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Info on lighting night scenes

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NIKLASInfo on lighting night scenes
by on Jan 25, 2005 at 5:13:10 pm

Hi guys,

I'm in a bit of a jam regarding the task of having to light a night scene shot inside, with the new hdv from sony. My director wants the source to be outside... but she doesn't want a blue night like we normally see in a lot of movies... What's the best route for me to take if the budget is limited? (Source and filtration) Or should i count on color correction in post ?


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john sharafRe: Info on lighting night scenes
by on Jan 26, 2005 at 2:34:18 am


There are many ways to skin a cat or in this case to light a night interior. Your director is well within her rights to request a certain color palette and even to specify where the source light comes from, but in order to be helpful, I or you need to know what the source light is? It might be astreet light, it might be moonlight (in which case a bluish color is motivated).

There are many shades of blue, just look at a color gel swatch book. Many folks believe that movies often overuse the bluish nightime look, so more care could be taken. For that matter, just making the interior sources warmer would often create the color contrast that makes the outside cooler.

As is the case with many inquiries in this forum for advice or assistance in lighting a particular scene, it's helpful to know the context of the scene, the action, the setting, the mood, the location, the subject matter. these are the things that a lighting director or cameraman takes into consideration in designing a lighting treatment and scheme. If you care to flesh out these subjects, I'm sure some of the many participants here would willingly offer some of their thoughts!


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NIKLASRe: Info on lighting night scenes
by on Jan 26, 2005 at 4:29:41 pm

Thanks JS for this reply...

To give you an idea of what the mood of the scene is... We're talking about a scene where characters are sitting at the dinner table at night, in the kitchen, eating dinner... We see a shot of the wall with decorations, drawings of a kid, it cuts to the scene where there's a confrontation between the husband sitting at the table and the mother doing the dishes, standing in front of the sink. My director wants to have the key light outside so most of the kitchen is lit by an outside source. A DP I work with, suggested i use a sodium source if i don't want to much blue in my scene, but as you said, if i want to represent moonlight, it should come out blue. And as you mentionned, there are many shades of blue that can be used.

If you have more suggestions or comments... feel free...

thanks again


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john sharafRe: Info on lighting night scenes
by on Jan 26, 2005 at 5:20:56 pm


Now we're getting somewhere, and I can see why you (me too) are confused about the director's intentions!

Does she mean to say that the family is eating dinner and the Mom washing the dishes in the dark? If they lived next door to some gigantic source of light (motivated and introduced by the plot) this might be believable (Mt St. Helens erupting with firey lava?) Most people I know have lights on the kitchen when they eat dinner; the lighting could be subdued, even dramatic, like candles, but at least some source; you have to see the food on your plate and the dirt on the dishes afterwards

The outside source light also must be motivated both in terms of practical real world experience and also in the context of the film piece; this is why the almost universal convention of moonlight (and its attendant bluish color) exists. Sodium vapor is another possibility, but to me, it must somehow be established. Perhaps you see Dad arrive home in an exterior lit in such a color. But really, lighting a scene in discontinuous red tones is far from believable, as is the reality of sodium lights on forty foot poles reaching into the kitchen which enough intensity to light a scene (is the kitchen on the fourth floor, with the window right next to the lamppost?).

Perhaps the best and most politically correct procedure would be to "test" the lighting scheme in adavance with your director. Use standins in the chossen location and use your collective ppowers of visualization to "see" what the scene might look like in reality. Now of course if the directors' intention is to create a styalized, surreality, then of course by all means go the red light through the window route.

You can see the the skills of a cameraman require a bit of diplomacy in addition to everything else!

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jaanRe: Info on lighting night scenes
by on Jan 27, 2005 at 8:32:38 am

i've found that the easiest way to deal with a director/producer's vague or limited description of lighting is to have them find an example of what they want in some movie. though it may not be obtainable with your budget, at least you'll have a point of departure and you two can look at it together and start talking about it more specifically.

lighting for night interiors is probably the most liberating scenario possible, since the sources can be defined by story, or purely by style, which is why they're my personal favorite to light. they're probably the scenes that allow for the most creative use of light. have fun, dude.

hope this helps,


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