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Old August 20th, 2006, 07:15 PM   #1
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Lighting Confusion - Dark set

Hey guys,

I'm starting to tamper with lighting a lot more than before and one question has always bugged me. How in the world do I get a CLEAR, dark set and capture it nicely on video?

For example, I want to shoot a scene where it looks dark and the only light source that I want to stand out are lit candles? How do I light the set?

Do I light the room completely and do the effect on post?

How do people get those clear looking dark shots, with little to no grain/noise?
I have seen behind the scenes on some movies where a particular scene is really dark for mood, yet ono the actual set it's brighter than the sun!

How do I go about accomplishing this dark look?

Is it easy to light the set completely and do it in post?

-Roger
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Old August 20th, 2006, 07:49 PM   #2
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The noise is mostly a matter of the gain setting and exposure. Most people have noise problems in dark scenes because they don't use enough light -- not overall, I mean for however they want the highlights to appear in terms of brightness -- and then find themselves brightening the image in post. Or they are using a consumer camera that automatically kicks in gain when the lens hits wide-open on the aperture.

Using Black Gamma to increase shadow detail can also increase the noise, and not having the blacks set low enough.

Try this: set the gain manually either to 0db or even -3db and make sure it stays there. Turn off any Black Stretch / Black Gamma, make sure your Master Video Black level is at 0, or even crush the blacks slightly. Then light the scene the way you want it to look, and when in doubt, know that it will be better if in post you had to slightly darken the shot than slightly lighten the shot if keeping your blacks nice and rich is the most important thing (for a day exterior, often it's holding onto highlights that is more important and thus you'd rather err on underexposing them slightly than overexposing them slightly.)

Also realize that "black" is a perceptual thing too -- a black field looks blacker when there is a bright area in the frame, a hot spot. Especially when viewing on an LCD screen. Ever notice how a really dim scene viewed on an LCD TV can look murky until the white credits appear over the picture, and then suddenly the blacks look blacker? This is also why in the old b&w film noirs, you'd have a dark shadowy night scene but there would always be a white reference in the frame, either a hot streetlamp in the background or a hot edge light, etc.

In terms of "dark" scenes, you have to decide if you mean "dim" -- low-contrast and underexposed-looking -- or "shadowy", high-contrast with large areas of black and small areas of normal exposure, if even sometimes tiny areas of overexposure.
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Old August 20th, 2006, 09:45 PM   #3
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All "Dark" scenes you see in the movies are brighter than an average well lit room in daytime...they are shot on slow film and lit warmly to give the impression that the candles/table lamps are giving off the light. They let the contrast ranges fall under spec in the backgrounds to make them seem dimmer than the foreground...everything is lit orange/red (or just white balance to a light blue card or set your default white balance to outdoors) to show that the lights are very low intensity...blue light from the windows (moon light is sunlight reflected) with hard shadows will give the impression that it is night time. Either shoot it underexposed a bit or darken in post.
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Old September 4th, 2006, 07:48 PM   #4
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It might help to read my article "Lighting the Darkness:"

http://www.dv.com/news/news_item.jht...02/jackman1002

Of course, it would help more if the CMP IT geniuses still had the pics in -- I'll gripe and get them fixed.
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Old September 5th, 2006, 05:22 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cole McDonald
All "Dark" scenes you see in the movies are brighter than an average well lit room in daytime...they are shot on slow film and lit warmly to give the impression that the candles/table lamps are giving off the light. They let the contrast ranges fall under spec in the backgrounds to make them seem dimmer than the foreground...everything is lit orange/red (or just white balance to a light blue card or set your default white balance to outdoors) to show that the lights are very low intensity...blue light from the windows (moon light is sunlight reflected) with hard shadows will give the impression that it is night time. Either shoot it underexposed a bit or darken in post.
You'd be surprised how little light is used on a film set. 500 ASA film and high speed lenses help to reduce the lighting levels.

Usually the secret is to only light the areas you want to see and let the rest fall off into darkness. It's a matter of keeping tight control of your lights and keeping to the spirit of the lighting sources within your scene. Don't over light.
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Old September 8th, 2006, 05:24 PM   #6
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Good post. Rodger, Brian is absolutely nailing it. It's been a while since I was at film school but basically approach your "dark set" (any set, really) this way:

-what is your subject and mood? (lets say a dark room lit only by candles)

-what is the brightest object you should be able to see? (the candle)

-what is the median object in your scene, the "normally exposed" object (perhaps the side of the subjects face nearest the camera).

-what is the darkest object in your scene that will still have detail? (could be anything, the subjects clothing, a chair, whatever)

-what is in total shadow, (will be seen only as black by the camera).

So basically you're thinking the brightest, the norm, and the darkest, and lighting to work within those confines keeping in mind that your video camera has approximately a five stop range. You could use a light meter, or have a monitor set up so you can check the image as you light. The trick with something like candle light is if you need to add light to the subject, you have to do so in such a way that it looks like the candle light (color temp and direction match) and you can't add so much light that it over-powers the candle in the scene. A work around for something like this is to use a light source off camera that is supposedly moon light, or a street light or something of that nature. Almost all night scenes use this "unmotivated light source". Like, the teenagers are wandering around in the swamp at night and there's this huge blue light (an HMI) coming from off screen. This way you can use both the candle light and the blue "moon light" to cover your scene, and let the rest intentionally fall off into darkness. It can be a bit tough with video's narrow range of contrast, but I've also seen it go the other way with film. A group in our class mis-calculated the film stock's latitude for a night bedroom scene, and the floor around the bed was clearly visible when it was supposed to be pools of black.

PS, John's article is excellent, and really expands on the whole subject of night lighting.
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