Jump to content

Moonlighting Question

Tony Robinson

Recommended Posts

I'm DP'ing my first film. It's independent and ultra low budget. This marks the first time I've lit a scene for moonlight and I have a question (and probably several more). I have a scene where two characters are hiding behind a bush and discussing a plan to rescue a captive person. The director likes the look of the backlit moonlight with a little fill out front to just bring out the details in the face. I think I have that part settled. Where it gets tricky though is that one character is slightly behind another. The front character turns and looks back to the one behind him and the scene calls for an over the shoulder shot of the back character looking at the front characters face. The front character's face will then be pointed TOWARD the back light. Is this generally acceptable or should I relight the shot where the front character looks back to have the same backlight look. Will that confuse the viewers, messing with the light continuity? Also, there will be a cut to a wider shot of the building they are scouting and the plan was just one light to represent the moon to one side of the building. Is that looked at as acceptable to switch between moonlight styles within the scene?


Are there any online resources that discuss the basics of moonlighting?


Thanks everyone!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To massage both the reverse shot of the forward actor, and the shot of the building, I'd consider whether there are any lights on in or outside the building--an entry light or two, as well as rooms that may be lit inside. They could appear brighter than your moonlight, the color contrast is always nice, and you'll have some motivated light behind your forward actor when he turns, if you can compose the shot so that it is visible in the background. (Picture a lit window behind the actor on his far- or off-camera side.) This light does not need to "hit" the actor to adequately provide separation. Then it's a simple matter of scrimming your moonlight (backlight) source while keeping the same relative position, so that it becomes a fill.


If the story calls for the building to be dark, I'd go for beauty, as was previously suggested.


Depending on how wide your building shot is, the size of the building, your composition, and the size of your lamps, you will probably need more than one moonlight source. It can look pretty bad when ground level items are nicely moonlit while rooftops and trees go to total darkness.


Also depending on the situation, if there is any dark dead space visible around the sides of the building, I'd consider having some lights back there to suggest sources (streetlights, porch lights, etc) in the distance. 1k fresnels pointed toward camera work pretty well, if you can get them far enough away. If you can't get that far away, snoot the lights to make them appear smaller (blackwrap works just as well, and is cheap).


Lastly--and not to sound presumptuous, but only because shooting at night is such a different animal at the low/no budget level--spend as much time as you can outside at night before you shoot, preferably in a location similar to that which you will be shooting. I once spent an hour a night each night for a month just observing moonlight in its different phases. Take someone with you when you can, but also go alone a few times. Best education ever. And still difficult to replicate, especially when shooting on a very low budget , as you mentioned. I've certainly learned that--especially at that level--it takes a good many lamps to make something look dark. Make the best with what you have available. One location I shot could have turned out beautifully with only 3 lamps, but the shot that we finally deemed necessary to the story required 7 when I only had 5 (I wasn't able to scout the location prior to shooting, unfortunately). In the end I sacrificed the rooftop and treetops to darkness because there were other story elements more important to the shot than my aesthetic taste. Shot selection and composition will make or break you. Be prepared to make such sacrifices, but also be prepared to fight for better choices in serving the story.


Have fun. Let us know how it goes.

Edited by Shane Bartlett
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


Forum Sponsors


FJS International

Abel Cine

Tai Audio

Wooden Camera

Metropolis Post

New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Film Gears

VidGear.com - Broadcast Video Warehouse

Serious Gear

Visual Products

Cinematography Books and Gear

  • Create New...