this is the very starting principle of cinematography, what really matters before any other technical and artistic consideration which apply from case to case.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 10:14 AM

My question is what do you mean by "quality." It's such a nebulous term-- and I think it is really the wrong way to look at things. It's neve right or wrong, low or high quality-- rather I tend to think in terms of appropriateness. Is the methodology which I'm trying to photography this story appropriate for the story, for the director's vision, for the budget and time, and for the actors and actresses.
From there, once we figure out what is appropriate for our little picture, whatever that may be, the standard is to try to stay as close to that as possible (which is often very difficult). And, I would say, at the end of the day, the standard is the director being happy with what they've got for their film.

Professional images often really aren't even about what happens on set. Rather, professional films, I think, look professional, because they have spend the requisite time in both Pre and Post production to make the film. Also, when you're at a certain level you benefit from the fact not of equipment, but of set preparation. By that I mean you have production design which really forms a great look of a scene. Of course all of that had to have been attended to in pre production. Then, you shoot; and you'd shoot it the same whether or not you had tons of pre production (with the exception of maybe not as much crazy movement), and it then goes to post. And therein you have good editors and good colorists who polish it all. And that is , I think, what makes the professional look.
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#4 Matthew Kane

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 07:01 PM

For me, the big separator between objective quality and aesthetic taste is when the 'look' or medium starts to distract from your work, and make a message or impression you don't want to make. If you're trying to make a heartfelt drama, but the picture is so muddy and grainy that the audience (even subconciously) is distracted... suddenly those superficial technical details they thought were so unimportant are now upstaging the very thing you were trying to concentrate on (ie, performances).

On the other hand, if you're trying to make a Brechtian statement about how we consume stories, maybe that's just what you want.

So it may be more about your intentions and priorities in a project than any universal minimum for quality. Ultimately you're trying to affect the audience in a certain way, and that's probably the first criteria you'll have for success or failure.

Spontaneity and a feel of being 'rough around the edges' can be great for some projects. However, I think it takes significant experience and taste to own that aesthetic.

That's a pretty good summary of my personal feelings; I really enjoy pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable, and I try not to be neurotic about making sure everything fits someone else's standard for quality or professionalism (If everyone did that all the time, movies would look pretty much the way they did in 1930).

That said, I don't like to get into really out-there looks unless the director/client/creative braintrust has a fairly sophisticated understanding of what they're trying to achieve--shooting a short film like it's a skateboard video doesn't appeal to me if the only reason to do so is because somebody thinks it'd be rad to shoot it like a skateboard video.
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#5 Cole Parker Christine

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 10:36 PM

My question is what do you mean by "quality."


Your correlation to "appropriateness" is what I'm driving at, although I think of it as "definition"; visuals that we deem to be "good" because of how well they convey the intentions of the story they represent.

I recently watched an action-adventure film with a serious script, but which utilized campy lighting for some unknown purpose; it took me out of the story, as I was constantly distracted by the duality of the visuals versus the script.

So it may be more about your intentions and priorities in a project than any universal minimum for quality.


It could almost be a combination of both. Some setups are dreadful, despite making all the supposedly right moves. A film can "look the part" by utilizing all the conventions of its genre, but unless done with some polish the result can terrible.

It's this sense of what we consider to be "polished" that preoccupies me; how we distinguish between amateurism, professionalism and finally classicism.

Edited by Cole Parker Christine, 11 November 2012 - 10:36 PM.

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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 09:17 AM

There's a good book which I just re-read and which I highly suggest which gets into a bit of the notion of 'good/bad' photography which is Every Frame a Rembrandt by Andrew Laszlo. Pick it up when you get the chance.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 11:37 AM

when you're at a certain level you benefit from the fact not of equipment, but of set preparation. By that I mean you have production design which really forms a great look of a scene.



I made exactly this point to someone just a few days ago.

I guess it's just a matter of convenience. It's convenient to believe that buying a particular camera will somehow automatically production design your movie for you. "Film" people are just as guilty of this, if not more so - I've worked on more than a few shows which were made to look bad because every last penny they had went through the gate, as opposed to being spent making the production actually look good.

P
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#8 Matthew Kane

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 12:16 AM

Inevitably we end up chasing terms that refer back to something else. Something lacks quality because it has no 'polish'. One film that uses a dated lighting style is innovative and insightful, while another is campy and gross. Figuring out which is which is obvious for people who are sensitive to those distinctions, but it's not so easy to say why.

Not that these terms aren't useful, but they seem to work best when you're talking with someone who already shares your tastes--or while you're building that relationship.

I think the same back and forth happens in any criticism (which is essentially what we're doing--separating what's good from what's not so good).

I guess I've always liked art that can't be pigeonholed with straightforward language--I figure it means it's making some new wrinkles in your gray matter. Using lookbooks and movie nights with the director has always been the best way for me to hone in on the right look for a project--a critical conversation gets me into the neighborhood, and fooling around with pictures gets me to the front door.

Edited by Matthew Kane, 13 November 2012 - 12:17 AM.

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