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Photon Management
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Old December 8th, 2004, 02:07 AM   #1
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Okay, so you're out in the middle of nowhere, alone, scared, you've built a small fire to try to keep warm in the cooling darkness.

But is the firelight strong enough for your camera to pick up so the audience can follow your plight with adequate clarity?

What sorts of things would I need to augment the ambient firelight to make it really look clear and presentable? Or do you think the firelight itself (with, I'm thinking, a polarized lens to prevent glare?) would be enough to light the small scene, only about two or three meters in diameter, darkness beyond.
Dan Gast
JD Video Productions
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Old December 8th, 2004, 06:19 AM   #2
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We shot a bunch of stuff around a campfire at the beach awhile ago using only a cheap flashlight with a piece of diffusion gel as fill for the face (the color of the flashlight was actually just about right, the diffusion just softened the pattern without changing the color). These were shot with a Sony PDX-10 which leaves something to be desired in low light situations, but we liked the effect (which was projected on a 44' wide screen during an opera). A camera with better low-light response would have helped.

But I suppose it has a lot to do with the sort of effect you're looking for. Using the firelight is good for a spooky flickering effect which is what it sounds like you want. Try shooting some tests, that's the only way you'll really know what works.

Here are some stills, but unfortunately the heavy JPEG compression has mangled them a bit, I should really re-do these "someday" :-)
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Old December 8th, 2004, 07:59 AM   #3
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Boyd is right, it really depends on the effect. The fire size will change during the shoot, so I reccomend using those wax "firelogs" for illumination while shooting the scene. (Of course, if you see the fire being built, you'll have to work around that).

The firelog/fire will throw flickers on the face. But if you need more general illumination around the scene... for instance, you need to see two characters and their actions or surrounding fairly clearly, then I reccomend a softbox with gel across the fire from them, or better yet, a nice "moonlight" japanese lantern, hung high above and across the fire from them. Either will throw a soft difuse light that will read as moonlight, and the firelight will throw the flickers in.

But, as always, test shots are your best bet before getting on set. The pro's do it, so should you.
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Old December 8th, 2004, 09:06 AM   #4
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Daniel mentions in the original post:

...I'm thinking, a polarized lens to prevent glare?

Glare from what? If reflections, I imagine that would work, but would a polarizing filter actually affect the quality of firelight itself?

Michael Bernstein, actor & film maker.
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Old December 8th, 2004, 07:05 PM   #5
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Polarizer is a big no-no!

Hey Dan,

You are starting your shoot at the extreme range of your camera's low light capabilities. Adding a Pola will cut down the light transmission by 1 1/2 - 2 stops! Not a good thing unless you want to turn up the volume and call it a radio show!

Here's an idea...

You can purchase, very inexpensively at that, an "emergency blanket" at any serious camping/sporting good store. One side is a shiny silver and the opposite side is usually a shiny copper color. Both sides are highly reflective.

Quick survival lesson.

If you are stranded out in the wild. The silver side is worn on the outside during the daylight in warm climates to reflect heat away from you while the copper side is worn on the outside in colder climates in order to absorb heat, thus warming the person under the blanket. OK, no more Boy Scout stuff!

Make an inexpensive frame from wood scraps, take your blanket, wrinkle it to your liking and affix it, loosely, to said frame.

Now you can bounce a small light and recreate the flicker effect from the fire when working in close-ups without setting anyone on fire!

There are other methods available using real fire but, I wouldn't recommend them unless you are using bonide special FX guys on your shoot.

Good luck and don't forget the marshmallows!

My best to the "Main" Gast.

"The future ain't what it used to be." Yogi Berra.
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