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Using Gels when lighting for Black and White


Freya Black
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I know it's traditional to have use colour lenses on the camera for B&W photography, but can you also use filters on the lights in the same way? Perhaps just to make a part of the frame look a certain way, or is it just better to use grads for something like that?

 

Also given this will probably not stay on topic anyway... does anyone have any other tips for shooting B&W?

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I guess it works fine as long as you use spot meter and not incident meter for the coloured parts of the frame. I've understood that it was common practice to paint over stuff at b/w era with specific unconventional colors to get a certain effect on film (they painted even actors in some films :lol: )

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I was just speaking to someone not too long ago about a similar topic. In black and white printing, one can use various blue/ultraviolet light to increase contrast. I assume a similar effect might be gained by using color gels to change the tone or density of the light

 

It wouldnt have the same effect as filter, for example, to darken the sky, but if you had someone in a blue costume, you might be able to play with the tonality of that by lighting it with different colors.

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It wouldnt have the same effect as filter, for example, to darken the sky,

 

 

I have a feeling it might be beyond my ability to gel the sun in that way anyway, regardless of whether it would work or not. ;)

 

Freya

Edited by Freya Black
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Color contrast filters only create contrast if the shadows and the highlights have a different color, as they do in daytime where the shade is bluer than the sunlight, so redder filters cancel blue relative to red, increasing the contrast difference between the shadows and highlights - the contrast also looks higher because faces have red in them, skies have blue in them, so faces get lighter with a red filter and skies get darker.

 

But if you had an interior scene lit with white light and everyone was wearing one color, let's say, tan, then color contrast filters are not going to change the overall contrast because they don't have color wavelengths to affect differently.

 

Second, if you are shooting under tungsten light, it's like shooting everything outdoors with a pale orange filter on.

 

It is much easier to control contrast with lighting, using color contrast filters are a waste of time unless you feel the need to get skin tones to render lighter in general and feel something like a yellow filter helps (but again, remember that under tungsten light, it's already like you've put a light orange filter on the camera) but again, you can always just light faces brighter than the surroundings if you want them lighter. But I suppose in a day interior with a lot of overall skylight, you can use color contrast filters to get the skin tones to render lighter than the surroundings.

 

It's not so much that these filters affect contrast, what they do is change the amount of light that passes through for each color. So if the subject is entirely made up of grey tones under white light, a color contrast filter isn't going to do anything. But if Superman was in the shot wearing blue and red, then a red filter is going to make the blue areas darker and the red areas lighter.

 

So if you want to light with warm light and fill with blue light and then use a redder filter to make the blue shadows go darker relative to the highlights, you can... but what's the point? You could just use less fill light and save the overall filter exposure loss.

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I know it's traditional to have use colour lenses on the camera for B&W photography, but can you also use filters on the lights in the same way? Perhaps just to make a part of the frame look a certain way, or is it just better to use grads for something like that?

 

Also given this will probably not stay on topic anyway... does anyone have any other tips for shooting B&W?

 

If you are serious about shooting for 'monochrome' aka B&W, I'd recommend getting a Wratten 90 filter. This is a 'deepish' amber filter and was used to 'see' monochrome shading to allow the photographer to avoid 'different colors/values that map to the same grey shade'. It was not used on the camera but is an aid to the human to see the tonalities of the scene.

 

While these days one could snap a shot, take it in to Photoshop and render in B&W... the filter allows for 'on set/location' analysis and like a light meter... just 'easier' to work with in real time...

 

One would use filters for certain effects, No. 25 for 'deep dark skies' as it is a 'red' filter that is 'passes red'... and so blue would be 'cut'... used for landscapes or technical photography or aerial photography.

 

One could also use 'amber' for cutting blue but not as much as the No. 25... and of course one would use an IR (that is passes IR) for IR photography...

 

The only filters I ever used were the No. 25 and a UV filter on the lens. I used the Wratten 90 for 'seeing' quite a bit early on.

 

'Warmness' of a scene or 'coldness' was controlled by the quality of light 'wrapping... soft... warm'... hard edge, deep shadow... 'cold'...

 

Costume and set dressing was designed with the B&W mapping of colors in mind. So one would end up with a 'brown' Superman shorts, rather than the color 'Blue/Red'... the brown 'read' better in B&W...

 

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Edited by John E Clark
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Thanks to everyone who replied. Your explanation was great David and has made a number of things clearer to me.

 

Also I probably will see if I have that Wratten #90 somewhere as it sounds like it could be really helpful. Thanks John.

 

I don't have too much experience shooting B&W and I am a bit nervous that it seems somewhat limiting but hopefully as I work with it, my eyes will become more open to the possibilities.

 

Freya

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Thanks to everyone who replied. Your explanation was great David and has made a number of things clearer to me.

 

Also I probably will see if I have that Wratten #90 somewhere as it sounds like it could be really helpful. Thanks John.

 

I don't have too much experience shooting B&W and I am a bit nervous that it seems somewhat limiting but hopefully as I work with it, my eyes will become more open to the possibilities.

 

Freya

 

Then I'd recommend taking a number of stills and using photoshop to learn how colors/values map to the monochrome. I'd also recommend using something like Photoshop's 'Channel Mixer' which allows for 'weighted' contribution of R, G, B to the resulting image, rather than just simple turning down 'saturation' and boosting 'contrast'...

 

Real B&W film did have different 'weightings' about how the primary colors 'mixed', and so one can sort of get an idea on how things would turn out.

 

The Wife used her quality B&W film based portraits and wedding coverage to get customers, and when we transitioned to mostly, then all digital capture for the coverage we had to 'learn' how to use Photoshop to give the same quality and tonalities we had been delivering when using Film film... then there was getting the print service to match our expectations for the deliverables...

Edited by John E Clark
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Following on from John's point - get have the exact same feature in grading software like Resolve (it's the RGB mixer in Da Vinci) which allows you to vary how much luminance is received from the Red, Green or Blue colour channels when converting to black and white. Given this you could potentially use coloured gels on the lights to separate out foreground and background subjects (for example) e.g. By throwing blue on the background and red on the subject and using the channel mixer to adjust the relationship between the two - but I'd recommend shooting some tests and working through a 'system' with your colourist to establish what your final look is going to be and how this might be helped with coloured gels. pg 658 of the Resolve 12 manual details the use of the RGB mixer in grading black and white footage - I'd say it's worth taking a look at it!

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