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Old May 9th, 2010, 11:25 AM   #1
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Lighting with a single source

I am currently working on a short film and we have 3 scenes that need vastly different lighting to the rest of the film. The bulk of the film is being lit naturally, either with existing outdoor light, or through careful placement of practicals and fixtures.

For the scene I lit yesterday, I thought it might be instructive for those newer to lighting to see what was achieved.

So for demonstration purposes, here is how the lighting was done:

Room was a 12x12 apt bedroom

All practicals were turned off

Instrument was 1 Lowel DP light scrimmed 1 stop

There was a single flag used as a light modifier to stop light leak on the wall opposite the camera (which had a highly reflective laminated map on it).

Light levels in the room were comfortable for reading, and the actor was actually reading a scripture during the take. His cheat sheet was also on the floor next the bed he was seated on, and that was also comfortable for reading.

YouTube - Day 14 Sample 2


I've attached an image to illustrate what the lighting level in the room was actually like.
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Lighting with a single source-day14.png  
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Old May 9th, 2010, 12:28 PM   #2
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Perrone:

No offense intended, but in the YouTube sample, all I see is a massively underexposed shot with hardly any detail, no Z-axis depth and no definition of zones/layers of light and dark. Perhaps the poor YouTube compression has affected what I am seeing, but I do have a calibrated screen on this computer so I am not sure.

In my understanding of Chiaroscuro lighting Purple Palette Artists Extension: What is Chiaroscuro you are trying to increase apparent depth of a composition by utilizing zones of lightness and darkness within the frame to draw the viewers eye into the composition/story/character. I think the only way you can utilize Chiaroscuro with a single instrument would be to have a scene where there are already pre-lit zones of available light and you would supplement those with your own small zone that you created with your one light.

What are your thoughts on this? I have a still photography background and have long used the zone system of exposure and my lighting style is to light with many small instruments over large soft instruments. My eye is always inclined toward building greater depth and dimensionality. The shot in your clip reminds me of some of the footage I have been forced to shoot by directors in the past few years where I am railing against them that the image is underexposed, yet they persist that they want a massively underexposed image with no contrast, latitude or shadow information. And these have been films that have been projected at film festivals where the projected images always looks darker and murkier too. As a DP, I will give a director whatever shot that they think that they want, but I always warn them of the consequences of underexposing while doing it.

Thanks for sharing.

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Old May 9th, 2010, 12:56 PM   #3
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I too have a still background, and you are entirely correct. Using the term "Chiaroscuro" is risky in showing this kind of work. I can assure you the image was not underexposed. At least not as shot. It was shot in lighting levels comfortable for reading words in a book.

One of the difficulties in shooting amateur films (at my level anyway) is that there often IS no appreciable screen depth. In a 12x12 with white walls, and a bed pushed up against two of them, there is simply nowhere to go. I've had discussions with the director about this in fact, and have tried to increase depth where I could. I've been reasonably successful in doing that in other scenes, but this scene in particular is meant to be a radical departure from the rest of the film. It is a crucial turning point for the lead character, and the idea was to provide as stark and arresting an image on screen to underscore that.

This is not final color, and yes, you are losing something in the Youtube translation. The world map is still behind the character and in final color it will be visible, though not easily definable.

More than anything, this was an exercise is bold strokes. a radical departure from the rather soft, or flat lighting in the rest of the film, and I think it will get there. But in the strict sense of "Chiaroscuro" you are exactly correct.

Thank you for your comments. I hope this sparks more discussion along the same lines.
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Old May 9th, 2010, 08:00 PM   #4
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This begs the question, Perrone...if this is intended as a demonstration to those who are new to lighting, what is to be learned if the sample footage is not as intended?

While Youtube's compression is definitely less than desirable, I've never seen it knock the exposure level down 2+ stops, which is my guess based on your description of the scene (the map on the wall is below the exposure of the fill side of his face, which is deep into the toe of the Youtube video).

If you were going for Chiaroscuro, the back wall should have been strafed with some sort of gobo--even a subtle patch of light would have created more depth than a uniform, fixed exposure across the wall.

Perhaps you can post a frame grab that is color corrected to your preference?
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Old May 9th, 2010, 09:18 PM   #5
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Actually, I wish I could just change the title. I didn't mean for this to be an example of Chiaroscuro as much as I intended it to be an example of lighting with hard light to create a "look". Can you tell me how to do that?
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Old May 9th, 2010, 10:06 PM   #6
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Okay, the Chiaroscuro label aside, I viewed the sample with interest. It's certainly a look, and one I like except for leaving the actor's left eye totally dark. For the sake of the performance, it would have been nice to position your source so that you could achieve your desired look, and let us have the advantage of seeing his eye, and thus his thoughts a bit more clearly.

By the way, on my monitor, I see nothing in the background. No map, nothing.

Thanks for posting it.
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Old May 9th, 2010, 10:48 PM   #7
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We debated that. In fact, we debated it so hard, I shot the entire scene twice. One with the dark lighting the director wanted, and once with the scene being lit by a motivated practical. There's easily enough light for me to bring that other eye out of the dark. And when I bring up the toe enough to get the map where I want, that eye will be there.

As I said, this is not final color. I just whipped it together the evening of the shoot to show the director. This was his comment when he watched it...

"****ING AMAZING P!!!

LETS HAVE SOME BEERS TO CELEBRATE!"



Expletive deleted.

He then proceeded it forward the link to the entire cast and crew... It's exactly the look he wanted, and ultimately that's our job as cinematographers. I'll put both versions in front of him, and we'll test screen both, and see how it looks projected and where we need to go on it. I've got to cut an early trailer and he wants to lead with this scene... so I'll get to test that pretty soon.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts thus far.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 12:48 AM   #8
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Perrone,

While you may have been trying to elicit comments about lighting - you actually may have uncovered more about the vagrities of peoples monitors and YouTube encoding and transmission standards than you expected.

For example, on my Apple Cinema Display - the entire picture consists of a totally solid black frame - from which ONE red outlined left shoulder emerges. That is joined by ONE cheak and forehead and ONE side of the nose. There's a HINT of the opposite shoulder. A hint of the right arm as well, but not enough to define actual shape or movement. In addition, there's a highlight on the subjects nose - and a slightly more subtle one on his lower lips that look kinda like white blemishes that draw the eye.

That's about it. The entire shot is so vastly underexposed that it screams WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM to me more than anything else. I instantly believe this guy is deeply in hiding and I'm not sure whether or not to hope whoever's after him finds him.

Just the reality of how it plays on MY screen.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 12:54 AM   #9
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In fact, I just did a quick screen cap of what I can see.

Here you go.
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Lighting with a single source-screen-capture-1.png  
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Old May 10th, 2010, 02:13 AM   #10
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What's tricky about lighting discussions is that it's rarely a case of "right and wrong". It's a matter of personal taste and what fits the overall look and visual scheme of the given project.

Taken out of context, it's hard to know what makes this scene visually "correct" for the director, but it is good that you delivered what he wanted.

For me, not knowing where we are in the film and why the fellow is in the dark, there's not much I can say. However:

Having a single source at such an oblique angle with no fill is obviously a strong move. There's no light in the eyes and the contouring is pretty deep. However, the side of the nose is the hottest part of the face, even when the image is apparently darker than it will be--seems like it will be "screaming" when this is brought up. There's a little hotspot on the left nostril that's a bit distracting (being the reflection of the source itself). Black skin can be interesting to light because it can act a bit like a mirror; use a single point source and you end up with hot spots; use a big soft source and you can get large patches of reflection.

Again, not knowing if the idea was to hide the eyes from view or not; if this wasn't specifically the goal, I might like to see a passive bounce just below frame on the actor's left that would have caught some of the hot edge light and brought up a bit of level in his face and left eye.

This to me is not so much an exploration of what hard light can do as it is an example of low key, no-fill edge lighting. You could do something similar with a fairly soft source and it would have a relatively similar effect--it would wrap a bit more but the overall effect would still be low-key.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 02:30 AM   #11
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This shot can be correctly defined as LOW KEY.

For those that want to know classic CHIAROSCURO, whilst also low key, has a clearly defined pattern of light on the face; light, dark, light, dark. There is also a "V" shape of light under one eye.

Google REMBRANDT LIGHTING there are dozens of tutorials freely available, some of them even get it right:)
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Old May 10th, 2010, 03:11 AM   #12
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It's these sort of discussions that make me love DVinfo.
Very stimulating and makes you think more about your own work.
ps and, I should say, very civilised too :-)
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Old May 10th, 2010, 07:11 AM   #13
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Sounds like you discussed and planned the look, and delivered what the director wanted, so in that sense what we say here is moot. You did the job right, and that's what counts.

It's illuminating, however (pun intended) how much hinges on what equipment we use to watch your sample.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 08:37 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vito DeFilippo View Post
It's illuminating, however (pun intended) how much hinges on what equipment we use to watch your sample.
Agreed. Demonstrating, evaluating, or even just accurately appreciating professional lighting is extremely difficult once we've allowed varied playback displays and even display cards to become involved.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 10:36 AM   #15
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I'm glad to see this has taken on a life of it's own. Kinda what I wanted, and I really do regret the title now. A couple of comments if I may.

1. As we look at the actor, there is a nightstand to our lower left off-screen. It had a VERY large mirror on it. I discussed this with the director because I knew it would give me far too much fill if we left it in scene. So I removed it from this shot. The off-white wall offered some fill, but for this look I crushed it. I might bring some of that fill back if desired, but he liked this so much...

2. The "purpose" of this scene... Let me give some context. This character is the focal point of the story. He is a young man trying to escape his daily reality of being surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence. Police sirens all day and night, gunshots, etc. He is in college, but the forces around him are trying to pull him back into the "darkness". In this scene we see him wake up in the darkness, and offer a prayer up to God for strength to make it through. In the script, this scene 6 of 21. The movie will not follow the script order based on how I see the story being told, so this scene will be used nearer to the end of the movie. At that point the character is well fleshed out, we know him and his struggle, and we see this as his last ditch effort to escape his surroundings. It will set up the final conflict both internally and externally.

3. It's interesting to have your work critiqued by committee. It's a lesson in developing thicker skin. I see all the things Charles sees in the image. And this is a WONDERFUL lesson in why It can be so important to have a real monitor on set. Because some of the things we see, don't really jump out at you on a 3.5" LCD panel on the camera when setting up the scene.

@Charles: Yes this was a bold move. And it came after playing it safe for nearly the entire shoot. Doing location lighting with *NO* grip available has been incredibly challenging, and we've had to find some creative solutions to interesting problems. I've never cheated with so many practicals in my LIFE! For this shot specifically, the idea wasn't necessarily to hide the eyes, but to force the audience to focus on the words. To give just enough of a hint of who we're seeing without having them get lost in the "room". We shot it more traditionally as well, and there are 5 separate angles that we shot for this scene. And yes, you are right that this is more of an example of low-key edge lighting. A soft source could have done something similar but it would have caused me problems with reflections off the back wall. Again, there was a laminated map there and I had *zero* grip to work with. In fact, in one angle, I was getting a light leak from the barndoors, and had the 2nd AC hold the slate in place to block it because I had no flags.


@Bill Your screen is displaying the same thing as my laptop. I am going to do some color on my calibrated monitor today and we'll see what we come up with.
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