Basic lighting help, please?

ChrisHurn

New member
Hey everyone.

I am a high school student, currently planning a short film (on a DV camera). I have a few questions though:

1) I found this really awesome set for a movie. It's a deserted train yard, with an old train off the rails. I would want to shoot this scene at night. My friends and I went down a few weeks ago with my camera, and it was almost impossible to see anything through the camera. I notice in movies, even when it's at night, you can still see things/characters in the room pretty well, although it looks like there is no light. What's the trick? Note: The actors will use torches sometimes, to make it realistic (it's dark). But that's not really enough. (For example, what can I do when there are no torches?) The trains doors and windows are open, or smashed --so it's possible that I could somehow emulate moonlight, but what equippment do I need?

Also, what can I do to reduce the grainy look in the dark? Even if someone here tells me what lights I can use, I know it will look grainy. Is there a way out of this?

I have NO experience in lighting, but I'd like to know how I could pull this scene off. It can't look artificially lit, I want to know how they do this kind of thing in movies. I don't want to spend a whole lot of money, but I am willing to spend a decent amount.

EDIT: The alternative, is I could shoot this movie at an earlier time, when it's not quite so dark - but how would I make it look slightly dark and scary? I think this may be a better option, since I really can't stand having a grain in the dark, it looks really ugly.


My other main question is:

Say I shoot this movie at 8pm one night, and I want to continue the scene the next night. (same place, same time). When I compare the two nights footage, the color will be slightly different, since the lighting (natural) will not be exactly the same two days in a row. (Like it might be a tiny tiny bit darker the next night, but hard to tell unless you compare footage). What can I do to make it look like it was shot on the same day? What do other people do?

Thanks a lot!

-Chris
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
There are some things you can't really do with no money and no experience, and one of those is light a large area at night. In a bigger-budget film, they would either establish an artificial light source (besides the flashlights) like some streetlamps, or they would go for a big moonlight effect, maybe quite dark to make the flashlights read more brightly. It may be a soft moonlight more from overhead or from one side or it may be more of a hard backlight.

There is a basic reason why low-light scenes look noisy (not grainy -- grain is a film artifact, noise is a video artifact) is because the cheaper consumer video cameras automatically start boosting the gain to compensate for the light level being too low. So if you want to light a scene and have it look a little underexposed, but not noisy, you have to be able to lock your camera's gain, f-stop, and shutter speed so that it doesn't try to compensate -- plus you need enough light to be able to shoot without boosting the gain.

The brightest light you can plug into a standard 20 amp circuit is a 1200 watt HMI PAR, which could light a small area around the train for moonlight, maybe as a three-quarter back-edge light, up on a hi-hi stand with a lot of sandbags and safety ropes. Then having some smoke drift through the shot may hide the fact that the background is not lit. Then let the foreground be dark except for the flashlight beams, then bounce some very weak light back into the faces if you want to see them a little.
 

ChrisHurn

New member
Like one of these?
http://www.pyramid-films.com/sunray_1200_watt_hmi_par_system.htm

Hmm, I'd have to know an awful lot about what it is and how to use it before I spent that kind of money. There would have to be somewhere to plug it in nearby, and I'm not sure I would have access to that kind of thing.

Maybe I should shoot this scene early evening, so I wouldn't have to spend over $1000 on lighting the scene. Any suggestions on what I could do to make the scene look 'scary', in eary evening? I don't want to use any fake blue or green lights, however.

Thanks for the quick reply!

-Chris
 

Lazlo

New member
I've heard that some times the actors would hold flashlights with a brighter bulb, then you have the light interact with the environment, lighting other things besides just the actors. If you have 3 actors with bright flashlights, it'll still be noisy, but that might add to a gritty and scary look. The focused beam would cast deep errie shadows. Also, just so you know... Even at dusk the image will still be noisy. Pretty much every consumer camera I've heard of under a Panasonic AGDVX100 will not fair well in low light. If you want to shell out some cash get a nice set of 10k dino's and an Arc light or HMI. Or rent. You could rent a better camera. Those are the options I see. As people here say every so often 'that's my 2 cents.'
 
K

Kevin_Zanit

Guest
You would not buy the unit, you would rent it.

I don’t know what area you are in, but a rental house called Wooden Nickel will rent an LTM HMI PAR for $90 a day plus 25% because I assume you don’t have insurance.

In film production, very very little equipment is actually purchased.

Kevin Zanit
 

ChrisHurn

New member
Oh, ok. Thanks for all that info - I really appreciate it. I live in New Zealand, and not a whole lot of movies get made here (except LOTR, Some of The last samurai) so it may be difficult to find for me, but I'm sure I'll be able to get it somewhere.

Anyone have an answer to my second question?

say I shoot this movie at 8pm one night, and I want to continue the scene the next night. (same place, same time). When I compare the two nights footage, the color will be slightly different, since the lighting (natural) will not be exactly the same two days in a row. (Like it might be a tiny tiny bit darker the next night, but hard to tell unless you compare footage). What can I do to make it look like it was shot on the same day? What do other people do?

Thanks!

-Chris
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
You could shoot "dusk for night" as it's called, but since "magic hour" lasts only something like 15 minutes or so, you may only get two shots off before it's too dark to shoot. So it's fine for establishing shots but not for a whole sequence.

Like I said, one of the things you can't do normally with no money is light large areas at night. If a small 1200 watt HMI is out of your budget range, plus you have no power supply anyway, then I'm not sure what sort of answer you thought you might get.

I have lit small areas of the woods at night by hanging large Chinese Lanterns up high in the trees with blue-dipped daylight photoflood light bulbs (they can be bought at photo stores in 250 watt and 500 watt). You might be able to find daylight-balanced fluorescent light bulbs you can use instead inside the Chinese Lanterns, and then somehow string them above your scene on lines. But that still requires a power supply.

I mention blue lightbulbs because if your overhead light is white and your flashlights are white, it looks like there is a light on overhead, whereas dim blue-ish light, with bright white flashlights, will look more like moonlight. I mean, you can make your moonlight white if you want, there's no rule that it has to be blue-ish, I just find that it looks like you've got a light turned on.
 

ChrisHurn

New member
Thanks for the advice. I really appreciate it. Yes, I found out I will have access to a power supply. :) Finally, What kind of lighting equippment would I need to light a fairly dark room (small)? Could I put chinese lanterns on the roof or something? Or what do people usually do for such things? As with the trainyard, the room is supposed to look dark and natural, but without light you can't see anything through the camera.

-Chris
 

Lazlo

New member
That's a pretty broad question. There's all sorts of ways to light a room. It all depends on the look you want. I won't attempt to answer this-Mr. Mullin will surely give you the best answer. I'll just say that it all depends on the look you want to achieve, and the budget you have. With DV, you probobly should have chosen a movie with less low light/no light situations, but it could work. Correct me if I'm wrong Mr. Mullin, but for the purposes of DV, there would be little difference in shooting at dusk, or night. For film, it may differ (I wouldn't know since I have never shot anything on it), but I know with DV, once you reach about 60 lux, you're going to be seeing a lot of noise no matter what unless you get a lot of lights in there (especially low end DV).
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
Without light, there is no image, so unless you imagine the scene being an all-black frame, obviously there is some light in the scene. It's rare that you really run into a situation where NO light can be motivated (let's say, a cave at night or a bank vault during a power outtage, etc.)

So it's not enough to say you've got a small room, how do you light it to look dark and natural. Not seeing the room myself, I don't even know what "natural" means nor do I know what you mean by "dark". Dark can be dim, low-contrast, murky, or it can be shadowy and high-contrast.

It still comes back to if you are using a camera that allows all-manual setting of gain, shutter, and aperture, because if not, you'll never be happy with the results. As soon as the light level drops below the widest aperture the lens can go, the camera will start boosting the gain to compensate unless you stop it and lock it at 0 db. If you do, THEN you can underexpose a scene deliberately to look darker than normal.

As for the lighting, surely you can imagine it in your head, where it is coming from, what color it has, whether it is soft or hard light. You need to use your imagination FIRST and then try and figure out the technical means to achieving that image in your head.
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
Here are two examples of dark night scenes with dark shadows and small areas at near full exposure, i.e. contrasty:

closeencounter2.jpg


et3.jpg


Here is an example of low-contrast soft but dim night:

sleepyhollow1.jpg


Here is an example of fairly low-contrast dim lighting with the flashlight providing the brightest area:

seven3.jpg
 

ChrisHurn

New member
Thanks. I was just trying to gain some general info on lighting, and so far I have learned quite a bit. You are indeed very helpful Mr Mullen. I have two books on lighting now that I will read to help me even more.

I agree that I should probably think things through a bit more and I'm sorry for my lack of knowledge on the subject. I still have a lot to learn before I can go out and shoot my movie.

Before I think about writing a movie, I would like to know a bit more about this subject. I'm really grateful for the time you have put in to answering my stupid questions, Mr Mullen, so I do not expect you to answer any more. But for anyone who can help:

After looking around for a while, I found a perfect example of what I would like to know how to light, for the outdoor scene. The train scene would be very much like this: (maybe not QUITE as bright, but you get the idea).

http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/movie/secret_window/10.jpeg

It has a very spooky feel to it, the light looks like moonlight. Still the 1200 watt HMI? Or maybe the chinese lantern idea? I'm guessing this scene has some pretty complex lighting, but what could I get away with?

As for the indoor scene - it's night. Almost exactly like what I showed in the first picture. Let's pretend that I want the moonlight to come through the window a bit --If you've seen "The last samurai", when Nathan is sitting in that room at the beginning, the light comes through the window very brightly. Like that, except with moonlight. It's hard to explain exactly what I want over the internet.

EDIT: I just checked, that scene is in the trailer, which you can download here: http://promo.elektra.com/thelastsamuraiost. It's comes up 10 seconds into the trailer.

The room's door is open, but no light could come out of there because the main house door is shut and there are NO other windows. So it would be a case of the moonlight coming through the one window. In "real life" the moonlight would not be that strong, so I would need to fake pretty much all of it, without looking too silly. The actors would all use torches in this scene, there would be two of them, le'ts say. I would put a tiny bit of 'fog' effect in the room, I've heard that makes the torches look brighter, plus I would be going for the spooky look.

If anyone can give me some advice here as to what equippment would be used here, I'd be very grateful. I am a high school student, so my budget is not high, so I know it's probably very hard to light scenes even close to what I described with a limited budget. But I have seen low budget movies with scenes like that. It would also be nice to know what the professionals use in those scenes, for future reference.

EDIT:

Just saw your post Mr Mullen. I love the low contrast, soft dim one (2nd to last picture), it would be interesting to see how that look is achieved. With flash lights I think that would be similar to the look I was going for.

Thanks in advance,

-Chris
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
That picture from "Secret Window" would not take too much to recreate. You'd start out with a bright flashlight, like a Surefire or something.

The backlight is just above the tree -- it almost looks like it's not moonlight but some sort of porchlight. But that close to the actor, it could be something small like a 1K or 650 watt tungsten with some 1/4 or 1/2 Blue (CTB) gel. There is a soft side key light from frame left, could be something like a 2K going through a frame of diffusion. The only question is how big a light it took to light up the trees and fog in the far background.

The "Sleepy Hollow" set was lit with rows and rows of soft lights called "space lights" -- quite powerful. You could get the effect on a small scale with Chinese Lanterns; in fact, much of "Interview with a Vampire" was shot with many Chinese Lanterns.

You need to start out with a collection of lights; it doesn't have to be HMI's if you're talking about a small room. Could be some tweenies (650 watt fresnels) for example, plus Chinese Lanterns, bounce cards, etc. I'd see if you can get a hold of (borrow or rent) some small tungsten movie lamps and start playing around with them. Even something as small as a 150 watt Dedolight or a Lowell light. You can rent a small suitcase of lamps from many video production facilites or still camera pro rental shops.
 

ChrisHurn

New member
Thank you so much!

Just to clarrify, for a small scene like the one in Secret Window, or in a small room I could use the tungsten 1k watt light with the 1/2 Blue (CTB) gel. Or for a small room would the 650 watt Fresnel light with the gel be better? It looks like it comes in little sheets. Do I place this over the light?
I'm presuming it makes it look blue so I can fake moonlight.

Would it be a good idea to place the lamp (the 1k tungsten one) up in the tree for the outsoor scene? If I was on the trainyard set or a small room I'd probably buy a stand for it - what are the stands called, and do I have to be carful about which one I buy? (in case it doesnt fit onto the stand or something).

EDIT:
For the indoor scene I am thinking of, I'd really like to have one window in the room with the 'moonlight' coming through. Which light would be best? The tungsten 1k light? I want it to come through the window like shown in the first ten seconds of the Last Samurai trailer. (except without the light at the front). It looks very controled, but I love that look. Would I place the light just outside the window/on the window frame outside, pointing into the room? What other light would I need for this room to greaten the effect of moonlight coming through the window? or would that be fine? (actor would be using the flash light at this point).

Thanks,

-Chris
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
I'm really not comfortable telling you what to buy or not to buy, because what if I'm wrong? You should try and RENT this stuff and get to know the various pieces of equipment rather than buying it and THEN learning if it was the right tool for the job or not.

Trying to help someone light a set or location by post is a little like trying to talk someone through landing an airplane over the radio.

For example, I don't know if you need a 1K or a 650 watt, not knowing the distances and the spread needed, etc. They are similar lights. If in doubt, get the 1K and some scrims -- you can always darken a light if it's too bright.

Generally, gels are attached to a light's barndoors with wooden clothespins. The gel is usually cut to be slightly bigger than needed to bend around the barndoors and clip down. You may want some blackwrap to also clip around the sides of the light in case you are getting ungelled spill coming around the barndoors and gel.
 

ChrisHurn

New member
I'm really not comfortable telling you what to buy or not to buy, because what if I'm wrong? You should try and RENT this stuff and get to know the various pieces of equipment rather than buying it and THEN learning if it was the right tool for the job or not.

Yeah, I understand. I'm going to try renting some of this gear, and see what results I get. For the indoor scene, here's what I'll try:

I'll put a tungsten 1k light outside the window of the room, with the blue gel. This way I may be able to somehow point the light in the window (from the outside) and create the scene I have in my mind. If this idea is not a good one, and someone has a better idea, or an idea on how I can shape the light to look like the light coming through the window in the last samurai trailer, please post.

[edit]

Found a place here where I can rent my gear. What's the difference between tungsten open face and fresnel. Mr Mullen, for the Secret Window set, when you were talking about the 1k tungsten, was it open face or fresnel?

Thanks again,


-Chris
 

David Mullen ASC

Active member
I can't tell from the photo if the light was a fresnel or not. "Fresnel" refers to the glass lens in front of the light made up of concentric rings. Shined directly on the subject, fresnels create "cleaner" shadow patterns, less fringey, no multiple edges, etc. An open-face may or may not create a clean a pattern and may not produce as even spread of light (although it may look close to a fresnel effect). However, they are lighter than fresnels, not having a heavy piece of glass in front.

As a backlight, where you don't really see a shadow pattern cast (unless you can see the floor) you can't really see a difference between a fresnel or an open-face.

Where you can see some benefits to a fresnel is when you close down one of the barndoors to create a shadowed edge to the light -- an open-face may not get you a smooth, even shadow edge, it may have a faint double-shadow or something. But you may find that an open-face is fine for most of what you are doing, especially if you are going to soften the light like bouncing it, etc.

Besides open-face and fresnels, there are a couple of other common lights like a "PAR", which is a sealed-beam unit where the bulb and the lens in front are all built as one sealed unit -- a car headlamp is a common PAR light.

And there are "ellipsoidals", which are lights with lenses in front to create a focused circular spotlight pattern -- a "leko" is a common ellipsoidal used for lighting theater stages. A "Super Trooper" stage follow-spot is another ellipsoidal. "Source-4" is another similar light to the leko. Technically, even Dedolights are ellipsoidals.

And there are fluorescents...
 

ChrisHurn

New member
Thank you so much for your help. I think I now have a good idea on what kind of lights I should check out. I will rent a few, try some out and see which will work best. :D

-Chris
 
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