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Lighting exterior at night

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Simeon BezuidenhoutLighting exterior at night
by on Mar 8, 2011 at 9:26:28 am


I am currently planning to shoot a student short film. I will be shooting a hostage scene outside in a field, this scene takes place at night, however I have never shot a scene outside at night. I am shooting with a Panasonic AG-HMC154ER(AVCCAM). I will be using 3 2k Blondes, 3 800w redheads, and a 2.5k HMI. I would like to get some advice on how best to utilise my limited lights and whether it would be better to shoot the scene at dusk in order to get more light, and then bringing down the exposure in post? The look I'm going for is very film noir-ish, with very harsh shadows and a 1:6 - 1:8 tonal ratio. Any input will be much appreciated!


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Mark SuszkoRe: Lighting exterior at night
by on Mar 8, 2011 at 3:43:43 pm

Blue gels are your friend.

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john sharafRe: Lighting exterior at night
by on Mar 8, 2011 at 4:06:25 pm


Your instinct is correct to want to shoot at dusk, but the "magic hour" does not last long, so it is advisable to use it for the wide or master shoots that you otherwise couldn't light with the kit at hand.

Your challenge then is matching the rest of the shots (now done in full darkness) with the earlier wide shots. This might not be that difficult if they are smaller and more confined.

In general to shoot night, use a backlight as the key. this keeps the scene dark and more like night as well as separating the action from the background. Use controlled fill judiciously on the faces and action you need to see.

Another alternative is of course shooting day for night, with a blueish filter (or no 85 correction), underexposing and again using the sun as key from a backlight angle. This si another excellent way to shoot wide shots, masters and scenics that you otherwise would not be able to light.


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Jason JenkinsRe: Lighting exterior at night
by on Mar 8, 2011 at 8:05:49 pm

Will there be any cars or anything in the scene that could provide some practical light sources?

Jason Jenkins
Flowmotion Media
Video production... with style!

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Simeon BezuidenhoutRe: Lighting exterior at night
by on Mar 8, 2011 at 9:08:56 pm

John: Thanks alot for that input. I will definitely make use of that advice.

I will shoot the wide shots during the late afternoon, the shots at night mostly range from loose medium shots to close-ups, I'm just concerned about creating enough depth within the frame. The field is bordered by some old broken down houses, this would create a nice backdrop, however it might be really difficult to light this with my light kit. So my question is, if I shoot day for night, will I still be able to create the film noir look? And if so, is there anything in particular I should look out for, or avoid doing?

Much appreciated!

Jason: Well there will be two police vehicles and a detective's vehicle, all with lights


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Todd TerryRe: Lighting exterior at night
by on Mar 8, 2011 at 9:18:53 pm

[Simeon Bezuidenhout] "if I shoot day for night, will I still be able to create the film noir look?"

Yes, you might... especially considering that many of the "film noir" era movies did utilize a lot of day-for-night shots.

That's a tricky animal. There's plenty of bad day-for-night work, but some good, too. I was really amazed the first time I watched the DVD extras from the movie "Cast Away," and seeing how much of their "night" footage was actually shot right in the middle of broad daylight. But they did it and it worked beautifully. Usually full sunlight was their key, later used to simulate moonlight as a key.

One of the things you're supposed to consider when lighting night shots is the question "Where is this light supposed to be coming from?".... whether it be moonlight, headlights, campfires, flashlights, or whatever. In theory, every illumination should have something that could be its source. However, last night I finally got around to seeing "True Grit" (really good, by the way), and there were lots and lots of nighttime exteriors that, if you really analyzed the frame, had lighting that really had no practical source on location. But it worked very well. Then again, Roger Deakins could light a scene beautifully with one eye tied behind his back.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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