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Interviews with black backgrounds


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#1 Thomas Burns

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Posted 07 November 2005 - 04:12 PM

Hi gang,

I'm going to be shooting a sit-down interview on location and the director has asked for a black background. We're shooting in a hotel events room with 10' ceilings. I plan to kill the house lights, use my own tungsten package, and fly in an 8x8 solid on a frame for a background. Has anyone had experience shooting black backgrounds? Will 8x8 give me enough background to shoot comfortably (dip and dodge with the subject's movements)? We're shooting on the new JVC HD100 camera. Any thoughts?

Thomas Burns
Novice DP
Los Angeles, CA
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#2 Tim J Durham

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Posted 07 November 2005 - 06:55 PM

Hi gang,

I'm going to be shooting a sit-down interview on location and the director has asked for a black background. We're shooting in a hotel events room with 10' ceilings. I plan to kill the house lights, use my own tungsten package, and fly in an 8x8 solid on a frame for a background. Has anyone had experience shooting black backgrounds? Will 8x8 give me enough background to shoot comfortably (dip and dodge with the subject's movements)? We're shooting on the new JVC HD100 camera. Any thoughts?

Thomas Burns
Novice DP
Los Angeles, CA

You have to fly it in? There are no 8x8 black backdrops in Los Angeles?

8x8 will be plenty unless you have to shoot over-the-shoulders for intros or you put the camera too close to the subject. You have to make sure the camera and backdrop are sufficiently far away from the subject so that you cannot see the texture of the backdrop. Make sure your zoomed to "telephoto" and light to a wide aperture.

For God's sake, don't mount a backlight right over the subjects head! I see this all the time from news crews trying to do "arty" against black backdrops and it's awful. If the guys head casts a shadow on his own chest, the backlight angle is TOO STEEP! I much prefer a head-height edge light to ring the side opposite the key but I'd never choose a black backdrop in the first place.

Generally, a black backdrop makes good lighting look less good. Significantly so. A medium grey is much friendlier to good lighting because you can use negative (shadow) whereas in front of black- shadows don't work because the shadows become one with the backdrop so you have to light (nearly) 360ยบ.
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#3 Michael Nash

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 11:39 PM

8x8' is more than enough for an interview. Think about it -- an average ceiling is 8' high; are you ever going to frame wide enough to see floor to ceiling in an interview?

Your biggest challenge with this type of gag is keeping you key light from spilling onto the background (and bouncing of the ceiling and walls onto the BG), revealing detail in the black solid. Best bet is to hang a 4x4' floppy next to your key light (assuming it's soft) to flag it off the BG. Harder keys can use a proportionately smaller flag to do the same thing.

If your camera supports it, you might play with crushing the black level just a little bit to bury the detail in the black for that true "limbo" black look.
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