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"Low Key"


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#1 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 04:38 PM

In a topic in the "Film Stock" section, I have made an answer to a student's question, that made me think that it might be worth creating an other one as to put forward this problem.

(there it is : http://www.cinematog...showtopic=7158)

I may have answered too quickly to this student, (didn't want to post there again, since you can't edit posts and it's therefore a lighting problem better than a film stock one) and I think it could be interesting to know what people usually mean by "Low Key".

May be it's just a question of language, but may be is it a little more interesting than that...

- Do you mean "working at low levels of light" (As I put forth in my post, and maybe was I wrong) or

- Working "in the curves'toe" ? (That would mean that an other question can be asked...)

- Working volonteerly underexposed, like for a night effect ?

- Or even something else ?

You see, I consider that a shot where most of the frame is in the toe is not especially "low Key" since some parts can be at the KL (even if the minority of it). Also it depends a lot on objects'reflectance... Also, there can be highlights in such a frame as well (backlights, practicles or the moon in the frame...) I would therefore speak of a "dense" shot, and afterwards comes the qustion of contrasts (for the highlights).

If a talent passes at one point in the KL, and then goes in the dark, am I "Low Key" ?

On the other hand, some volonteer underexposition (nigh effect for instance) I'd call it underexposition, myself...

It sounds like there can be some confusion for beginners because the fact that working at low levels doesn't mean you actually are in the toe, it all depends on the objects'reflectance and the set exposure. On the other hand, would one call a "low key setup" if working exterior day, one would slightly underexpose and work at a small aperture (11, 16...) -why not ? (with dense background and backlight you'd quickly get that)-.

If so, what difference would one say there is beetween "Low Key" and "controlled underexposition" ?

Thank you all
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#2 Gordon Highland

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 04:59 PM

I was taught that low-key was a dramatic look with lots of contrast and shadow in the frame (maybe "moody"), like most prime-time dramas. And high-key was the sitcom look where the entire set seemed awash in light. So, I guess that the actual key light may be at the same level in both types of shots, but with a lot less fill or be more directional. That's just how I use the phrase personally. To me it would make more sense if "high key" meant there was a bigger ratio from key to fill, and "low key" was more of an even look, but I dunno. . .
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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 05:14 PM

Hi,

Yes.

My understanding of all this is muddied by the fact that when people say high or low key, they actually seem to mean high or low fill. Increasingly, on things like CSI, it seems to be fill-less two-point lighting (softish, very sidey "key" and hard backlight), where "low fill" makes more sense than "low key" as the key's often screaming hot. In these situations the key seems to become a key-fill hybrid, either by virtue of being very soft or bouncing off something.

Does any of that make any sense to anyone? My terminology is probably all over the place (I ain't got no film school, Marlene...)

Phil
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#4 Chris Cooke

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 05:48 PM

Yes, Phil is right... low key is in actuality refering to low fill. I personally very rarely underexpose my key but I often bring the ratio down to 5:1. I consider this low key. It's a fine line to what we call low key. Is 3:1 lighting low key? Yes and no. If I'm lighting for a television news show than yes, I would say it's low key but if I'm lighting for a feature/short/comercial, I would consider this "normal".
I would be very interested in the origin of the term "low key". It may not be refering at all to the "key" light. It might have originated from the reference to it as in, "keep this situation hush hush, keep it low key." Since darkness is equated with secrets. Mr. Mullen might know this one.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 05:51 PM

"Low-key" generally means that a large portion of the frame is dark (below key) with only small areas at full key (full exposure.) So a shadowy scene is low-key.

"Low-key" usually means less or no fill is used as well, but not always. A frontally lit set may be completely lit-up like a flash photo yet not have any fill light and be considered "high key" (meaning that most of the frame is made up of highlights at full exposure.)

So "low-key" really refers to the sense of darkness in the frame and the percentage of the frame made up of underexposure.
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#6 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 06:55 PM

OK ! Thank you all so far.

I decided to delete the post in the "film stock " section, then.

I think that's what we call "dense" in France, basically.

Chris :

when you speak of a 1:3 and 1:5 ratio, do you mean a difference of 1.5 stops and 2 1/3 resp. or do you mean, "straight", a 3 stops and a 5 stops ratio resp. ?

Phil :

What does CSI mean ?


Thanks to you all again !
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#7 Peter J DeCrescenzo

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 07:03 PM

Phil : What does CSI mean ?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Hi Laurent: I find it comforting to know there are people in the world who've not heard of "CSI". :)

It's not one, but _several_ popular TV shows in the US:
http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi/
http://www.cbs.com/p...time/csi_miami/
http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi_ny/

If it doesn't already exist, I guess a "CSI: Paris" will soon be thrust upon us? [Shudder] ;-)

All the best,

- Peter DeCrescenzo
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 07:05 PM

Considering they are all shot here in Los Angeles, why isn't there a "CSI: Los Angeles"?
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#9 Chris Cooke

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 07:14 PM

When speaking about 3:1 and 5:1, I'm talking about key to fill ratios. I usually measure this by eye but you can measure it by taking an incident reading of the key (let's say it's at 100 foot candles). Then I would either block off the key or turn it off and measure the fill. If the fill reads 20 foot candles, then you have a 5:1 key to fill ratio.
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#10 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 07:22 PM

Thanks Chris, that's what I thought but I just wanted to make sure and your explanation may be usefull for newbies... (who are more and more coming here, I think).

One should notice then that a 1:2 ratio is a one stop difference, 1:4 a 2 stops difference etc.

Just because so many people use the meter in stops as to measure more often than footcandles (or lux) (at least in France, do they).
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