Any examples of Mainstream Movies filmed/shot entirely with natural/ambient lighting? - Page 2 at DVinfo.net

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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:39 AM   #16
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I learned something really important during a film lighting class I took a few years ago.

The main thing with any production is to always think it like planting a stake. Before you even shoot decide what the overall tone will be and when you plan your lighting...stick with that no matter what. For example...if you happen to get an offer for an incredible light kit (for like 1 day) during a production where you've used minimal light...it's just not a good idea to use it. It could take the entire movie audience experience and mess it up. It can jar them out of the "suspention of disbelief". It's better not to spend 5 days getting that unbelieveable scene on the mountain during the golden hour (that looks like you paid a million dollars for it) if the rest of your movie has a reality television feel to it and was shot with $1000. Everyone on the film benefits from knowing where that "stake" is planted upfront too.

If you make a line that represents your movie on a piece of paper...and it's going up a little...then down, then all of a sudden you have this money shot that jumps off the paper it's just not part of the WHOLE film. This is all opinion of course, but the guys who taught the class made such good sense when they explained it. I'm probably not making alot of sense. I even remembering the teacher explaining how he got "one of the greatest shots I've ever captured on film" during a commercial shoot. Apparently, it had the coolest sunset or something happening with the sun and the subject of the commercial. But, in the end he said it was actually TO GOOD! Can you believe that? He said the rest of the commercial looked HORRIBLE compared to this one shot....so, they couldn't use it. Once they took it out...the rest of the commercial looked great again. Weird, but it's something to think about when lighting!

They did sum it all up by giving an interesting example that I personally think about all the time now. If you want to make movies...make sure you're not a "High School Art" moviemaker. Meaning...some kid creates this masterpiece over in the corner one day and everyone is amazed. The kid is a star for the week. But, the next week he can't reproduce another masterpiece. So...he's "High School Art". True professional artistry means you can re-create your masterpieces...and that means the overall work is more important then that one shot with the best lighting job ever.

I'm sorta going on and off topic! But, this lighting question has brought back that memory and it's such a good lesson. I think so anyway. Hope it makes sense!
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Old May 11th, 2005, 10:43 AM   #17
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The 1984 Forman film Amadeus was shot entirely with natural light and is quite extraordinary in that regard.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 11:18 AM   #18
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I suppose if this discussion is to have merit, a definition for the term 'natural light' should be set out. Perhaps by defining what is 'un-natural light'?

For instance, in shooting exteriors during daylight... the sun is the natural source. Using 2k's for fill, would not be using 'natural light'. However, using scrims and bounce boards for fill and backlight, is using a natural source, for an enhanced image. Would this then be "natural light". Because the image that the camera sees is NOT the natural lighting on the source at the given moment.

Likewise interriors. By 'natural' are you implying that only sunlight through open doors and windows is used? Or just using the "practicals' that exist on the set, in their original locations? (dogme). If you replace the practical fifty watt bulb in the lamp on the desk, with a balanced 200 watt... is it no longer 'natural'? If you gel the light comming in through the window to match the practicals on the set... is it still 'natural'? So is "natural interrior" lighting, only lighting that has a practical source, regardless of what bulb is in it?

And of course, any lights turned on at all at night time... are they 'natural'?

Just trying to get everyone on the same page. It's as hard to define as "organic" in food packaging.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 12:48 PM   #19
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The 1984 Forman film Amadeus was shot entirely with natural light and is quite extraordinary in that regard.

WHAT? Is that true?
First time I've heard that.


Richard -

I was going with the assumption that "natural" light meant "available" light. Working within and shaping the light that is naturally available at the location. Meaning that no additional lighting instruments were used on set other than what is already at a practical location.

This would mean the use of reflectors/silks/flags/gels is fine, but no added instruments that actually generate light. Using practicals would still be well within that definition, in my mind. As would switching out or dimming the existing bulbs for color temp matching.

I figure most people mean no actual "lights" were brought on set, bulbs maybe, dimmers maybe, grip gear definitely, but no instruments that generate additional light.

I don't know that we need to truly define it to that sort of minutiae...
but it is good to make sure everyone is on the same page.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 12:54 PM   #20
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To me it means bounced existing light for fill would still be natural. Also, I'd think throwing photofloods (or daylight flos) in practicals would still count as natural. I don't think that fits the dogme strictures but if I did something following the above criteria I would have no problem saying I used only "natural" light. This is just me though. I would say that if you pulled off all your lighting without plugging a light that wasn't already there, that's about as natural as you can get. The word natural is about as subjective as you can get though.

Luis,
You typed faster than me. Anyhow, I remember hearing Amadeus was shot using only natural light, and check on IMDB confirmed it. I'll try to find specifically what they mean in this instance.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 01:13 PM   #21
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The only thing I can find is this from the Amadeus website:

"The filming of Amadeus consumed over 27,000 candles, of which 6,000 were burned in the Tyl Theater. The chandeliers, over 20, used in both the Tyl Theater and Schikanederís Theater, were designed and built expressly for Amadeus."

The only other reference I can find is in the trivia section of its IMDB listing. Pretty impressive if all those huge interiors were lit with nothing but candles.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 02:50 PM   #22
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Okay, I can get behind the term natural/ambient as requiring no lighting beyond practicals. We'll let swapping out bulbs get by on that one. But say, you've got a character sitting at his desk, lit by the lamp... got that 'noir' thing going - IF you put an inky on the doorframe to throw a bit of rimlight on his shoulders... you've broken the rule... IF you put the standing floor lamp behind him off screen to get the same effect (or near enough).. then its still 'natural/ambient' lighting.

ANy use of scrims, bounce cards, flags etc., falls under the heading of 'shaping' the ambient light. Ditto gels on windows to match colortemps.

(You see how much work can go into getting un 'unlit' look?)
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Old May 11th, 2005, 02:52 PM   #23
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Barry Lyndon probably still fits that definition.

The exterior scenes were against sunlight.

The interior scenes either by window source or by candle-light. He had new lenses made for his cameras because of this restriction.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 03:05 PM   #24
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I love the natural, unlit look. That's why I have no problem with mixing ambient light with lights I brought to the set with me to achieve it:)

I love using sunlight but not without some fill however I achieve it because DV simply won't look like what the eye can see in harsh sunlight without a lot of fill. I guess I'm not dogme level purist.

I love a noir look too, but I'd argue that noir is one of the more "lit" looking styles of film because of the effort put into using hardlit shadows which rarely ever look so cleany delineated in real life. It's great though.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 04:37 PM   #25
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Keith,

I recall at the time, what a big deal the 'natural lighting' was on Barry Lyndon. How many candles they went through... etc.

So yeah, I guess we're a couple of 'old farts' to remember that one!
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Old May 11th, 2005, 05:37 PM   #26
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I'm not THAT old Richard. I've only seen it on DVD, VHS and TV.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 08:28 PM   #27
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OOOHHH! Im DYING here...... (I saw it in Cinerama)
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Old May 12th, 2005, 01:57 AM   #28
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Great discussion everyone.. I am really enjoying it.

Since I started this, I guess to me natural light would be working with whatever was there before you got there and will still be there after you leave.

If there's a street lamp outside in your location, that is natural lighting. If there are desk lamps and ceiling lamps and window sunlight in a room, that's also natural lighting. If you're in a theater with a zillion fixtures for candles, then I'll accept that as natural. If on the other hand, you bring it in off your truck and point a light somewhere or at something that wasn't there when you got there and won't be there when you leave, it's not natural.

For the purposes of this question, I also include doing things to enhance the existing light as violating the natural lighting rule (i.e. reflectors etc.). I understand the practical need of doing this 99% of the time, but from the simple definition of what "all natural lighting" would mean to me.. you show up with your camera, talent and story and shoot with whatever is in the room when you get there (in any direction, angle or position you can point what is in the room already). That would be all natural.

But I differ to all of you who collectively probably have forgotten more about filmmaking and lighting since you started reading this post than I've probably ever known. But I sure enjoy learning from everyone.

= )

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Old May 12th, 2005, 06:31 AM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
It's getting there, but not there yet, especially when it comes to highlights in digital. Even at the point when the sensitivity of the medium will allow us to shoot in what we consider "dimly lit" by visual standards, the question is: is that effective filmmaking? It may be real, but is it visually captivating, or will it appear flat and muddy? The best way to think of it is with still photography: by increasing the exposure time, you can capture an image in virtually any level of light. However, the results are not necessarily what the eye sees--what starts off as too dark will evolve (as the exposure time is increased) into a "proper" exposure according to the meter, but the resulting image will look brighter than what the eye sees. If one is to then take this image and print it down, it may work OK, or it might lose its snap and look dull (if there are highlights present, i.e. at least one area of good contrast in the frame, you can more easily get away with this).
I think more and more digital blowout is becoming an aesthetic decision or at least a viable solution, which wasn't some years ago. I've heard DPs say they can today get away with things they would have gotten fired on the spot for a few decades ago in Hollywood. One can look at some films using the guerilla look, like Traffic which I beleive has some great looking overexposed scenes. I wonder just how much TV, or rather films seen on TV, has been influencial with this tendency. Because some 35mm films that still have appreciable details in the highlights are completely blown out when seen on TV, cable or DVDs, which compresses the dynamic range even further. The most obvious scenes where this occurs is daylight in-car scenes where the background appears at or past the clipping threshold, but just fine in theaters. Certain shows like CSI will sometimes play with that almost blown out look.

As for dimly lit situations, I consider it works great for dramatic sequences. I can think of certain sequences in The Element of Crime and Apocalypse Now! that are great lighting work because they force you to focus extremely hard to decode what is happening and it increases dramatic tension. I remember the first time I saw The Element of Crime it was on an old VHS copy of a copy of a copy. It was so contrasty, dark and redish that you could barely see what was happening, but that look to me made the experience that more enjoyable, increasing the mysterious and abstract quality of the image. Of course, those sequences, although very dimly lit, were by no mean flat. Great lighting is independent from technological possibilities and in that sense, it's not because it approximates the sensibility of the eye better that it's interesting to watch.
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Old May 12th, 2005, 08:53 AM   #30
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Brian,

Your definition is more like the 'dogme' approach. Practicals with NO manipulation. In that sense, then I'd have to say no... no major features were shot in that fashion. That's really more like newsgathering or perhaps documentary run-and-gun sort of stuff.

And even those who make the choice to use 'natural' lighting, will spend a great deal of time and care to get it right. Waiting for 'the golden hour' or the sun to come back out, buying thousands of candles (and paying candle wranglers to keep them lit, replaced, and at the right height to match continuity), etc. So in that sense, natural lighting can take MORE time than lighting a set in the 'traditional' way... it's not necessarily quicker, just an artistic choice.

Regarding the acceptance of "blow outs"... I think what we are seeing is a shift in aesthetics in veiwers. The more they are exposed to what might be called "poor quality" camera work, the more they accept it as normal. Think of it... My parents certainly grew up being exposed to classic hollywood images, and the occasional newsreel. Home movies were for the rich... and often looked 'amateurish' because they were shaky and poorly exposed. I grew up watching television, carefully manipulated in a studio for the most part. And STILL watched film on the news. (Film at Eleven) Hell, my first job as a TV cameraman in '74 -'75, the GE cameras we used in studio were enormous five tube monsters, and when I left, they were JUST introducing ENG cams. I paid two grand for my first vhs camera (and they called it portable). BUT people began to buy and shoot Super 8... Home movies were more widespread. The seed was planted for home video.

News shows and home video, allowed for shaky cam and blow out. We would endure it to see the criminal get caught, or little Suzi's first steps... the CONTENT and immediacy superceded the quality of the image.. untill the very nature of the footage became a distinctive quality all its own.

So to leapfrog to the conclusion... a generation that's been weened on video and video games and computer screens, is more accepting of an image with video like qualities... its' film that looks funny to them. So in my opinion, the date at which HD will 'replace' film, goes beyond when the technology supports the same resolution and lattitude... it goes to when the kids who want to be DP's now, replace the old guard. How long??? Twenty years maybe?

Just some morning ramblings over coffee.... fun thread guys.
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