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Looking for that frontal glowing "specular reflection only" underexposed look

low key glow specular front underexposed reflection

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#1 Raphael Van Sitteren

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 11:48 AM

Hello, 

 

I've been wondering, for quite a while now, how to replicate this kind of "glowing" underexposed look when lighting frontal.

 

Capture d

 
Capture d
 
Capture d
 

It's pretty easy to obtain this effect when it's a rim light like here (event though it's a day scene you get the idea)

 

Capture d

 

You have the specular reflection of the source when that source is placed correctly in direct reflection on the portion of the face you want to enhance.

If you have a large white surface (even passive reflection) it works like a charm.

 

I find it quite impossible to obtain when you want to have this kind of effect coming from the camera, with a low key.

The ambient light caused by the source is usually killing the specular reflections I want. (Basically I only want the specular reflections on the face not the diffused reflection)

 

When analysing the first 2 images (from the Turkish movie "Three Monkeys") the source is exactly the opposite as what I'd do in rim light, it's a small hard light.

On the third image (from a teaser of "Pompeii" coming out soon) it's a much softer source (probably a chimera). It's not quite frontal and much less underexposed but there is still that reflective quality to it.

 

So small or large sources are not relevant here, there is no hard rule I assume.

 

I'm sure one of the key for obtaining this effect is the make up, but despite my various attempts to obtain this with the various make up artists I worked with, I've never managed to obtain that quality... and I guess make up is not all there is to it.

 

I'm looking for any advices and tips from any of you guys to replicate this look... how would you do it ?

Type of source, distance, exposure, anything...

 

I think it's a very interesting way to keep a low key image with the face structure from the character very present still, and I'd love to use this on my next project.

 

Thanks for your help

 

Raf


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#2 Alexandre de Tolan

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 04:30 PM

Are you attempting this with video or film?

 

FIlm is well known for rendering highlights way different from video (they glow naturally), and if I'm not mistaken I do recognise your last image from the Russian film Vozvrashchenie and that was shot on film.

 

You mentioned a key aspect. Make up. I would say that's certainly very important since "type of source, distance" and fixture position is easily revealed by eye lights and shadows within every image you shared.


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#3 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 06:34 PM

I find that to create those specular highlights you need a fairly small, hard-ish source. I'm not sure make-up is quite so important (though obviously any moisture/sweat on the actor's face will exaggerate the effect).

I get a pretty similar (and I think effective) result by using a little Z96 LED panel with some light diffusion to provide the fill. It's a small and hard enough source that you get the specular reflections, and being able to dim the panel way way down keeps excess spill and unwanted ambient light out of the equation.

I'll post up a sample shot when I get home.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 08:22 PM

Since the eye is a globe, even soft sources will be reduced in size in the reflection in the eye, as long as they aren't huge soft sources.  So you can use a soft light and still get a fairly small reflection.  Or use a hard light.

 

This discussion reminds me of what I noticed in the photography of "Amistad", which used a silver retention process in the prints to increase contrast, so shadow sides of faces tended to drop off in detail more rapidly, but the specular highlights would remain.

 

So basically I think this is an issue of contrast / gamma in the shadows.  Use whatever light you want to get the reflection in the eye and then crush the blacks in post to lose some of the ambient detail in the shadows, leaving just the specular highlights in the shadows.


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#5 Raphael Van Sitteren

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 05:44 AM

Thank you all for your answers 

 

Are you attempting this with video or film?

 

FIlm is well known for rendering highlights way different from video (they glow naturally), and if I'm not mistaken I do recognise your last image from the Russian film Vozvrashchenie and that was shot on film.

 

I'm not attempting with one or the other in particular, but I'm happy to acknowledge that Film vs Digital was a factor I didn't think about in this matter...until now.

I certainly agree that film is a better medium for the skin.

 

One interesting fact though; the low key images I attached have all been shot digitally (Sony F900 for Three Monkeys, and Epic for Pompeii).

 

I find that to create those specular highlights you need a fairly small, hard-ish source. I'm not sure make-up is quite so important (though obviously any moisture/sweat on the actor's face will exaggerate the effect).

I get a pretty similar (and I think effective) result by using a little Z96 LED panel with some light diffusion to provide the fill. It's a small and hard enough source that you get the specular reflections, and being able to dim the panel way way down keeps excess spill and unwanted ambient light out of the equation.

I'll post up a sample shot when I get home.

 

That's one interesting lead, it's in accordance to the images from "Three Monkeys" where the source seem rater small.

I'd love to see those images of yours with comments on the technique you used ;)

 

Since the eye is a globe, even soft sources will be reduced in size in the reflection in the eye, as long as they aren't huge soft sources.  So you can use a soft light and still get a fairly small reflection.  Or use a hard light.

 

This discussion reminds me of what I noticed in the photography of "Amistad", which used a silver retention process in the prints to increase contrast, so shadow sides of faces tended to drop off in detail more rapidly, but the specular highlights would remain.

 

So basically I think this is an issue of contrast / gamma in the shadows.  Use whatever light you want to get the reflection in the eye and then crush the blacks in post to lose some of the ambient detail in the shadows, leaving just the specular highlights in the shadows.

 

Thanks David, all of this makes sense

(I smiled fondly when you mentioned Amistad and silver retention process, I wrote a 90 pages thesis on special processing to alter contrast, when I graduated...)

 

The thing is...I don't want to fix it in post :(

I was mainly asking for "on-set" tricks, but maybe I've been a but too specific with my low key examples.

 

So I went to have a look at your website (great images...) and wanted your input on those 2 screenshots.

 

web-ahsp14.jpg

 

compared to 

 

web-solstice12.jpg

 

The second one represent that specular glow I'm looking after.

The key is higher than my previous examples, so ambient reflection is more present (but the specular concept remains the same) when compared to the first one where you have less (if any) specular reflection and a very matte looking face.

 

Both have been lit bit with directional diffused sources, but the skin texture is very different between those two images, so I assume there's more to it that differentiate the two. 

One lead I had in mind was, the distance of the source to the subject (the apparent size of the source in the eyes is the same, but it doesn't mean that they had the same actual size on set, one could be a a larger one further away)

 

Another example I found in your work, this time with a lower key is this one.

 

web-solstice16.jpg

 

Would you elaborate on these thoughts and images ?

 

Thanks a lot


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#6 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 08:48 AM

That's one interesting lead, it's in accordance to the images from "Three Monkeys" where the source seem rater small.

I'd love to see those images of yours with comments on the technique you used ;)

 

Here's one example:

 

o2s8bbU.jpg

 

Is that the sort of look you're after? The edge light is coming from a mid-sized soft source some distance away, and the fill on the frontal side is entirely from the one lightly diffused Z96.


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#7 Raphael Van Sitteren

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 10:45 AM

 

Is that the sort of look you're after? The edge light is coming from a mid-sized soft source some distance away, and the fill on the frontal side is entirely from the one lightly diffused Z96.

 

Great Mark you nailed it... 

That's the kind of look I was talking about mate  :D

 

 

So you used a light diffusion (to keep the sparkle of the source I assume) on a small LED panel dimmed down.

It seems so simple now that I think about it...

 

Was the diffusion on the panel or further away ?

From the look of the reflection in the eye I'd say on the panel.


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 11:49 AM

How are you finishing and showing your work if you can't adjust the black level in post?  In a film print only?  Then overexpose and print down and use a silver retention printing process like ENR or use Vision Premier print stock (if it still exists).  If you are showing it digitally in some way, then adjusting the blacks is very basic color-correction.

 

The examples you showed were just keyed with a soft light (I think through a 4x4 or 6x6 frame of lt. grid, except for the last which was a Kino), the second one with less fill, so whether the skin was matte or reflective was just a matter of make-up and the particularly actor's skin (the last shot was in rain so that was also a factor.)  Same goes with the reflectivity of the eyeballs, some actors have eyes that catch the light better than others.

 

I think the effect you are looking for involves keeping the blacks very black in post, but honestly, this shouldn't be hard.

 

I think you are over-thinking the issue of the type of soft light used.  The only thing that matters is how soft it is, how large of a source, not whether it was an LED through a frame or a bounce off of a card, etc.


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#9 Raphael Van Sitteren

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 02:28 PM

Thanks David all of this makes perfect sense.

 

When I was saying that I didn't want to fix it in post I didn't mean it was not relevant, I simply wanted to focus this discussion on lighting and decisions prior to post production.

 

I assume it's my way of dealing with things, over-thinking in prep in order to forget about it later on and focus on my guts while lighting and shooting :)

 

I'm happy to have received many ingredients to start testing my cooking now !


Edited by Raphael Van Sitteren, 17 February 2014 - 02:28 PM.

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#10 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 03:21 PM

 
Great Mark you nailed it... 
That's the kind of look I was talking about mate  :D
 
 
So you used a light diffusion (to keep the sparkle of the source I assume) on a small LED panel dimmed down.
It seems so simple now that I think about it...
 
Was the diffusion on the panel or further away ?
From the look of the reflection in the eye I'd say on the panel.


Great, well the recipe for it is simple, just a small hardish source dimmed way down.

Diffusion was on the panel itself, mainly just to cut down on the multi-source nature of the LEDs.
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 04:38 PM

Lighting with the effect of a higher-contrast finish, whether the origination or post is film or digital, is not cheating and it's nothing new.  You don't have to separate the two processes, they are supposed to work together.   You light for the dynamic range of the camera or film stock in mind after all, you light to take filtration or smoke into account, etc.  If you want the specular highlight in the darkness to pop more, then you should be adding contrast to the shadows in post, keeping your blacks down, so that some shadow detail is crushed but specular highlights remain.


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