Lighting a feature film. - Page 2 at

Go Back   DV Info Net > The Tools of DV and HD Production > Photon Management

Photon Management
Shine an ever-loving light on you.

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old January 5th, 2010, 02:41 PM   #16
Inner Circle
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 2,290
Try to rent a Fresnel kit. Get a few 650 watters and a few 150's. Try to rent them. Be aware also of the load you place on a location's electrical. I think a house is good to about 2k. I know there's a rule of thumb, I don't usually worry about it but I use mostly flos so I wouldn't.

Btw Andrew Dean gave a great post here.
Brian Luce is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 5th, 2010, 08:10 PM   #17
Inner Circle
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 4,299
QUOTE: "these forums are littered with people who have 1/10 the knowledge necessary to make a short, yet talking about making feature length movies".

I am the first to admit to this defecit, that I am here to learn and certainly no one should take what I suggest as the way to go.

Perhaps consider it this way - like in a lecture room, sometimes a reply to a question is valid conflictory debate between equals, sometimes in itself a question disguised as knowledge to help protect the ego of one seeking the knowledge by then stimulating the furthur response, othertimes maybe a workable bad habit which deserves to be challenged and corrected by a better practitioner.

When posts are self-censored, this sometimes disappoints me because the other point of view is lost before I stumble upon the thread. - I'm slow-witted enough already without having to try to join dots. However I also commend self-censorship if it is intended to diminish conflict.

Last edited by Bob Hart; January 5th, 2010 at 08:13 PM. Reason: error
Bob Hart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 5th, 2010, 08:22 PM   #18
Inner Circle
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 2,290
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
QUOTE: "these forums are littered with people who have 1/10 the knowledge necessary to make a short, yet talking about making feature length movies".
To those of you with 1/10th the knowledge necessary to make your film. Go ahead and make the dang thing. You'll learn so much through trial and error. You won't have a learning *curve* it'll be a vertical line.
Brian Luce is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 5th, 2010, 09:25 PM   #19
Inner Circle
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Tallahassee, FL
Posts: 4,100

I am here to learn. That may surprise some people, but I learn a TON from people on this site who come here to share the things they know. I've learned more about Macs on this site than anywhere else. And that is something I am very grateful for. I've learned about indie movie techniques, editing, post work, and a ton of other things. But I am, and always have been, a voracious learner. I read 8-10 forums a day, half a dozen magazines a month on various facets of the craft, and practice as much as possible, absorbing everything I can, and happy to share the lessons I've learned.

But something I have found increasingly true over the past couple of years, is that people with a true desire to experiment, learn, and share, people wanting to improve their skills and their craft, are waning. They are being replaced by the masses of people who've been empowered by the internet, by the camera manufacturers putting relatively high end tools in the hands of people not ready for them. And by people who are not only ignorant of the tools, but who have no desire to actually learn, and seek only to "solve today's problem".

You notice them right away. They have less than 10 posts in the forum, are in the midst of some large project, and are up to their neck in a situation that anyone who cracked a book on production would have learned in chapter one. They don't seek knowledge, they seek answers. And they only seek answers that they want to hear. The how, not the why or when. How do I get the film look. How do I record double audio. How do I get this effect. Never do you hear, "could someone explain this or that."

There are a few on the forum here and in other places that have taken a great journey together. Who've come through hi-8 or S-VHS, through DV, maybe through HDV together. They've learned hard lessons along the path and helped each other. Others have joined in at various points along the path. Bob, hopefully you will join us on this path.
DVX100, PMW-EX1, Canon 550D, FigRig, Dell Octocore, Avid MC4/5, MB Looks, RedCineX, Matrox MX02 mini, GTech RAID, Edirol R-4, Senn. G2 Evo, Countryman, Moles and Lowels.
Perrone Ford is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 5th, 2010, 10:23 PM   #20
Inner Circle
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 4,299

"Bob, hopefully you will join us on this path."

Am already on that beaten path since 1971 if I count film cameras and a bit of stringer news work, am still learning albeit slowly thorugh own projects and pro-bono on the projects of others.

Like many I have lacked motivation and daresay was uncouraged to up sticks, give up the dayjob and migrate to where its at.

That is probably where a lot of this issue lies, part-timers and tourists who can now afford to play. Many generate substandard product but dominate in such numbers as to bury the genuine experienced committed "lovers" of the crafts. They may have stayed home and battled for a living, yet now experience cherrypicking of hardwon tips from those who have not committed a lifetime to learning by experimenting, practice-practice and more practice when the whole thing was far less affordable.

and yes, it is frustrating to have to defend the few commonsense rules I have managed to pick up along the journey, simple things like, organisational discipline, keeping logs, decent sound - "Aww she'll be right, we'll ADR everything", "There's timecode on the filenames, - what more does the editor want?"

(Punish them - by consignment through the unremitting fires of hell to sync up on a Steenbeck, a feature's worth of unslated motion picture film originated in an undisciplined homevideo-style shooting ratio of 30:1?? - just kidding.).

and yes, the industry practitioners who did the hard yards before the so-called democratisation of the industry through cost reductions in equipment, do become frustrated by those "know-all" newcomers who pollute the reputation of certain crafts with unthoroughness and expediency.

There are however, some good young people coming up over here. Unfortunately, they will also migrate as they are motivated and determined.

It is good you have come back to continue the debate.

Last edited by Bob Hart; January 5th, 2010 at 10:46 PM. Reason: error
Bob Hart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 17th, 2010, 09:59 PM   #21
New Boot
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Seattle WA USA
Posts: 9
very tiny feature... very much horror

Joseph: Instead of concerning yourself so much with type of camera, light units, brands wattages, etc. It might be more important to:

1. Look at the work of the person who is going to be your Dp, Horror movies are all about lighting does the person actually have a sample of interesting horror type lighting or just own some lights?

2. The acting in most indy features is terrible and sinks them totally. Ask yourself if you have spent the hours casting through a large number of potential actors to get the best possible performances

3. Have you had the script read by a number of other people. have you compared it with Horror movies you liked, how much time have you spent fixing the script and preparing the breakdown so you do not shoot a bunch of stuff that ultimately isn't used. Thus giving yourself the most possible time to make the scenes and takes you do use the best they can be.

4. Consider the makeup, SFX, Post and Music which will make your movie a success or failure.

5. Finally rent the equipment you need. Is this about making a movie or increasing the number of pieces of production equipment you own?
TJ Williams DoP, Dp, Camera Operator, Videographer, TV Crew, Video Crew, Film Crew, Aerial, Camera Crane, Steadicam, RED 1. Seattle WA USA
T.J. Williams is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 24th, 2010, 06:42 AM   #22
Regular Crew
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 110
Perrone wow, Subtle and Disciplined that's a sign of great character. If I may add this is a quote from myself to a question of "what lights should I use . . . " in another forum.

" Before you begin putting up lights, take a breath and realize that you have 2 goals.
1 The scene to look natural
2. Get enough light for your camera.
The very first thing is to just use your eyes. Where is the natural room light coming from, is there one light brighter than others, where does the light fall and what kind of shadows are created. If you like the look of the room in it's natural form than great, just duplicate the lighting with stronger wattage bulbs.
If you want to make changes and add certain emphasis, now is the time to create your lighting plan. Never start putting up fixtures until you know what you are looking for.
Everybody loves the different kind of lighting tools that exist and each has their favorites, but they are tools. It's the lighting design and plan that will ultimately make your scene what you want.
This also works for outdoor shots as well. Always use your eyes before your camera.
Gary is online now Report Post Edit/Delete Message
Gary Moses is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 24th, 2010, 07:43 AM   #23
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Cornsay Durham UK
Posts: 1,905
Ive done loads of feature films but as a sound or dubbing mixer.

I did my first indie last year as a DP and only had three redheads to use but the 30 years of being a keen photographer came in very handy.

I did what has already been said and looked at each scene and considered how I wanted it to look, we did a lot of day and night/moonlight shooting as it was a horror so having three dichroic daylight filers for the redheads came in very handy, it also meant that I could use them in daylight to add to the natural light available.

Here is a scene I posted to show the audio tech 875 boom mic but you can see how I have added to the light coming in thru the window to make it better for the camera a P2 301:YouTube - 0004OS - iPhone.m4v It was one redhead with a daylight filter bounced off the ceiling.

I was lucky that we had pro actors in the lead parts but it is a tribute to hammer horror so their performances are very traditional.

We also did some moonlight scenes and I lit the farmhouse outside with two redheads with daylight filters, we also did some window scenes and interior car driving and I used a small PAG light with a daylight HMI bubble for those.

The resulting film will need very little grading and the whole thing was done on three 800w redheads with the daylight filters and the small Pag HMI light.
Over 15 minutes in Broadcast Film and TV production:
Gary Nattrass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 24th, 2010, 08:49 AM   #24
Inner Circle
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Belfast, UK
Posts: 4,063
Just to add that if it's a horror film you'll need to decide of you're going for a natural look or a more stylised look. The horror genre has a great tradition of both.
Brian Drysdale is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 24th, 2010, 04:47 PM   #25
Regular Crew
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Melbourne Australia
Posts: 67

if you are serious about making a feature hire a gaffer

and let him worry about the lights.

Ian Dart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 12th, 2010, 03:22 AM   #26
Major Player
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Huddersfield, UK
Posts: 393
What an interesting thread - and not just the lighting debate! I've helped on and shot myself about 8 films, all shorts and two, 30-40 minute 'features'. All are documentaries (loosely speaking) and only almost all were shot entirely outdoors so I know next to nothing about artificial lighting! All have been shown at various festivals and conferences. It is not my day job which is nevertheless linked.

However, at the risk of angering Perrone (only joking), a couple of observations: I find lighting in films often unpleasantly artificial and obvious and when used outdoors, not needed. Not sure whether this is just bad practice or a kind of contemporary look. The point is here that professionals know their stuff but do not have a monopoly on taste and indeed can show bad judgement when a style or way of doing things is somehow accepted as the norm, but by whom? Secondly wasn't there a whole Danish school of filmmaking (Dogme group - Lars von Trier) who made relatively successful films in the 90s with almost no artificial lighting at all: one of their rules:

'Special lighting is not acceptable (if there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera)'.

So we really do need to be careful about what we mean when we talk about standards etc - they really are relative and sometimes reliant on a unquestionable hegemony.
Geoffrey Cox is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 12th, 2010, 12:54 PM   #27
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 6,750
We have just reached a point in the evolution of "motion picture" cameras (I use quotes because that term has been traditionally applied to film cameras, but I'm using it literally, to describe digital cameras that capture moving images) where the sensitivity makes it possible to capture decent images in many situations without requiring additional illumination. The idea of shooting interiors just with existing practicals is now a reality and will only become more so as cameras continue to become more sensitive. DSLR's, for instance, are able to shoot in light levels that equal the sensitivity of the human eye (or beyond, in the case of the 1DMKIV and the Nikon DS3). This does suggest that the Dogme philosophy of using available light will have a new lease on life as the resulting images can now be rich and uncompromised versus the often ugly, occasionally beautiful DV footage of the past.

However, naturalistic lighting has always been a part of every serious DP's palette. We were all taught to look at the light at a location and consider where we wanted to go from there, whether to recreate it at an appropriate exposure level or to start from scratch. The individual project dictated the particular approach. Many projects require a far more stylized look than simply available light could ever provide, to work in concert with the tone and emotion of the script.

Let's take, for example, a scene involving a tearful goodbye between a young couple as the man prepares to board a train to go off to war. A fully traditional approach might have steam pouring out of the engine in the background of the shot (it's amazing just how many years this was used as a visual effect long after steam engines were no longer in use), dramatic music, and of course achingly beautiful lighting. Going the other direction, shoot the scene in front of a drab Amtrak train at high noon, with harsh shadows on the faces, dark eye sockets and blown out patchs on the foreheads and noses. One may appear distractingly corny, the other distractingly amateurish and ugly. Is there a compromise?

Of course; we can achieve a naturalistic effect that won't distract the viewer and retains the emotion of the scene. Consider how these two heartbroken souls see each other at that moment--searching each other's faces, struggling to record everything and burn the memory into their brains in case they never see each other again.What visually complements the emotion (arguably) is to render these faces as beautifully as possible in the given environment. In the real world, harsh overhead lighting is not likely to be part of one's memory of that moment but if you put that up on the screen, the viewer will have a different response. So, we silk or completely block the overhead sun, build the exposure level back up to keep the background from blowing out with a large bounce (you get a far more naturalistic look from a 12x12 or larger bounce than a handheld disc or 4x4 piece of board) and perhaps position a solid on the train side of the face as negative fill, which sculpts the face and gives a hint of the darkness underlying the scene. That's just one approach--there are many others. A great deal of successful exterior shooting is knowing exactly what time of day to shoot a given shot and building your schedule around this. Working with Roger Deakins, he would have a very specific time window to shoot a given exterior shot and I don't recall ever seeing as much as a bounce on any of them--he just knew exactly when the light would be right to capture the scene exactly as-is. On a low-budget show this can be difficult to impossible because there are so many other production factors that have to be accommodated and compromises must be made. However, on a microbudget production where time doesn't necessarily equal money, this may be more achievable.

To address the comparison between documentary and narrative filmmaking: the construct of shooting narrative tends to take a lot more time, due to multiple takes for performance and the tweaking of various departments to dial things in. If one decides "the light is great now, let's just start shooting", one must also have a REALISTIC sense of how long it will take to shoot the scene and where the sun will be by the end of that period and make sure that you won't get boned by having your set plunged into shadow halfway through. Fortunately this information has become much more accessible thanks to several available iPhone apps (I use Sun Seeker).

Lately I've been shooting additional units on an ABC series; we are fortunate to have the Arri Alexa which is rated at 800 ASA and does fabulously well in available light. Following the lead of the 1st unit cinematographer, I endeavor to use the least additional lighting (when appropriate) both in the name of efficiency and a naturalistic look. Often in this scenario, it's a matter of turning OFF lights and or providing negative fill to keep things from flattening out and creating contrast. Available light isn't always beautiful, but it can often to sculpted to be more so. The Alexa is a dream, but we also shoot high speed footage on the Phantom camera which we rate at a paltry 160 ASA. The other day I had to shoot a storage room on both cameras; easy with the Alexa, but when we put the Phantom up and cranked to 120 fps, I was now down to somewhere between 25 and 40 ASA, essentially Technicolor 3-strip level of sensitivity. Building the light level up in this tiny room was a Herculean task (1K pars hanging from ceiling to punch highlights, 5K fresnels bouncing off showcard hidden here and there). It's one thing just to throw big lights in there, but at the end the result has to look naturalistic.

Ultimately this is what cinematography is about: knowing when to retain natural elements and work with them (i.e. not being "surprised" by the shifting sun); how to augment OR subtract light to achieve a particular look; to approach every project with a sensibility that matches the material; to be able to think and plan ahead as far as possible to keep on schedule. And about a hundred other things!
Charles Papert
Charles Papert is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 12th, 2010, 06:35 PM   #28
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Honolulu, HI
Posts: 1,961
Charles covers lots of important issues and there many more things that can effect your lighting and call for "artificial" techniques to make things simply look decent. I think a huge factor is that cameras don't have the exposure latitude of the human eye. It takes a lot of light to fill in shadows in a daylight scene that my eye doesn't really notice. The camera will take a daylight scene and turn the sky white and eye socket shadows almost black due to a lack of latitude. It can take a lot of setup to make the lighting that your eyes like seem good in the camera. Another problem I have come across is different light levels between the background and foreground making the background blow out. If you stand in an open area of a building like a carport and shoot towards the outside, your talent will be a silhouette even though your eye can see everything perfectly. This effect is magnified with longer lenses that minimize the foreground elements except the subject. It is easy to get in a situation where a person can be a silhouette in front of a blown background. If a scene calls for a transition from a bright to a shaded area, the shaded area will need lots of light to bring it up to looking simply shaded instead of like a sudden solar eclipse.
Marcus Marchesseault is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 13th, 2010, 02:46 AM   #29
Major Player
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Huddersfield, UK
Posts: 393
Your post was fascinating and informative Charles and I'm grateful that experienced professionals take the time to write on this forum - the mix of people here is really what makes it so interesting. Your basic points about time, schedules and necessities make so much sense.

Of course most of the issues that Charles and Marcus raise have been problems on films I've worked on - to be honest since we are making the films for ourselves we tend simply to do things differently to avoid the problems, as with no budget at all there is little alternative, but have learnt that knowing how natural light conditions work has helped enormously and using the simple tools like zebra patterns on my camera have made a huge difference.

I suppose my 'problem' is with the (seemingly) increasing use of a very stylised look which gets in the way for me as it breaks the whole cinematic spell; I saw a film set in early 20th century urban Ireland ('Angela's Ashes' I think) and everything was lit darkly, brownish (and always raining) but quite richly to emphasise the grim conditions. When the hero enters a bar it is still dark all around him but he himself is 'mysteriously' lit. It all looks fantastic in a way and was brilliantly done but, for me, it is simply fake and wasn't appropriate for the serious subject matter.
Geoffrey Cox is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 13th, 2010, 04:03 AM   #30
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Posts: 1,538
Just to add fuel to the fire... here's a CRAZY idea.

The lighting package should be decided, scene by scene, by looking at the STORY BOARD.

Don't have a Story Board that breaks your entire film down scene by scene? Then you're not really serious about making a quality movie. Period.

If you haven't pre-visualized the location, content, time-of-day, background action, foreground action, and movement in EACH AND EVERY SINGLE SCENE OF YOUR FILM - you're simply not taking the task of filmmaking seriously.

If you DO this stuff, then when you're looking at scene 104-c - and the gaffer tells you that to achieve that look in this location under these conditions the best option is to fly a 10x silk for the sun and fill with 8 Kinos. Then you have a starting point to light something properly.

If you just toss six miscelaneous insturments in a truck and expect to light EVERYTHING you'll encounter with just those you're either making a VERY simple movie, or you're a very simple moviemaker.

It's like throwing four acoustic violins, a bass drum and a xylophone into a truck then showing up and figuring you can cover all the necessary music to keep a crowd entertained for a couple of hours - no problem.

Good luck with that.
Classroom editing instructor? Check out
Turnkey editor training content including licensed training footage for classroom use.
Bill Davis is offline   Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

Omega Broadcast
(512) 251-7778
Austin, TX

(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

(800) 238-8480
Glendale, CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > The Tools of DV and HD Production > Photon Management

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search



All times are GMT -6. The time now is 04:48 PM.

DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2015 The Digital Video Information Network