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Lighting for older subjects

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Bill Parker
Lighting for older subjects
on Dec 30, 2005 at 7:46:48 pm

I shoot a lot of oral histories and most of my interview subjects are in their 70's & 80's. I shoot w/ a PD150 and light w/ a Chimera and a Arri DV light kit. Because the PD150 only has a 1/3" chip, I find I need to zoom in pretty tight to get the background out of focus. This has led some of my clients to complain about how old they look. I haven' t resorted to a Black Pro Mist filter, but I probably will. Does anyone have lighting suggestions to soften things up? I'm also thinking of moving up to a HD camera, but that will still be a 1/3" chip. I'm wondering if HD is going to actually make matters worse, given that there isn't any improvement in DOF. Ideas? Thanks.



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john sharaf
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Dec 30, 2005 at 9:10:55 pm

It won't be the chip size "making matters worse" with the prosumer HD camera, but rather the additional pixels in the same space rendering more detail!

As far as old people looking old, that's a fact of life. There are things obviously that you can do, and I think you're aware that lighting, filtration and lens size all will have an effect. Here in Hollywood we run into this all the time, as we're called upon to interview aging divas and others who have relevent information and stories to tell yet are also concerned that they look like they did in their heyday.


The same is often the case with the correspondents we photograph, especially the women. In extreme cases we use expensive black net stockings on the back of the lens (notably a brand known as Fogal) and this does have a rather glamourous way of softening the wrinkles on an older face and more-or-less smooshing the skin into a more continous tone. Because of the fixed lens on cameras like the HDX and PD you can't do this trick.

I think the best effect for the buck then is in your lighting; you already have a Chimera, which is a very functional way to create a large soft source. Ovbiously the larger the better and the more direct from camera the better to fill in the wrinkle shaddows, while of course flattening the modeling at the same time.

In practice it's common to use the softlight closer to the lens for women and raked a little more to the side for men, but you might consider getting a large unit like a Small if you XS now or a Medium if you already have a Small. This way you don't have to have the unit so close to get the ultimate wrap-around effect.


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Frank Otto
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Dec 30, 2005 at 9:57:27 pm

Hey John:

So is the Fogel now the prefered net? For years I've been using the Dior 1&2 tan rose and the Dior Midnight Black. Have these fallen out of favor or is there a major difference?

I mean, one pair of Dior stockings have lasted me ten years...but I am running out of material -

Cheers,

Frank Otto



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john sharaf
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Dec 31, 2005 at 1:59:05 am

Frank,

Watch any Barbara Walters interview and you'll see the Fogal at work. It's really easy to apply with the "I-Ring" net holder which slips on the rear of any B4 mount lens. The tricky thing is streaching it tight and matching the stretch camera to camera.

Personally I prefer using "Tulle" which is the netted fabric which is used at weddings to make the bags that contain the rice to throw afterwards (and often for veils). It comes in many colors, although usually black is preffered behind the lens. The Tulle has two advantages; it costs about $3 per square yard (!) and is starched in a fixed pattern so any two rear lens applications will match perfectly. Check it out!

Happy New Years to all,

JS


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Bill Parker
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Dec 31, 2005 at 2:12:44 pm

Thanks for the feedback. I'll play around with your ideas.



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shooter
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 2:00:13 am

Bill
Does your camera have skin tone detail control? My Pany DVX100A has it, I'm not familiar with the PD150. You might want to upgrade to the DVX if you don't have it. This feature adjusts the detail enhancement in the skin tones only. You dial it down and soften the features. You can probably do something similar in post.


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Mark Donovan
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 2:22:09 pm

I had to shoot some interviews recently who were more wrinkled than me.

I didn't have a Dior stocking with me so I used the "Silk Stocking" filter in post. If you apply a very slight amount of this filter, it gives great results with older skin textures. It has saved my bacon on several occasions.

http://www.joesfilters.com/

Mark


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Leo Ticheli
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 2:58:50 pm

The Skin tone detail circuit can lead to very unpleasant results.

It isn't magic; it simply softens everything in the "skin tone" color range and that includes everything else in the scene that the camera thinks is skin tone. This can produce odd looking softness where it's not wanted. I never use it.

I think you're far better off controlling the look first with lighting, by using relatively large aperture softlights, and then with lens or post filters.

Remember the Softlight Law: The softness of the light is directly proportional to the relative size of the aperture of the light to the subject. Bigger and closer fixtures yield softer looks; smaller and farther away yield harder light. A big soft source, such as a 4' x 6', very close to the subject can fill most lines in the face.

On a more philosophical note, age and character can be very beautiful when the lighting is properly set; it's our job to find just the right balance of visible lines. Even flawless twenty year-old skin can look bad under harsh light.

Good shooting!

Leo
Director Cinematographer
Southeast USA



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Bill Parker
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 9:02:20 pm

Leo,

Thanks for the tips. I already use most of them, although the right/left philosophy isn't something I was aware of. As luck would have it, the interview in question was all shot looking left! I'll keep that from my client, in any case.



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Bill Parker
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 9:02:44 pm

Leo,

Thanks for the tips. I already use most of them, although the right/left philosophy isn't something I was aware of. As luck would have it, the interview in question was all shot looking left! I'll keep that from my client, in any case.



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Leo Ticheli
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 9:08:01 pm

Hi Bill,
Nothing to fear, it's a very subtle effect. Often we are forced by the architecture of the location to place the subject looking to the left with no dire consequences.

Good shooting!

Leo
Director/Cinematographer
Southeast USA


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Bob Cole
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 5, 2006 at 12:36:18 am

[Leo Ticheli] "the subject looking to the left"


To screen left, I assume.

I associate anything aimed toward the left as looking toward the WEST and therefore being adventurous, forward-looking. That's an American History slant I guess.

-- BC


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Leo Ticheli
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 5, 2006 at 2:21:40 am

It's common convention to portray actors travelling, driving, on the train, planes, etc., going in the proper map directions.

So, for "go West, young man," it's typical to have the subject facing screen left.

The "journey" part of the story-telling trumps the psychological in these cases.

Good shooting!

Leo
Director/Cinematographer
Southeast USA


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Frank Otto
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 4:15:37 pm

John:

Thanks for the tip on tulle...I haven't used it in that manner but I'll try it.

I know what you mean about the stretch...for years I've used "retainer bands" and an A.C.C. type cement once it's aligned - problem has always been that I'll leave it on for weeks at a time, then have to scrape the net off (and no, I've never dammaged the lens - it scrapes off with an orange stick)

Cheers,

Frank Otto



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Bill Parker
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 7:01:39 pm

Thanks for even more information. I played around with Joe's blur filters (I already had them, but it didn't occur to me to use the blur filters). It seems to be like using the Black Pro Mist filter yet you have more control. It definitely helps. I'm wondering if upgrading to the HVX200 with the added image/gamma controls will give me a more pleasing image than the PD150 for the kind of interviews I shoot. The Sony's tend to be on the cooler side and I've had my eye on the DVX100 for some time. Even if I start out shooting with the HDX200 in SD (until the HD workflow becomes more affordable), I can upgrade to a more suitable camera - still using miniDV tapes - and be well situated when the storage/editing situations become more manageable. I'm certainly going to wait until the dust settles before I make any decisions.

Thanks again.



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Leo Ticheli
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 7:38:48 pm

Hi Bill,
Using the best camera you can get certainly makes sense, but the most important factor is not the camera, it's the lighting and composition.

Here's a quick little guide for a typical, dramatically lit, portrait shot:

1. Position the subject so their head is at a ratio of 1:1.6 to the frame; that's roughly the old "rule of thirds," but not quite. Psychologically, a subject looking to the right is more "positive" and looking to the left is more "negative." Maybe it's because we read left to right and the right suggests "future," but, for whatever reason, it seems to be true. When I shoot the "bad guys" in a commercial or dramatic scene, I often put them looking camera left. It's a subtle effect, to be sure, but it all adds up.

2. Set a very large key light close to the subject, well above the eye line if you want the neck to go dark, lower for a brighter, perhaps more modern look. Start the key at a 90


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Frank Otto
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 3, 2006 at 11:31:50 pm

Leo, this is great stuff and should be archived! A nearly foolproof and easily folowed guide for novices and refresher for those of us who don't do the portrait shot on a regular basis.

Thanks!



Cheers,

Frank Otto



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grasshopper
Re: Lighting for older subjects
on Jan 6, 2006 at 9:47:13 pm

Leo -

Great information! I saved it offline to review it in more detail. Though a complete newby at lighting and owning only a Rifa 55 light, I am very impressed with how much time you took to give us these tips. Now if I could only find someplace that sold 300w fresnels cheap!

Have a great day.

Grasshopper


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