lighting in short film......
Hi, I wasn't exactly sure where to post this, but here it is.
I'm attempting to make a short film (about 45mins-1hr.) and I plan on filming at night, in the snow. I will be using just a basic Mini DV camera and was wondering if you had any advice for lighting techniques i could use. I am going for a "noir" type of look, so any lighting techniques that would help me achieve that would be great! I am also on a pretty much 100 dollar budget, so any really cheap lighting examples would be awesome! Thanks for the help!
Take a look at my article on Shadows: http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/lighting-with-shadows That should get you started thinking about what makes "noir" noir.
Think about keying with 3/4 back light. You can use foamcore or other white reflective material to bounce some of your key back to fill in the shadow side -- but don't overfill. Move the reflective stuff further back or closer until the amount of bounced fill satisfies your eye.
What motivates your light? Spill from a house? The moon -- in that case, the light is probably rather dim.
If possible, have an external SMPT monitor to check the look. In any case, use your zebras to control the level of exposure. Let's assume you want a hot light source: If you set zebras to 100, you should iris down so that the snow has almost no zebras showing. Why? Because video clips anything over 100%: anything over 100% becomes solid white with no texture. Lots of cameras also turn anything over 100% to an ugly fringed color. Tiny little pockets of zebra stripes are OK.
But if you are simulating moonlight, or some distant light source, then the light would be pretty dim, maybe so dim you can only see people in vague silhouette; closeups might reveal just an edge of light on the face and a tiny bit of fill.
Try also to have something in the frame truly black. The eye loves seeing "reference" black and "reference" white in the frame. The reference white might be a distant window in a house/cabin etc. Being small and hot could work.
It's all in the eye of the DP. With the OK of the director. No rules.
I know of no professional lighting units for under $100. Some people have reported using construction site lights from Home Depot. Might work. You can also hang shower curtain in front of these lights to soften, if you want to.
director of photography
You would be amazed at how many lights and accessory gear it takes to make a convincing "night" shot. The amateur mistake is to assume shooting in the dark is enough, then you find out all you have is grainy, useless mud on the screen. That's not noir, that's nowhere.
After generations of theatrical and cinematic and TV use, audiences are very used to seeing something lit with blue light and understanding that to mean "night". But the source of the light still has to be "motivated". If you're outdoors, it is assumed to be moonlight, so it should come from one angle in the "sky".
You might be able to light a small area with cheap home depot flourescent tubes and blue filter gels. But also for your budget, I would consider using another technique that's been used on high-budget, low-budget films and TV shows for decades, called "day for night". It has gone out of fashion these days for many reasons, which are fun to discuss, but may work fine for your needs. The primary merit of DFN is it is cheaper than actually lighting a night shot, but you trade off some believeability unless you do it right.
In day-for-night, you shoot when shadows are long, and the sun is weak, early in the morning or in the afternoon, preferably under a cloudy, overcast sky; you under-expose and filter the daylight to simulate a night shot, but one with more "free" daylight in it than you can afford to do in real darkness on under $100. The final steps of the day-for-night shot are made in post using colorization tools and more filters to crank the contrast and add blue tint and otherwise tweak for verisimilitude. Be sure to remember to have night lights on in your day for night, like car headlights and street lights, porch lights, and the like. These will help later.
You can easily test and practice this look with digital stills and photoshop, before going out to shoot the movie. Google tutorials on day for night for some tips. The very inspirational web site "worth1000.com" runs DFN conversion contests occasionally, look one up and compare the before and after. Come back and visit when you have more questions or some samples to show. Best of luck!
director of photography
I'm not a great DP like many of you guys in the forum, but DFN has been mostly forgotten these days, I just happened to think of it because I was thinking of an old friend who used to make jokes about it. You can find many examples in old movies where it is pretty badly done, particularly in B&W. OTOH, I know a guy who works on Law and Order, and last year they used the technique for one specific shot, so it still has a place in modern usage, in it's own little niche.
I think there's a COW Aftereffects tutorial somewhere that shows how to track a scene of some jeeps driving down a road and make a DFN conversion to the footage.
Since I have never had to shoot Day-for-Night, I am no expert on this topic. The American Cinematographer Manual (I have the 7th edition) has a pretty good article on the technique. Some excerpts:
--The overall effect must be one of darkness. [In the case of a snowy scene, this remains true.]
--degree of underexposure will vary according to sky conditions, color and contrast of the subject and background, the strength, quality and direction of sunlight, and the particular effect desired.
--Very generally speaking, the most convincing day-for-night shots, in either color or black & white, are made in strong sunlight, under blue skies and with low-angle back-cross lighting. [back-cross lighting means a part of the face receives sunlight, and much of it remains in the shadow.]
--Skies give the most trouble, since they will invariably read too high and are difficult to balance against foreground action. Graduated neutral density filters, [placed to] cover the sky only, and polas, which will darken the sky with the sun at [45º to the sun], are both useful for either color or black & white films.
--[If use use a grad filter, and the actor crosses into the darker area, or tilt the camera down, you give away the filter and make a joke of the effect. Also, different focal lengths require either a sharp graduated filter (long lenses) or a soft-edge (wide lenses.) In either case, you need a matte box that allows you to slide the filter up or down, as needed.]
--[If you pan with a pola, the sky will change in darkness -- also no good.]
--Typical underexposure is 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 stops
--If the sky is not sufficiently blue to filter properly, and it is impossible to use a graduated neutral-density filter, try to avoid the sky as much as possible.
director of photography
The grads and matte box issues are why I'd say leave those out and do that in post, where you have more precision. And try not to shoot any sky if you can help it.
Hey, here's the AE tutorial I mentioned, not jeeps, a truck. Very interesting to see how mucha daylight shot can be changed in post, if you shot it right.
Need more information about the scenes and coverage plan before the lighting design can be created. There's a bunch of give and takes to consider, but for $100, you're basically looking at photo flood bulbs, and at $6/each, you can get several of them plus a ceramic fixture for your budget. NExt question though is how are you going to power those?
EXT. SNOW -- NIGHT (sounds like you need a generator, too, and there's some math to do so that you have enough amperage).
I sure hope Drew is able to utlilize all this incredibly fabulous advice that he's been given --- especially on his $100.00 lighting budget.
I will resist trying to DP this project; but if I were, I would go with gusto to acheive "film noir" and plan the overall look to be black & white.
By the way, a peculiar pet peeve of mine is when people are "filming" a short "film"..... but using the medium of video.
[Dennis Size] "pet peeve of mine is when people are "filming" a short "film"..... but using the medium of video."
Oh man, yeah, Dennis... that used to drive me up a tree.
I'm gradually getting over that, though... I guess I realized it's a losing battle. I think it bothered me more when I was shooting a lot of film... now, not so much since HD and DoF conversion has taken hold.
I'm still very careful though to say "shooting" instead of "filming"... unless the medium actually has real sprocket holes. :)
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
My peeve is people that use "lense" instead of lens. I'm afraid I dismiss them outright and have a hard time changing my opinion later.
I have the same pet peeve. Black and white on miniDV actually looks nice.