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Shooting on White Background...

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Jeffrey GouldShooting on White Background...
by on Mar 19, 2006 at 2:55:04 pm

Hi, I'm shooting talking heads that are going to be encoded for the web...are there any lighting tips for shooting on a white background to make it nice and bright? (besides putting the camera on manual iris) What about a hairlight...I usually use them to separate the background, but with a white background, do you really need it or does it still give the shot depth? Thanks.

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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Leo TicheliRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 19, 2006 at 4:25:43 pm

A white background, which at first blush appears so easy, is actually quite difficult.

The real trick is bringing the white just into clip and having just the right level on the foreground. If the background is relatively too hot, you will get milky spill around the subjects. Too low, and it looks muddy.

The problem is compounded by automatic circuits in displays and the limited dynamic range of almost all video cameras; only those at the high end are able to hold sufficient detail in the highlights without crushing the mids.

If your subjects are dark complected, the task is even more difficult.

By the way, the auto-iris is probably the most dangerous device ever put on a motion picture camera and is totally out of place for professional applications.

Good shooting!

Leo





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Jeffrey GouldRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 19, 2006 at 4:36:22 pm

Thank you Leo, I knew there were issues with white as I used to do still portraits, I think they were known as High Key. I'm using a fairly good camera, the Sony 450WSL. I understand about the balance between the fore and backgrounds. Thanks again...not only for replying to my post, but for being a constant source of help and inspiration.

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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chxeditorRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 20, 2006 at 6:53:49 pm

One of my pet peeves ... and i just saw a horrific example of this on a video produced for a well known professional athlete speaking about cancer survivors ... is white balances that are all over the place on interviews that are cut back-to-back all on white backgrounds. One person is on white, the next is on an orange-white, someone else is on a blue-white. Its just a pet peeve, but it bugs me.

By the way, I consider this an issue in editing more than in production. A good editor should be able to match up the whites to match. The Quantel Editbox was tremendous at this, but all Avids and onm-line bays should be able to give you consistent color.

my 2 cents. Thanks. Good Luck on your shoot.

Editor, Muscular Dystrophy Association


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Mark SuszkoRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 20, 2006 at 8:12:16 pm

I watched the pilot episodes of "The American Inventor" this week, where they did a lot of white limbo shots that were grabbed in a hurry on location with what looked like a cheaper DV camera. Not very impressive, overly harsh.

One of the tricks I have heard of is not to use white paper, but a light gray, then you have a little more latitude in the intentional over-exposure before everything clips into oblivion. I would use soft box lighting on the talent, get as much separation from the backdrop as practical, and maybe dial down the detail control just a little on the camera, perhaps even add a light mist filter.


I will try my own advice next month: I have to shoot an entire spot with three people standing side by side, full-body shots, in white limbo, and this week I'm playing/experimenting with two ways of executing it: chromakeying them so I can composite a backdrop with maximum control in post, or shooting using a real light gray/white roll of photog's paper, doing most of the work "in camera", and reducing the postproduction workload.


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Jeffrey GouldRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 20, 2006 at 8:37:20 pm

Thanks for the replies guys. I just ordered the white paper this morning :-(. I was going to shoot green screen at first, but then I would have to deal with hair, earings and trying to get 15 people to not wear green. I always separate the talent from the background...do you think a hair light would help? I use two softboxes, key, fill and then fresnel or tota for background with diffusion. My field monitor is very accurate. There will be two different locations, so white balance shouldn't be too much of an issue. I'll post a link here when I'm done editing. Thanks again for the input.

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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Leo TicheliRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 22, 2006 at 7:11:34 pm

I just finished another white background job, which went extraordinarily well; a few tips from this, fresh in my mind.

First of all, I almost never white balance, saving this procedure for extreme situations. I must add that when the lighting is that bizarre, it's usually discontinuous spectrum, and no amount of white balance can add color that's just not there to begin with. I would say the white balance never fixes the problem, so I'm back to a preset and color grading in post. Those awful warehouse lamps are the scourge of our business and I pity those who have to work under them; they probably go home at the end of the day and kick their household pets.

I use the presets almost exclusively with the camera setup to my preference. There is great debate about this issue, preset v. white balance, and it's been well covered at the Cow for anyone willing to do a search.

If you're using the same camera, backing, and lights in different locations, your whites should match. More importantly, your skin tones will be consistent. If your lighting or backing changes from location to location, and you white balance, you may introduce variations in skin tone that will also have to be corrected.

I advise lighting the background first, bringing it just into clip. Add lighting to any areas that fall below clip and waste light that's too far above. You must use just as much care in lighting the white backing as you would a green/blue screen; consistency is paramount.

I don't recommend starting with a grey cyc; all this accomplishes, in my opinion, is that you need a ton more lighting to burn it out to white and you're right back where you started, with the backing going just into clip.

I usually "cheat" a bit and hang a big Chimera F2 over my back cyc to produce a beautiful, smooth backing, but on this job we were hanging pictures from the grid with monofilament, so we had to use Altman's and some 4K's to hit dark spots.

Now light your foreground subject to an appropriate level relative to the brightness of the backing. You'll have to change the intensity of your key depending on the skin density of the subject. Obviously, darker skin is much more of a challenge in such a high-contrast situation and the quality of the camera and format really come into play. Those cameras with limited dynamic range have a real problem achieving satisfactory results.

It's not a complicated procedure, but it's harder to achieve perfect results for all the reasons I mentioned in my previous post.

Good shooting!

Leo



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Jeffrey GouldRe: Shooting on White Background...
by on Mar 22, 2006 at 7:21:50 pm

Wow Leo! Thanks. Great info. Yes, I will be using the same background and lighting. I'll even take a digital still of my setup for the next day. I get what you are saying about lighting the white with as much care as you take for chroma. I think from all the info on this thread, I'll be fine. I'll post a video or still when I'm done. Thanks again.

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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Jeffrey GouldRe: While we're at it...
by on Mar 22, 2006 at 11:09:26 pm

on the subject of talking heads...I have always shot testimonials with the subject looking slightly off camera, but I read an article in Video Systems Magazine that stated the talent should talk directly into the camera. This isn't an intro to a video, these are testimonials from healthcare workers talking about the facility they work in, in the hopes of increasing their sales. We will feed them questions, but only the reply will be used. I'm then going to encode them in flash and post on a web site. Any thoughts?

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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Mark SuszkoRe: While we're at it...
by on Mar 22, 2006 at 11:31:45 pm

I read that same article, and I disagreed with it. Certain 'forms' in how we shoot have evolved over time because they plain WORK. While you *can* face them right into the camera, it gives a different effect than taping someone looking *past* the lens to someone off-camera. Choice of which way to go should depend greatly on the content and subtext of the material.

I was shooting a politician for some news interviews, and some bad advisor had left the politician with the wrong concept that they should ALWAYS look right into the lens, so we had a lot of awkward-looking footage where the pol was looking at someone asking the question to them, then ignoring that person and turning to the lens to deliver the answer. They had been told looking into the lens somehow made them more honest looking, but all it did was accentuate a very awkward, creepy artificiality to the responses. Especially when they did this during talk show interviews. After we played back some of the footage, this stopped and we went back to doing it the customary way.

It's one thing for a spokesperson to address the audience directly thru the lens. Or an actor, playing a role. When it is for testimonial or interview footage, I think it looks bad to address the lens.

In this vein, I REALLY hate the T.D. Waterhouse spots with Sam Waterston, where a cutaway second or third camera shoots him from the side while he's looking into the lens of the primary camera and pitching, acting like he doesn't know the camera is looking at him from the profile. What this angle does is convey a "behind the scenes" look to the footage, but in doing so, it destroys the illusion that this was ever a true and direct communication with the audience. This cutaway look started to get popularized on MTV coverage and VJ stand-ups some time back. It was used a LOT in promos for network news reporters and anchors, showing the behind the scenes view to give a sense of special access, of being part of the production team, or something. It barely works IMO for that kind of promo. It takes a certain knack to pull this look off and it needs to be done in an appropriate context, and places I see it used now have completely ignored said context, and are using it for a "look" that's supposed to be 'edgy' or something, but it just distracts instead.

It's like using altogether the wrong spices and condiments on a meal, just to change things up, but not considering that hot dogs may not actually taste good done in chocolate syrup instead of mustard.

I'm from Chicago, where it's sacriledge to put ketchup on your hot dog, and I feel the same way about unmotivated use of the wrong eyelines in these shots.



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Jeffrey GouldRe: While we're at it...
by on Mar 23, 2006 at 12:43:46 am

Mark, I'm so glad you agree with me. When I read that article I thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn't see this guys point. If the talent is a host, that's different. What do you think about moving the camera, either tilting or panning? It can be effective, but for my purposes, these are senior citizens homes and one is a hospice, I think straight and narrow is the way to go. Plus for web encoding, the less movement the better. Thanks for your insights, the COW definitely attracts a different breed of people...the good kind :-)

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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Mark SuszkoRe: While we're at it...
by on Mar 23, 2006 at 1:53:32 am

I don' think would try a lot of shakey-cam stuff or whip pans on the old folks, no matter what. It's all about the context defining what's apropriate. i do have an idea of you want to jazz it up a little...

You can make things more kinetic thru multiple cuts where objects in the field of view have been shifted, like jump cuts. Every time the eye and brain detct a discontinuity, they force more attention, so as to evaluate what is new in the scene. This style of shooting should e a little easier on your encoding, because it's all straight cuts without motion, so you need fewer of those B frames or whatever they're called.

How do you use this technique with the older people? You set up a locked-off camera looking at a lot of layered depth in the shot: things in the foreground, the background, and in-between. Then you move the subject around that set and have them static in one area for a number of questions, and another area for some more, etc. This can be edited with slow dissolves between the re-positions for a different feel than the hard cuts. If you shoot a "plate" of that set without anyone in it, you can do some very emotionally-charged dissolve type appearances and disappearances within the set.

I used this technique on a highway road safety spot a year or two back. Interviewed a woman who'd been hit by speeding/sloppy drivers while she was a construction zone flagger. We went to the cemetery where her brother was buried: he's been killed by a speeding and careless driver in a work zone.

I set up the wide shot using a high angle, psuedo-crane shot created by clamping a hi-hat to a 10-foot stepladder. I pre-set the focus to make sure when she was very close, she'd be sharp, and I had a lot of DOF so she was sharp all thru the scene.

I had her walk into the shot from about 200 feet out wearing a wireless and just talking extemporaneously about and to her dead brother about the folks left behind, how they were getting along in his abscence. It was lucky for us that using this shooting/editing technique, we didn't reuire long, perfect master takes or repeatability in what was said, because the poor lady broke down anumber of times going over the pain of the loss. We all had to take breaks here and there. As long as the camera never moved, none of that mattered.

I then posed her in various spots within the frame, sometimes breaking the rule of thirds on purpose. Some of he time she was just standing there looking up at the lens, or at the grave, sometimes she was speaking as well. In each zone of the shot, we asked a couple interview questions and had her tell the guy's story, and also pitch out a few tag lines. Talk, move her, talk some more. Finished with a plate shot, as described earlier, so she could de-materialize out of the shot of the headstone, leavng him behind, alone.

The rest of the job was just picking and choosing clips and audio in the edit room and rapidly dissolving her pop-ups in various areas of the scene, with music and Foley. She gave us a wealth of emotionally heavy material to work with; I could have done multiple spots or even a 15-minute mini-doc with what we gathered in that hour. The finished product came out quite honest and arresting, I thought, considering we just threw it together in an hour's time, with no special rigs or grip gear other than a reflector and the ladder.

So maybe you can do something like this with your seniors. One of the side benefits of it is it really opens up possibilities for you to move voiceover and on-camera speech clips around, to tighten-up narratives that tend to ramble... oops. like I'm doing!;-)

Let us know how your gig goes.



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Jeffrey GouldRe: While we're at it...
by on Mar 23, 2006 at 2:05:03 am

well you certainly are a detail oriented person...a good trait. I can picture the whole segment, for some reason, I also picture blur ins and outs...but I guess you said that with DOF. I will save your suggestion for another shoot...for this one each person interviewed will play in their own flash player window so I don't have the luxury of a longer form to establish a mood or style. Each clip is its own entity. I should reiterate that the seniors are the audience, not the talent. I'm sure your ideas will help others as well...the beauty of sharing. Thank you

Jeffrey S. Gould
Action Media Productions


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