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1940's Lighting


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#1 Vivek Venkatraman

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 07:28 AM

Hello,

 

I am starting a project which requires me to mimic and understand lighting of the 1940's.

As part of my preparation any information you happen to have about lighting at that time period would be helpful.

From what I know since film sensitivity was very low they used to use very powerful lights to even acheive an exposure.

Also diffusion and bounce were not discovered so largely hard sources were used.

If any of you have any other information regarding lighting at that time or happen to know any books or free online resources about lighting in the 1940's please do share them with me

Thank you ::)


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#2 Chris D Walker

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 08:48 AM

Black and white nitrate film by the late 30's had equivalent speeds of 80 and 160ASA (Kodak Plus-X and Super-XX). Technicolor film was much slower.

 

Carbon arcs and large incandescent bulbs in fresnel and broad lights were the main sources used. Hollywood films of the 40's were shot in studios and as a result hard light sources would often create overlapping shadows without diffusion. In the early days of motion pictures muslin was hung above a set in the place of a solid ceiling to diffuse sunlight; the move to constructed sets saw less diffusion being used.

 

Cinematography, ed. by Patrick Keating is a good reading of the craft from the late 19th century to the present. I'm currently reading another in the series about art direction and production design.


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#3 Vivek Venkatraman

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 08:50 AM

Thanks Chris :) will check out that book.


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#4 Simon Wyss

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 09:57 AM

Also diffusion and bounce were not discovered so largely hard sources were used.

 

Rubbish. You can’t find a period when movies were lit more sophisticatedly than during the forties.

Do watch Casablanca, The Red Shoes or any other film of the time in a cinema.

 

Oh, pardon, they walked away from film and killed all cinema romance.

 

By the way, master photographers made stunning pictures already back in the 1840s. Diffusion and bounce light was a great subject in the mid-19th century. The treatment of an image under the aspect of light has been discussed since the Renaissance.

 

Have to broaden your mind somewhat and hope it’s not painful.


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#5 Albion Hockney

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 10:20 AM

^ i donno about that acutally.

 

in terms of cinema lighting the practice of diffusion was not common till atleast the 60's

 

there is an example during the filming of the igmar bergman movie winter light (1962) and the cinematographer sven nykist is using Wax paper for diffusion as no material and frames have yet been invented for the purpose.

 

in early filmmaking the stocks and lenses were soft, often it was beleived you needed to create sharpenss with hard contrast. there was sometimes diffusion added to lenses for women and beauty but that is about it.


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 10:52 AM

There were soft lights in the Silent Era -- besides muslin covered ceilings in the early days before lighting was used, there were Cooper-Hewitts, which were like a powerful mercury vapor Kinoflo.

 

Cooper-Hewitts were noisy though and disappeared with the introduction of sound.

 

In the 1930's, people softened lights through silks and frames of spun glass, what later became Tough Spun.  They weren't doing the modern thing of creating 20x20 soft lights or something huge like that, but they were using multiple lamps with diffusion for a lower-contrast, softer style.  And this was on 32/40 ASA Pan-X film.

 

Even in the 1940's, though they had moved to a harder lighting style, often fill lights were softened through spun glass.  If you look on walls, you can sometimes see a mix of hard and semi-soft shadow patterns.

 

With 64/80 ASA Plus-X in the 1940's, you'd generally have wide shots using 10K tungstens and Carbon Arcs creating sunlight effects through windows or lighting large sets from a distance, but smaller tungsten units for close-ups.  You only need around 150 foot-candles to get around f/2.8 on Plus-X, though much more if you want to stop down for more depth of field, so a 1K fresnel is bright enough to key a close-up from 6 feet away, for example.

 

An example of Cooper-Hewitt lighting in the Silent Era:

cooperhewitt.jpg

 

A photo from the set of "Grand Hotel" (1932)

grandhotel1.jpg

 

You see that almost every light is being softened in this shot.


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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 10:54 AM

You should check out the book "In the Picture: Production Stills from the TCM Archives" for lots of photos from old movie sets.


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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 03:07 PM

Another good book to check out would be 'The Making of Citizen Kane' by Robert Carringer. He points out some of technical innovations that were happening in the late 30's like lens coatings, fast Super XX film stock and finer grained print stock, the smaller Mitchell BNC camera, and quieter arc lamps that allowed a cinematographer like Gregg Toland to work against the established studio style of soft, diffused pictorialist images and continue to develop his own sharp, high contrast 'realist' style in 1940.

You could say the 1940's were a transition period from this gauzy, dream-like glamour look to the harder edged still photography look of artists like Dorthea Lange and Ansel Adams. The budget restraints on studios due to the War, and directors, cinematographers, and actors returning from war service after 1945 also had an influence on the straight photography look.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 05:53 PM

Every generation tends to reevaluate and response against the aesthetics of the previous generation, though in the case of Hollywood, you have the situation of a very new art form with cinematographers who started in the late 1920's and retired in the early 1970's, so even among the same generation, there was stylistic trends, some in parallel with audience's changing tastes.  Same happened in art, theater, architecture, fashion, etc.

 

The 1930's were an era of studio glamour that began in the late 1920's, a sort of soft, gauzy style -- softer lights, softer lenses, diffusion, etc.  Back then you'd see a whole movie shot through nets and glass diffusion.  

 

By the 1940's there was a shift to greater sharpness, except for close-up work, which still tended to be diffused and romantic, just less so than in the 1930's (and less so for 3-strip Technicolor movies, which generally aimed for greater sharpness to offset any problems in aligning three color records in the print, plus the fact that shooting almost wide-open for interiors tended to soften the image anyway, so there was less need for lens diffusion.)  I think some people embraced harder lighting and sharper lenses (like Gregg Toland) out of a belief that this was more "realistic" (certainly it was more dramatic) while glamour and fashion also shifted towards sharper, clearer images -- and I doubt that this was because realism was their priority.  It may have simply been tastes changing after a decade or two of soft images, maybe the ad world thought that they looked "old-fashioned" and that "modern" glamour and romance was bolder, clearer, more in your face so to speak, like a Kodachrome slide was. Women were no longer being portrayed as soft, demure, mysterious creatures or delicate, but strong, aggressive, statuesque, confident, etc.  So the stronger, sharper lighting was a new way of glamorizing actors, not making them more realistic, though for some dramas, that was also a motivating factor, though today we would consider the harder lighting to be less realistic, not more.  But that generation defined "realism" differently, they thought if it as showing the world as it was, more clearly, they didn't think of it so much as mimicking natural light effects except for special sequences in the movie.  So for them, it was more "realistic" to light a tough guy with hard cross-lighting to bring out his chiseled rough features rather than use soft "romantic" lighting on him.  Today, we'd light a tough guy in soft light if he were standing in a room naturally lit with soft light, though when given a chance to "make up" the light, like a night exterior, we may opt for harder lighting.  


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#10 Josie Williams

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 06:09 AM

Look into the technological advances allowed by the war. I read a piece with interviews with people from the time talking about how they were suddenly able to light differently because cameras would be able to register the light better. 


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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 06:54 AM

That 1932 shot is fascinating, particularly the slate. Edmund Goulding is the director, William Daniels is credited with the photography. 98F is fairly self-explanatory, as is "NITE".  Is T4 the take number?


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#12 Mark Dunn

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 08:20 AM

There's a 'T' in front of the 4 so I wonder if it's the stop, it T-stops were even in use then, although why would it go on the slate?


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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 May 2015 - 07:47 AM

I think it is Scene 98, Set-up F, Take 4


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#14 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 28 May 2015 - 06:47 PM

Love the guy about to light up a smoke in the background.. or maybe he was the smoke machine .. 


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#15 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 29 May 2015 - 10:47 AM

Crew really did dress a little sharper back then!
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