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CRI of Lights on B&W Projects

Jonathan Jones

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I'm in the early stages of a project and we're heavily leaning towards black and white. My question relates to the CRI of our lighting fixtures.

Considering CRI is specifically the Color Rendering Index, can we just ignore it on B&W projects? My first thought is yes, but I want to cover my bases in case I'm forgetting any beneficial qualities high-CRI lights provide beyond accurate color.


Furthermore, does the answer change depending on shooting format? (B&W Film vs. Epic/Alexa Monochrome vs. shooting color and grading in post)


Thanks for contributing and I appreciate your advice!

Edited by Jonathan Jones
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If you are shooting on B&W Film film... even though the result is monochome, the 'panchromatic' response of B&W is affected by the spectrum of light.


It may be 'ignoreable'... or cause problems with apparent contrast of 'color', whereas the B&W registers some different contrast.


In the past the Wratten 90 filter was recommended for viewing a scene, and estimating the resulting B&W film response. These days, perhaps shooting test film with a color chart, under the anticipated lighting, and then evaluating the color response would be a good idea.


In the case of Digital, unless you have a 'monochrome' sensor(which will still have some 'panchromatic' response), you are still shooting 'color', and only in the post processing phase converting it to monochrome. Digital sensors are more sensitive to red/infrared than B&W Film film, and so, a light that has more 'red' may impact the color balance, and resulting conversion to monochrome.

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Use it to your advantage the way you use wratten filters to enhance certain colors in B&W. There's a great ASC podcast about the movie Nebraska where Phedon Papamichael does exactly what you're talking about. He dives into the politics of doing it as well, and the importance of having people in positions to fight for those choices when they inevitably ask to see it in color (though you shot it while lighting/filtering to your b&w lut).



Edited by Jaron Berman
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Excellent advice! I forgot about the "hidden colors" translating to different luminosities in b&w. I'll have to consult my copy of Ansel Adams' "The Negative" again. And I'll be sure to shoot some tests before diving into anything serious and get my hands on a Wratten 90 filter.



This is a great resource! I should have known Nebraska would have some nuggets of wisdom for my situation.


Thanks again for your help!

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