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Lighting for white backdrop

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Mike Healey
Lighting for white backdrop
on Oct 31, 2005 at 5:22:36 pm

I've been experimenting with shooting talent/spokesperson against a white backdrop and I'm having a hard time getting the results I need. The shots call for medium and close up's of talking heads against a bright white drop.

I've tried to shoot against a flat white cyc next door at a photographers shop and the background shows up off white or creamy. Even using the drop as the white balance source I don't get true white. The project calls for dissolving the talking heads in and out of graphics and stills over white.

Problem is, I can't seem to achieve a true white background w/o overexposing the backgound leaving the talent washed out and the picture clipping the whites. I need some input and a good starting point. What's the best backdrop? Paper, bright or flat white paint? Some kind of velvatine? Do I need to light the backdrop differently?

I've been using one and sometimes two soft banks directly beside the camera and at 45 degrees off axis from the camera to light the talent to avoid shadows and cast even, diffused light.

The effect we're going for should look seamless. If I have a white CG background with graphics I should be able to dissolve to talent and not see any change in the whites or see the background... Whether it be 80% or 90% white to avoid clipping. Seems simple enough but I'm having issues and bad results. Thanks in advance!

~Mike~


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blueriver
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 7:32:27 am

Mike .... could you shoot it against a greenscreen and key the white in post... so you could get it perfect?



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Kevin Sio
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 1:34:55 pm

Mike

I had a project like this a few years ago. After some experimentation I went to an off white more like pale pale grey seamless paper. The white seamless I had was too white. This helped. In your finished project, if your white background needs to be seamlessly white and totally unblemished from head to foot than you might better use green screen or some other compositing method.

Good luck!

Kevin

Kevin Sio
Videographer/Editor
Corporate Communications
National Grid


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Bob Cole
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 1:53:59 pm

[Kevin Sio] "I went to an off white more like pale pale grey seamless paper."


This may not be true anymore, but I remember reading that at the end of the chain, the consumer tv set acts like an exposure meter searching for an 18% gray card. That is, it will darken a white image, and lighten a dark one.

Whether that is true or not, I agree with Kevin that you should use a shade of gray. It will seem white enough anyway. In Photoshop, you can use the eyedropper tool to match the background of your graphics with the "gray-white" background you shot live.

The other approach is to use a deliberately mottled background with some pure-white in it and dissolve to your graphics as per your original plan. It isn't the original concept but would be easier to pull off and might actually look better; the pure-white areas of your background would appear to "bloom" into the pure-white graphics.


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Leo Ticheli
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 3:11:07 pm

I can think of two possible causes that your BG looks off-white: Either your camera is setup a bit warm or, more likely, you do not have the BG hot enough to just touch clip.

Shooting talent against a smooth white BG is not as simple as it looks! You must insure that the BG is lit almost perfectly evenly to a level that just touches clip. Anything under will show off-color or grey. Go to far, too hot, and you will get a milky look on your FG.

I first light the BG, my white cyc, either with grid-mounted Altman cyc lights (Kino Flo fixtures would be better), or a huge Chimera F2 soft bank. The latter provides absolutely flat and even BG lighting. Fortunately for me, I own an F2; they are costly to rent and take quite a while to set up. Mine stays hanging in the studio for just this effect or lighting cars. Perhaps you can find a studio equipped with an F2 or good cyc lights.

After you've got the BG established, light your foreground subjects to a compatible level. Sometimes I put the subjects under the F2 and provide three dimensions with kicks. It's really a matter of your own taste and the look demanded by the mood you're trying to set.

If your subject is far enough from the BG, always a good idea, you'll have no problems with shadows on the BG.

As I said, it's not as easy as it sounds unless you've got a lot of experience and the proper tools.

Good shooting!

Leo
Director/Cinematographer
Southeast USA



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Mike Healey
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 3:30:44 pm

Thanks guys! I've been struggling with this and it's harder to pull off than I thought. LOL! Due to budget and the amount of on camera work I was really trying to avoid the extra compositing in post by shooting green screen (comma) However, I think that's where I'm heading at this point. = ) I appreciate the response and input! THANKS!


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Charlie King
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 6:06:57 pm

I have used linear keying in the past to match the background to the white your graphics contain. By replacing your white background with a matching white of the graphics and doing it linear, the impression is that the entire background is the same white. Try it I think you'll like it.

Charlie


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Leo Ticheli
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 1, 2005 at 7:09:13 pm

More straightforward and easier is to shoot the BG clean and use it for the BG of the graphics.

I believe it's a good idea to always shoot the BG clean; you never know when you might need it.

Good shooting!

Leo
Director/Cinematographer
Southeast USA


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Trevor Ward
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Nov 16, 2005 at 3:31:28 pm

Green screen? What? it shouldn't be that hard. I used the wall in my house for a video. The wall is painted off-white, sort of like japanese paper, a touch of cream. The wall is thick textured, so it's not even flat. I used 2 250 Watt lights. I have a Lowell softbox (without the cover) and a lowel omni. I put the subject about 3 feet infront of the wall. I put the lights on either side of the subject, and angled a little towards the wall. I then adjusted the exposure until the wall was just clipping. I then moved the lights in close to the subject to make sure they were exposed well. If I had one more light, it would have been in front of the talent, and above and at a slight angle. then in post, I just added a filter (can't remember which one), which sort of evened everything out perfectly.


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Adrian Roup
Re: Lighting for white backdrop
on Aug 6, 2008 at 8:22:00 am

Hi All,
I'm looking to achieve a similar effect. My concern is that because I have a wide range of unknown snowboarding clothing that I can't test with - I'll invariably get clothes with the exact wrong shade of green or some reflective parts in the clothing... so I'm hesitant to use green.
Can anyone recommend a cost effective white photo backdrop paper that has low reflectance and would work as an infinity white backdrop?

Thanks,
Adrian



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