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How to shoot in front of a window?


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#1 Jeph Liu

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Posted 23 March 2014 - 12:37 AM

So recently I've decided that I want to shoot videos in front of a window. They are generally of me speaking in front of it. However, the video always comes out and I always look darker than what is outside the window and everything in the foreground is too dark. I know this is because of an imbalance in lighting.

I have 3 LS Pro Studio lights that I've set up pointed at me in order to try to keep the room brighter. However, I still look a bit dark. I was wondering if you guys had any tips? I have a Nikon D3100 with the stock kit lens. I would eventually like to be able to get shots in front of the window like the one in this video:

Thanks to any help I receive.
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#2 Toby Orzano

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Posted 23 March 2014 - 03:03 AM

You've already got the knowledge, you've answered your own question. You need more light inside to balance to the outdoor light. You can try placing a bounceboard in front of you to return the light coming in the window as fill on your face. A white bounce will have a soft quality, but depending on how close you can get it, you might have the same problem with not enough light. A shiny, specular bounce will reflect more light, but it will be harsh on your face. I'm not familiar with the LS Pro studio lights but it sounds like you need a light fixture with more output, like a small HMI. Or you can put ND gel on the window to cut the light coming through the window and fill with your lights, but you have to be very careful applying it so it doesn't read on screen. You also might be able to get away with a double net placed outside the window to cut down the background, if it is out of focus.

 

Have you tried exposing for your face and letting the window blow out with your current setup? Especially if the window is a little bit out of focus, a blown out window highlight might be a little more acceptable than an underexposed face, depending on how far it goes.


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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 23 March 2014 - 03:23 AM

In order to match exterior light levels (especially sunlight) you need lights with sufficient light output. The usual method is to to use HMIs or tungsten lights with CTB, the latter can tend to be 2K or more to match the output of lower wattage HMIs. You could also try a large Kino Flo bank, although .you run the risk of reflections in the window and it would need to be one their large units.

 

The alternative is to put ND on the windows, although with the subject being so close to the window you may have difficulty not seeing the gel, You can also buy Acrylic ND or CC panels that can be placed outside the window.


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#4 Guy Holt

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Posted 23 March 2014 - 08:48 PM

In order to match exterior light levels (especially sunlight) you need lights with sufficient light output. The usual method is to to use HMIs or tungsten lights with CTB, the latter can tend to be 2K or more to match the output of lower wattage HMIs. ...The alternative is to put ND on the windows, although with the subject being so close to the window you may have difficulty not seeing the gel,

 

 

Brian makes a lot of good points, but I don’t think a blue 2k is going to have enough output – especially if you want to diffuse it to make it less harsh. In my experience, you probably need at least a 4k HMI par to pick up the interior levels in wide shots. For example, my company, ScreenLight & Grip, lit a segment of a special two-hour program for British Television’s Channel 5 that presented the same problem that you are facing.

 

piratefilmstrip1lg.jpg

Host June Sarpong interviewing a marine archaeologists

 

The show told the story of the Whydah - a pirate ship that sank off Cape Cod nearly 300 years ago. In a unique TV experiment, marine archaeologists on Cape Cod dove to the wreck to salvage pirate booty live on air. In addition to the dive on the wreck, the program also included specially shot dramatic recreations of the story of the Whydah’s notorious pirate captain Black Sam Bellamy. To link between the modern-day adventures of the marine archaeologists and those of Black Sam Bellamy, co-presenter June Sarpong hosted marine archaeologists and pirate historians from a makeshift studio under a tent situated on a bluff overlooking the dive site.

 

piratefilmstrip1.25lg.jpg

Host June Sarpong interviewing a marine archaeologists

 

Where they wanted the dive site to serve as a backdrop to the makeshift studio, the show's producers wanted the Salvage Ship to be seen clearly on the water in the shots of June and her guests. This requirement created a similar interior/exterior contrast problem to the one you are facing.

 

The task of balancing interior levels to exterior levels was further complicated by the fact that it was a clear sunny day. We rigged a couple of 4kw and 2.5kw HMI Pars into the frame of the tent in order to get them as close as possible to our subjects, but even then we didn’t have quite enough output to compete against the sun outside.

 

piratefilmstrip2.25lg.jpg

A 4k HMI Par was rigged overhead as a key for each subject

 

The final ingredient for success was a double net strung across the open backside of the tent. The net further reduced the contrast by bringing the exterior levels down and in line with the pumped-up interior. The trick in situations like this is to strike a delicate balance between the interior and exterior light levels so that the net disappears to the camera without the exterior becoming overexposed and losing important detail – the Salvage Ship out on the water in this case. Another advantage to netting the background is that it takes the hard edge off of HD. It creates the illusion of a shallower depth of field or the selective focus we associate with film.

 

piratefilmstrip3lg.jpg

A double net was stretched across the open side of the tent facing out onto the water.

 

Where it took a 4k Par on each of the talent, plus a double net across the back, you can see that you need a lot of light to balance interiors to exteriors. The problem with using 4k HMIs is usually powering them. If you know how, you can plug them into wall outlets that are available on most locations (use this link for details.)

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston


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#5 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 March 2014 - 04:30 AM

Yes, 2k tungsten doesn't really give you enough for a sunny day, they need to be rather close to the subject to have any impact.


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#6 Alexandre de Tolan

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 06:35 PM

If you have little resources you can arrange a workaround.

 

Assuming that your window is something like you've posted on your video (horizontally shaped), and that you don't need it's full surface in the shot you can do the following:

 

1. Wait for the TOD that the light enters your room directly (if it isn't facing north).

2. Take a light measurement of what you can see outside. Pay extra attention to your brightest highlight.

3. Take a measurement inside where you're going to be.

4. Note how many Stops both measurements differ from each other (Lets be radical and assume a 8 Stop difference - on the verge of what your camera can probably capture - if it captures that difference at all).

5. Gel your window partially with an ND filter (the portion that appears on your shot). If you cut it to perfectly fit your window and apply it on the outside of it I doubt that you or your camera will notice it. Start with a 0.9 which drops your outside reading by 3 stops.

6. Place the right amount of mirrors inside to redirect the light that enters your window from the side that's not ND gelled. Redirect it to light yourself.

7. Diffuse that mirrored harsh light with a frame of light silk diffusion (you will loose 1, 2 or more stops depending on which and how many diffusion layer you apply. I'll say that a light diffusion will be enough and you only loose about 1 to 2 stops.

 

That way you will only need to slightly overexpose the outside compared to your own exposure (if your caucasian usually at Zone 6), and you're done.


Edited by Alexandre de Tolan, 25 March 2014 - 06:37 PM.

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#7 Will Barber

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 11:20 AM

Why must you shoot in front of the window? Try going sideways to the window, and using a backdrop if it's not that pleasing of a background to use. Then it'll be easier to fill in the contrast with a bounceboard or light, rather than trying to bring your overall exposure all the way up to the level of the direct sunlight.


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#8 Torben Greve

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 02:13 AM

Did you try a test with simple bounce boards? Simplicity is often the king rather than adding more and more lights...

Choices on how to frame your shot can also alleviate the issue, unless of course you MUST HAVE that infront of a window shot.

I recall reading on Deakins forum a lot of times, fx. in the movie prisoners the shots in the grandmas house were only lit from the outside and the filled with board from the inside. But like Will said, the light comes from the side. And then if you still have window, but only a little, it will be eaiser to ND down.

One could also argue that the natural light of a particular room is what makes that room work and completely changing it might ruin more than than it helps. Sometimes it could even make the image more interesting by putting up black to remove excessive bounce from a white room.

 

I have a shoot on monday where one of the scenes will have my main character of that scene backlit by a large living room window. I'm choosing to fill him with a board from the right and a little front to make it wrap a little and then expose him correctly on the right side and let the left do what ever it does. If anything needs to be added it will most likely be another board fill from the left but futher away.

 

But again, it's all a matter of taste, and all solutions mentioned are good and certainly one can only appreciate Guy's extensive and detailed posts because they hold a lot of info and ways to do things.

 

If I had the time, I'd make a portfolio with reference shots from different DPs with different lighting for various situations and setups and then decide based on the script which of the refs would suit the scene best and then go that way.

But until then I remain a Deakins fan and will try to mimick his work style as far as I can with my limited experience and budgets :)


Edited by Torben Greve, 29 March 2014 - 02:17 AM.

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#9 Will Barber

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 10:34 AM

If you want to see the best example of the use of natural light indoors in my opinion, look at the daylight interiors from There Will Be Blood. Of course, that's a bit more stylized that what you're going for.


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