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Lighting for Glossy Black Upright Piano

Glossy Black Upright Piano

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#1 Stephen Selby

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 11:55 AM

Hi guys. I am starting to learn the craft of lighting but find it very difficult. I have a scene with a glossy upright piano to light.

I have done three quick tests:
A:
IMG_9592e1.jpg

B:
IMG_9593e1.jpg

C:
IMG_9594e1.jpg

So intention is to look warm and romantic. Perhaps I overdid Kelvin shift and Saturation too much. I think this was at 4000k but I should shoot more about 3400 and shift in post if more required.

Current setup is 4 lights:
1) Practical
2) Light above practical taped on ceiling
3) Dedolight on music
4) Light for nearside of piano - otherwise it is underexposed.

Here are my thoughts:
A: Lamp is in good position, looks romantic and cosy - but not lighting down the nose so profile face looks a bit bland.
B: Compromise
C: Lamp is not in such a good position - looks a bit clumsy and unnatural but lends itself to better portraiture light - i.e. lighting down the nose line.

Which of these do you prefer? Can you suggest any improvements? Do you think the face looks bit bland in A or can I get away with it? By the way the actor isn't wearing a pink shirt - thankfully!!

Thanks

Stephen


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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 16 September 2014 - 11:58 PM

Pull the piano away from the walls so you can get some depth and work a key light in on the actor from a 3/4 back position. This will also keep the practical from lighting up the white curtains.

Alternately, put the practical on a dimmer and bring it way down. Then use your Dedo to spot light the curtains behind the actor so he plays in silhouette. It will appear motivated by the practical.

Either way, you should pull the piano away from the wall for depth.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 12:03 AM

Also, to light dark glossy surfaces like your piano, the secret is to reflect a large soft source rather than throwing more direct light on the surface. So take a bounce card, light it, and find the right angle to get a reflection. Think Apple commercials with laptop, iPad, and iPhone screens.
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 01:20 AM

It's worth checking out car commercials as well (doesn't have to be TV ones, magazines will do), it's about reflections and painting with light.


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#5 Stephen Selby

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 06:04 PM

Pulling the piano from the wall. Interesting thought! Might give it a try but at the same time I imagine it would loose the homely feel. How many homes have uprights in the middle of the room? It would look more like a music video - but this is part of a drama. Guess that is the line between keeping to the script and lighting something nicely.

 

Practical is already on dimmer but perhaps I should bring it down even more.

 

Difficulty of reflection on near side is amount. I currently have soft bounce light, but if I increase the brightness of the reflection it loses it's cosy feel.

 

Interesting idea to spot the dedo on the curtain and leave the actor in silhouette. I guess we sometimes get obsessed with lighting the actor so they are visible but guess silhouettes are fine - if we can work out what the actor is doing from the sound and closer cuts. Might give that a try.


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#6 Albion Hockney

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 02:38 AM

I think in general you need way less fill in the room. The key angle seems best in the first picture to me but the 2nd is ok too if you want a brighter look.

I think you have too much light spilling around the room in general right now.

 

 

I would start by turning everything off and working your key light. If you are going for a

low key feeling which I think you are you really dont want your key light spilling around the room much you want a

nice soft hit on your actor and then just enough fill to see his other side a bit.

This is what I would atleast think I would do in this setup.

 

 

for your key light I would take on postion in your first photo, I would take a home depot clamp light with the silver reflector and probably use a 100W bulb or a bigger bulb and put it on a dimmer. I would put diffusion over the front (250 probbaly) and then blackwrap around the sides to control the light off most everything else but your talent. You want the key sufficently bright that you can underexpose the lamp a bit.... you probably need the light to put a little bit of light on the top of the piano and that wall its right next to, to look natrual but other then that you dont need it doing much. For those back curtains I would again use something kinda soft and I would create something of a cut on the curtains so it falls off left to right and top to bottom. Basically you want to make it look like that lamp on the piano is light the back curtain but you want to get a really nice gradient of fall of so it looks more interesting. I 2nd Satsuki that you want a bit of a silouhette asthetic so bring up the curtains for sure.

 

 for fill I would get something big and soft on his side frontal to camera but honestly you could also just bounce a little light off the wall behind the camera. Honestly in my asthetic that might be enough.  I think you can do with out the special on the music ....its a bit forced to me

 

as for the piano. Reflective surfaces are actually not really about lighting....it is like Satsuki said about reflections ....the piano will look most interesting if there is not much light hitting it but things for it to reflect, again like satsuki said a big soft light which is how most car commericals are lit.

Think of it as a mirror, at the angle you are shooting from the piano sees (is reflecting) the curtains. If you want it to reflect something else you will have to change your shooting angle. If you want the curtain reflection to be more pornounced what you have to do is get more light off the surface of the piano and get more light onto the curtains in this way the surface of the piano will become much more contrasty ....the parts not reflecting the curtains will be a deep black while the parts reflecting the curtains can be very bright.

 

 

I also agree, moving the piano out from the wall and creating more depth would be nice.


Edited by Albion Hockney, 18 September 2014 - 02:39 AM.

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#7 Stephen Selby

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 03:59 AM

Hi Albion

 

That's interesting you should say all that because it seems most of what you said I am already doing.

 

The key light is a home depot clamp light with 100w dimmed down, as you suggested, and it does fall on the actor and top of piano and wall, but no blackwrap.

 

For fill I am actually bouncing light off muslin next to the camera - so similar to what you said.

 

And as per reflections I really don't want them too pronounced otherwise it will move further away from a low key effect. 

 

There is no real direct lighting on end of piano - per say - I'm not really lighting the near side of the piano just seeing the reflection of the soft fill light in it.

 

I think what you are all spotting is actually probably incorrect levels. I think there may be way too much fill - I think if I simply turn down the fill, practical, and music light and increase the key it may solve 90% of the issues.

 

And yes pull the piano away - but not sure by how much. I assume you are only talking a couple of inches here to - add a little depth and make sure the lamp doesn't overexpose the wall.

 

The horrible thing of low key lighting with 5dMkii is that all the blacks become crushed. But have to make the best of what I've got. My first film, I'm directing, lighting, gaffering, editing and pretty much everything so have to keep things in perspective. Nobody was Sven Nykvist overnight.


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#8 Stephen Selby

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 04:13 AM

Interestingly enough - this also might have to do with general camera exposure levels. I've been reading about histograms and read that it is better to expose for the histograms without clipping the highlights and then lower the exposure in post-production if necessary - because if shot at low key to begin with and it comes out too dark - it's much more difficult to bring back detail that is not there. I simply added a curve and pulled back the highlights darkening the whole picture with the same shot and already looks much more cosy. But potentially could use less fill and more key.

 

IMG_9592e2.jpg


Edited by Stephen Selby, 18 September 2014 - 04:14 AM.

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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 09:24 AM

There isn't any simple answers here, on the one hand, a white wall and curtain is a boring background but on the other hand, they can be used to create a silhouette effect and bring out the dark piano by use of reflections.

It might be interesting to put the table lamp on a small, lower table in the background (to the piano player's right) to create a brighter reflection on the piano and silhouette the player more dramatically.
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#10 Albion Hockney

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 11:24 AM

Interestingly enough - this also might have to do with general camera exposure levels. I've been reading about histograms and read that it is better to expose for the histograms without clipping the highlights and then lower the exposure in post-production if necessary - because if shot at low key to begin with and it comes out too dark - it's much more difficult to bring back detail that is not there. I simply added a curve and pulled back the highlights darkening the whole picture with the same shot and already looks much more cosy. But potentially could use less fill and more key.

 

 

 

Well this very much depends on the camera you are using, it is true a technique often used is to light a little brighter and bring down the picture in post to help aid in less noise. The larger issue is basically if you light a low key scene where you are working in the shadows you cant really raise the picture in post as it will get super noisy so you need to be sure you look where it is on the day. This is especailly true when shooting a higher iso. Either way without shooting raw or log you really want to get it right on the day.

I think its fine to do this but with that said you still need a stronger key I think I dont know if you have a light meter but your picture is still looking pretty flat to me and your key seems substaintly underexposed. to me it is also too warm in an almost monochromatic way.... it looks like it lit with sodium vapor!

 

 

 

as for reflections....again reflective light is not about lighting so it will not necessarily make your picture any brighter....if you simply but more light on the curtains you will see them reflected stronger in the piano and still keep a low key look.

 

 

when I talk about pull the piano away I'm talkng feet for sure ....I was talking about those curtains in the backround.... honestly I would probably frame differnetly as well and take out most of the wall on frame left by shooting more profile or on a longer lens this is of course without knowing the context in your story and such so that might not work for you.


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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 03:07 PM

 
IMG_9592e2.jpg

I think this looks pretty nice, simple and understated. It's probably not too far from what Roger Deakins would do for a movie like No Country for Old Men.

The thing is, everyone here is seeing your shot in isolation without context, so it's hard for us to make suggestions appropriate to the story and mood of your film. This would be bad lighting for a rom com and good lighting for a thriller or dark drama.
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#12 Stephen Selby

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 05:02 PM

It's actually for montage scenes in a film with the passing of time - with autumn leaves turning to winter. I'll have daylight versions too. My idea is too start with warm tone to match with warm autumn leaves and then move to more wintery bleak versions. There is another scene where he is busy sketching his symphony. He is a bit music obsessed.

 

I will post results of this after filming - probably later in December as I have to stop working on this film for the next two months to write music for a UK TV series. That's my main area of expertise.

 

Cheers


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#13 James Oldham

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Posted 19 September 2014 - 06:15 AM

At the end of the day, you will need to go with what feels best to you and your eye.

 

Interesting idea from David to completely remove the lamp from the foreground, and place on a small table, which will provide a moody, silhouetted shot.

 

If it's just for a montage scene showing the passage of time, then you can be a bit more creative with it, and experiment.

 

If it were me, I would definitely be adding shape to the curtains.

I like the dedo splash of light on the music sheets too.

Maybe put less into your muslin, and have a really edgy, dynamic shot.

 

As I've said to you before, good luck with it! And I hope the compositions for TV show go well for you.

 

Best,

James


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#14 Stephen Selby

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 03:00 PM

I tried the silhouette - but thought it looked a bit too dramatic - I'm more after a romantic cosy feel.

 

 

So been playing around - now noticing the limits of my equipment - especially camera. What can one do when one is working on a feature film with a budget less than £5k!
 
TestShot.jpg
 
Changes so far:
Move the piano out from the wall - by about a foot for better side on perspective. (Great call)
Dim the 100w practical to about 25%.
Bounce a 150w Dedo light off the wall above the piano - to give a bit of wrap to the face.
Opened the curtains and added blinds to give a nice pattern in the background - yes curtains are boring. 
Put a second Dedo outside to mimic a street lamp. Will probably add a few more to look like houses in the distance - and use a creamier lens for better bokeh.
Bounced a little light at 5pm to add a little fill.
 
What is really the problem is the dynamic range of the 5DmkII. To capture the shadow and highlights. If I let the lamp blow - it looks horrible. But if I don't let it blow it is mucky in the shadows. If only I could shoot in raw! Alas only MkIII can do that with Magic Lantern.
 
Tried the masking tape option mentioned in Kris Malkiewicz book but burnt off with horrible smell. Tried tin foil - but that brought the overall exposure down too much. Might try hairspray.
 
In this picture I tried to superimpose the over exposed highlights back in - very subtly - using a still taken at a lower exposure (similar to HDR) - but not entirely convinced.
 
Perhaps it's all about the lampshade - perhaps I should look for another type - less translucent one.

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#15 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 03:27 PM

That's certainly looking much better Stephen. I'd suggest trying framing up from a lower angle; that will bring the top of the piano more in line with the top of the actor's head (which will cover up more of the whiteness to left of frame).

 

You could then perhaps place the dimmed lamp on a lower table behind the keys, which will give you a bit more contrast and separation between the actor and the piano (it'll light up the music sheets more and give a stronger edge to the actor's features.

 

I'd also try backing the Dedo into the far right-hand corner of the room to give the back of your actor an edge light from that direction, it'll give you more separation between them and the blinds behind.


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#16 Miguel Angel

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 05:38 PM

What about trying these two things that I suggest in the picture? 

 

If you are going to put lights outside then I would suggest to change the colour of them with a gel or something, Peacock Blue is nice as well as Steel Blue :) 

 

TestShot.jpg

 

I would also do a test with a practical very very dimmed on the right hand side of the frame on a table. 

If you move the piano a bit away from the window, you will have a lovely background a bit out of focus, which might help dissimulate the "street lights" :) 

 

Best. 


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#17 Stephen Selby

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 08:51 PM

OK rather than bounce the dedo off the wall above the piano I thought I'd try something else:

 

TestShot2.jpg

 

So I've lit directly with a dedo from the ceiling. I know it is quite hard, but I quite like it.

 

I don't want to go too low key on this. Just romantic and cosy.

 

I've also tried moving the lamp down to nearer the piano - and yes - a nice reflection on the piano but the key light is not justified by the lamp. I have tried moving the key but I don't think it is as effective. I think I am probably best working on the shot above and then either removing the blinds and just having lots of out of focus highlights in the background or keeping the blinds and having the occasional fleck come through.

 

TestShot3.jpg


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#18 Miguel Angel

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 09:51 PM

It is my opinion that the first picture of the above ones works much better in terms of what you are looking for. 

 

My suggestion of the Rifa light is exactly what you did with the dedolight although the Rifa light would have given you a softer light, that you can create easily with a little chimera on the dedolight (if you have any)

 

If you still want a reflection on the piano, get a big white polyboard off the frame and look for the reflection on the piano, it might be interesting!

 

What I would try doing is I would try flagging some light to have just a rim light on him. 

 

TestShot2.jpg

 

And maybe you might want to give a little bit of light to the cloth hanging off the piano? 

 

Maybe it is something worth trying? 

 

Best.


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#19 Stephen Selby

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 04:01 AM

Yes that was a nice surprise to read your message about the lifa light because I read it after i'd played round with the shot. And confirmed my approach. The dedo is already barned. I guess I could try and spot it more and add some lee diffusion to soften the dedo a little (in gel holder before the barns). Yes a softer light would require a muge larger source or chimera which then would need to be flagged - that would be tricky in such a small space.

Will give the poly a go but in order to get the angle right I imagine I would end up with the poly in shot.
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#20 Stephen Selby

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 08:37 AM

Miguel. Just looking at your website. You are very talented.

 

Forgive me for my ignorance.

 

I thought the softness of light was related to the size and distance of the source. So in effect the sun is really hard because it is so far away that it's relative size is small. And candlelight is hard because of the size. When light is shone onto a diffusion frame it effectively becomes the new source and it is much bigger and hence softer.

 

Question.jpg

 

So what is the difference between approach 1 and 3. Surely by flagging the light one is making it harder again?


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