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Old August 6th, 2012, 04:32 AM   #1
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Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

Hi All - my style is very documentary and I love filming the interaction between the guests as they wait for the ceremony/wedding breakfast etc. The problem I constantly encounter is very dimly lit venues - especially large country houses and such that can be lit by lights not much brighter than candles - combine that with oak paneling etc and you might as well be filming in a cave!

Here in the UK the weather pretty much can force people inside for the duration (especially this summer) and I'm forced to choose between fairly dark footage which can be lightened somewhat but by it's nature is fairly grainy - or use an on-camera light which improves the technical quality but suddenly everyone is aware of your presence and any natural interaction goes out of the window.

I'd like to know your thoughts on this one folks - shine a light on them so they clam up - or suffer dark, but more natural footage!

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Old August 6th, 2012, 06:23 AM   #2
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

This has been discussed here not too long ago and some will add light as it is the best way to get well exposed images with vibrant color but like you said, people will notice you and it will show that they don't like the bright light.

I just use a canon 550d with a 85mm f1.4 lens at 1600 iso and if really dark 3200 iso combined with the Technicolor CineStyle preset which makes a big difference as I found out recently as the dynamic range is much larger showing a lot of details in otherwise underexposed parts of your image, my first impression was also that it gave less noise.

If I want to shoot with a wide lens and don't need to zoom in I just use my sony cx730 which has better low light performance then my 14mm f2.8 lens at 3200 iso on my dslr.
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Old August 6th, 2012, 07:25 AM   #3
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

Use a light if needed and also try neat video, which can save grainy footage.
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Old August 6th, 2012, 10:52 AM   #4
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

Shoot with the fastest lens possible, I use a Voigtländer 25mm f0.95, higher ISO and if I still cant get a reasonably clean image I will try and bounce a light from the roof or walls, also shoot near windows/fires/wall lights etc.

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Old August 6th, 2012, 12:21 PM   #5
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

With the 5D2 & especially with the 5D3 you can shoot in very low light & still be exposed correctly. The problem is that usually when it's that dark that the lighting is so flat & uninteresting that even if it is correctly exposed it still looks like crap. It's much better to add some light. When it's on the camera is when you get complaints about having a bright light shining in their eyes. Get it off the camera & directed downwards & not only will it look better but you won't get the complaints either.

When the lights are on the video camera it's very clearly the video guy to blame for the bright lights but with some LED lights on a couple of lighting stands it could be the venue or the DJ or even the photographer to blame for destroying the romantic atmosphere:-)
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Old August 6th, 2012, 12:42 PM   #6
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

The wedding I did last Saturday they had a videopresentation with a beamer, all the lights went out and there was only candlelight at the tables, so very dark, after the presentation the first dance would start but they didn't turn the lights back on, I only had some minor light coming from the DJ but that was more some "mood" light. I asked the venue manager if they could give me more light and he said they always did it like this, I then went to the couple telling it was too dark to get decent footage without me using a bright videolight on camera and they said, "but we like to have it this dark at our first dance. So I ended up filming without extra light with a f2.8 14mm lens at 3200 iso and using the cinestyle preset and got some usable footage, could be much better but often you have to work with what you get.
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Old August 6th, 2012, 02:32 PM   #7
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

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Originally Posted by Nigel Barker View Post
Get it off the camera & directed downwards & not only will it look better but you won't get the complaints either.
Or (for the times you can't use the stands such as when on the move roaming through milling folks at cocktail), raise up your monopod and have your LED on the camera at a reasonably dimmed strength and downward angle on your camera. Slope the viewfinder so you can see it, and off you go.
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Old August 8th, 2012, 04:44 AM   #8
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

Some good tips here folks - changing to a faster lens is not an option as I use Sony Z1 cameras - also lighting a room is not always practical as guests pretty much tend to mingle in several rooms - i need to be able to roam around to get the good stuff

Getting the light up off the camera and angled down has possibilities - now who can recommend a good telescopic hot shoe bracket?

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Old August 8th, 2012, 05:59 AM   #9
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

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Originally Posted by Peter Rush View Post
Getting the light up off the camera and angled down has possibilities - now who can recommend a good telescopic hot shoe bracket?
Lighting stands are dirt cheap. The lamps we use have a hot shoe fitting that is also tapped for thread of a lighting stand or you can get a separate hot shoe bracket to fit the lighting stand.
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Old August 8th, 2012, 06:02 AM   #10
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

ouch, a Z1 is very bad at low light, I've edited some footage from that camera at a wedding and understand your problem now. I still think that no matter what you try, everyone will see you coming and being able to capture "natural interaction" from a distance will only be possible with a dslr with a faster telelens. That's even a very small investment, a t2i with a rokinon 85mm f1.4 costs as much as a small handicam.
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Old August 8th, 2012, 01:19 PM   #11
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

Yeah, I was going to say, get a small newer "handy" cam (great for those "mingling" shots since it's small!) - nearly ANY of them are going to be WAAAAY better than the old Z1, technology has marched on, and a DSLR/SLT would also do wonders...

OR, cheap LED lights are easy to come by - look on eBay for a CN 560 (actual model # is CN-LUX560) - insanely cheap, meaning well less than $20 shipped, wide dimming range from barely on to reasonably bright, and 3xAA battery powered - light enough you can mount it or hold it up while shooting. Has a couple "filters" too.

I picked one up, and it worked great, I'll pick up a couple more - there are other lights out there too (Manfrotto seems to have recently released a nice line, if you wanted name brand), but bang/buck ration on this one is pretty impressive. It will NOT light up a huge room or space, but it also goes low enough it WON'T blind your subjects, which most other lights can't quite manage. I've tried larger LED lights, they are also good, but this "tiny" (56 LED's vs. 126/160) one seems to do the trick better than the others I've tried (prolly end up using them for makeshift "studio" lighting...)

Last shoot, I found everyone was taking advantage of my little 560 to take pictures and some video - it made it so guests with cheap cameras could get something too! Not one "complaint" about "too bright" either, even though I actually found I needed to "crank it up" most of the time! Worth a look, especially for the price!
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Old August 8th, 2012, 02:25 PM   #12
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

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nearly ANY of them are going to be WAAAAY better than the old Z1, technology has marched on
In good light, that's not necessarily true, the Z1 produces a really nice image with vibrant colors and in terms of sharpness it's still very good, even-though the latest small handicams produce a slightly sharper image, but from a normal viewing distance when looking at it on a TV the Z1 footage might even be more pleasing to the eye. Only don't use it when it's too dark, because you need light for sure.
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Old August 8th, 2012, 04:59 PM   #13
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

$60 will buy a led panel, the cheap kind, and on a low setting you can go anywhere and people are not bothered. Some light is better than none. To me it is beyond comprehension to not have on camera lights and stands at the ready. Video lights are so good now, you do not have to blow people away with them to use them. In a dark room camera lighting, properly used, will add to the ambiance, not detract from it. You just don't turn them up all the way. Use light stands and raise them up 10' point them downward, and no one cares.

Someone mentioned a F/2.8 lens, I had a $1K F/2.8 lens, great quality lens, but useless for most reception work, defeats the purpose of having a DSLR camera, at least that's my opinion.

I have nothing slower than F/2.0, just don't see the point, but I'm a novice shooter really, so I need all the help I can get. 12mm F/2.0, 25mm F/1.4, 45mm F/1.8, and I'm set and can do anything between two DSLRs and two videocameras.
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Old August 8th, 2012, 06:12 PM   #14
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

As I said before, cameras of any kind (except FLIR and night vision) need light to produce a good quality image. Sure, I can take a PD170, turn the shutter to 1/30th, open the iris to f/1.6 and kick the gain to 18 and produce a relatively good quality image but the IMO right way to do it is to use some additional light. Trust me when I say I've shot under literally every kind of lighting condition and for me it's simple. If I'm inside and it's dark enough that I have trouble seeing, then the camera won't see anything either and I need a light. Off camera or on, low powered or high, it depends on the conditions of the enviornment but you can bet your bottom dollar, if you're shooting a wedding reception with me, you're gonna see a light or 2 or 3. People are so used to it, I can honestly say that in the last 10 years I've had maybe 3 people say something about it but I'm not working for them, I'm working for the bride and groom and need to produce the best quality I can for them.
Want to talk about bright lights. Not all that many years ago I had the old sungun, which IIRC was about 150 wats, not dimmer, and no diffusion. You could light up the whole room with one. That's what we used. Course we were shooting beta and vhs then and photographers were shooting film.
Point is, sure you can use a fast lens, high ISO and slow shutter but is it really the way to get the best footage for the client? I don't know, all I know is what I do and I've really never had a client complain so I guess I'll just keep on doing what I've been doing for all these years and be known as a dinosaur! ;-)
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Old August 8th, 2012, 06:31 PM   #15
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Re: Candid filming in dark venues - to light or not?

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and I've really never had a client complain
Well, I had, and it happened to be the last wedding I did. It was so dark just before the first dance I asked the venue manager twice if he could turn up the lights a bit for the first dance but got a "no", then I went to the couple explaining it was too dark to film and they said they wanted it like that and didn't like the idea of me turning on any lights at them as it would ruin the atmosphere. So I filmed without extra lights squeezing every inch of light of of the camera, I ended up with dark grainy footage but it was not "that" bad, but not good either, in this case I don't expect the client to complain about it.

This topic comes up every now and then and for my kind of weddings I do I can only say that it gets worse every year, getting the right "mood" is in and people don't want the videoguy to place light stands to light up a room, they often choose a venue specifically for it's dark setting, they don't want a videolight shining up in their face as well, when it's really dark even at a low setting a videolight looks like a interrogation flash.

I also do videos from business events and there it's equally worse at times and the person that hires me doesn't want me to use lights either, with the only exception if we do interviews, and those events are covered with dslr only with fast lenzes.

The topic here was how to film candid in dark area's without trowing natural interaction between people out of the window, well, with light on your camera you can't, period.
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