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Old June 19th, 2002, 11:23 AM   #1
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Using Lights to Acheive Film Look

Ok, I've done all my research on how to make my XL-1 footage look like "film", and I've done some tests that have turned out nicely. Now I'm ready to shoot and I've even been able to secure some lighting equipment, but I'm not exactly sure how to use it (as far as technical aspects go).
It is a basic tungsten 3 piece lighting kit, and it looks to be about 650 watts. My problem here is that the light is simply too bright. The short I'm shooting is to be kinda dark in tone, and these lights seem like it will make everything look like daytime. Heat is also a concern, as it is summer time and the shooting will be done in a tight space. Can I use some kind of dimmer to reduce the heat/light, or will diffusion help a great deal. I know exactly how I want to light this thing, I just dont know how to control these lights. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
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Old June 20th, 2002, 11:44 AM   #2
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While lighting theory is probably too big an issue for this forum. I can tell you that while 650w lights might seem like a lot of light, it is probably the bare minimum for getting good exposures on the xl1s shooting at -3gain.

We used to have a saying in photo school that low-key lighting (dark) is essentially defined by the highlights...what that means is that your key light is kept low relative to back lights, kickers and hair lights, thus creating a darker overall'll see this a lot in films when they are shooting night scenes..the brightest highlights are coming from lights at the back of the set, not from a key light near the camera. Rent Citizen Kane, or Sunset Boulevard, and watch how the interiors are lit. These lighting plots used many thousands of watts of light, and still maintain a dark feel. Remember it is not the amount of light, but rather the ratio of key light to backlights that will give you a dark moody look.

Heat is another thing..although filmmakers/videographers have been getting by with it for a long time. You can minimize the effect on your actors by bouncing the light off of walls, or fill cards (white foamcore)... Or by diffusing it with a sheet, or rip-stop nylon (keep a couple of feet away from your lights for safety). This will also help to soften the light, and bring it down to a level that you may find more workable.

There are some household dimmers that will handle 650 watts, but I've not tried them..Professional dimmers are very expensive. Typically light ratios are controlled with screens, or scrims which will cut the light level of a particular light without adding much diffusion. You can also use Neutral density gels to bring down the level. Without knowing what kind of lights you are using it's hard to tell whether these types of accessories will fit into the light, or will need to be held on a stand in front of the light. Matthews makes an impressive line of light modifiers, that is suprisingly reasonable given the quality, and the fact its used on virtually every motion picture produced in america. Manfrotto (bogen) makes a similar line that is slightly less expensive.
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Old June 20th, 2002, 01:52 PM   #3
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As barrygoyette indicated, it's hard to offer good advice without knowing more about your setup. In general, however, moving the lights is a better brightness control strategy than dimming the lights. Dimming tungsten lamps changes their color and can actually reduce their lifespan. Use barndoors and/or flags to block unwanted spillage. If you can't get good results from changing physical placement you'll probably have to get lower wattage lamps. Diffusing a light will reduce its brightness but it will introduce a softness that may not be welcome for a scene.

Re: heat, tungsten lights are hot...very hot. There's just no way around that characteristic.

Take a look in the "Read More About It" forum for some very good books on lighting. It will be a good investment of your time.
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Old June 21st, 2002, 04:52 AM   #4
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To add to this. If it is too bright you can put an ND filter on your
camera or close the lens more (if you are comfy with the other
things this changes). It is indeed the ratio of the light, where
the shadows are, what you see and what not what defines
the "mood". It is pretty easy to lower or increase overall
brightness in a scene with the camera itself or utilities like ND
filters (both on your lamps or on the camera).

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Old June 22nd, 2002, 10:21 AM   #5
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Lighting is an ongoing process for me. I learn about it every time I shoot. My first lighting purchase was an Arri kit with two 650s, one 350 and a 1K. I quickly learned that for me and my XL1s, it was a lot of light. Then I went to assist on a shoot. The DP used my Arri kit to light the background. He then used Chinese lanterns to light the foreground. The Chinese lanterns were rigged on C-stands using color corrected bulbs and home dimmers. From this day I have not looked back. I light everything this way now. If I were to add anything thing, I would get some Kinos as they provide a look similar to Chinese lanterns but at a size that can be used more flexibly. In most cases I don't need to light the background because I make sure to incorporate the existing background lights. I light with the environment and not against it. This often allows me to shoot only using Chinese lanterns. Also, you can paint the lanterns black for more control.
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Old June 22nd, 2002, 10:00 PM   #6
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The plan you described, hard light for the background and soft for the foreground, is an excellent one and very well suited for video. I would respectfully suggest that you keep keep experimenting and trying new techniques when appropriate rather than turn your back entirely on hard light. No question it requires more effort to work with, but there are times it is just the thing. One kind of project may have a totally different feel than another, and the best way to grow as a cinematographer is to push yourself rather than head for the old tried 'n true...

While it may be rarely appropriate to bang a fresnel directly onto an actor, judicious use of diffusion can create a more punchy, directional light than a china ball or Kino.You can use a large section of diffusion (easiest to work with in a frame, but if unavailable, sliding a roll onto the arm of a C-stand will do in a pinch) or just clip it on the barndoors, which will create a harder quality. If one was to recreate the late afternoon sun punching through a window, hard light would be the way.

Additionally, clever use of gobos to break up the light into naturalistic looking patterns looks great. They can be as simple of strips of tape hanging off a c-stand arm, household objects hoisted in front of the light (not too close!) etc.

A look that has gained much popularity in recent years is having a hard source rake an actor from the side or three-quarter front to simulate sunlight in an interior, while placing diffusion so that it works only the face with the cut falling across the chest or shoulders. The direct light could be a stop hotter than the diffused section which would be at key (video levels--for film you can go much hotter). In my tenure at "The West Wing", I watched DP Tom del Ruth do this regularly, using a 3x3 or 4x4 frame with light grid for the face. In general, I would say that the soft light look is somewhat out of style in the feature world right now.

I admit that I personally tend towards keying with soft sources just as you describe, especially on tape projects, but I try to be "ballsy" when appropriate...! Go for it, daddy-o!
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Old June 23rd, 2002, 12:17 AM   #7
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Harlan brings up a great point. Most people think about just lighting their subjects. But on larger scenes you might need to light some background elements as well. This sometimes requires much more light.
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Old June 24th, 2002, 10:55 AM   #8
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Thanks for the responses. From everything I've been reading, it seems as though using some chinese lanterns is what will work best for me since they wont be nearly as hot as the tungstein lights for my actors. One thing I was curious about is the comment about being able to paint the lanterns black for more control. What exactly does this achieve?
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Old June 24th, 2002, 11:08 AM   #9
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Hi Trent.

The balls being spherical, they throw light in every direction. Painting the backside black will reduce the spill on the set. There are times you want an omnidirectional light, such as hanging over a table to light everyone around the table, but generally the desired effect is in a limited direction.
Charles Papert
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