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Thoughts on this night exterior lighting technique?


imran qureshi
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In the above tutorial, at 2:00 the DoP connects four 4x4 diffusion frames together to create a cube, then uses a 4x4 reflector as the top layer of the cube. The cube is then placed 20ft in the air using stands, and then he blasts a light up into the cube to create his moonlight.

 

Wondering what people’s thoughts on this are for getting a base exposure of moonlight at night, what are the pros and cons? Seems like a good idea especially on a tight budget but would be good to get a second opinion before I invest.

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Moonlight is not a soft source, as this video states, it's a very hard source. It can sometimes appear soft, as its low luminance makes it appear low contrast. This means you can often use a softer source than would be strictly accurate. One way to create moonlight is to use a hard back or 3/4 light and then a soft fill from a more frontal position. If you have the resources, you can also use soft toplight as from a lighting balloon. The trick in either case is to keep it underexposed, with a slightly cold look.

The method outlined here seems to throw light in all directions, which is not generally that useful. Backlight and sidelight are good, but anything that is front lit will look odd. As with all lighting rigs, there are some situations where they work, and some where they don't. You might find this approach useful, but there are many, many ways to do the same thing.

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Yes and the reason why we perceive moonlight as softer and bluer is because of our eyes. Human night time vision is less sharp because of the rods and therefore we interpret moonlight as softer. Also blue cones in the retina are slightly more sensitive to darkness which explains why we perceive blue better in low light and nights look blue. But cameras that are very sensitive show the color temperature of the moon is actually roughly daylight.

As a DP you can have two valid approaches: simulate nature as it is, or simulate nature as it is perceived by human eyes and brain.

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He's making a 4x4 space light or lantern. There are balloon lights that do the same.

I'm not a fan of a silver card in the top as it will throw a lot of light back down at the fixture or whatever direction the angle of reflectance is. I'd prefer a styrene top. But then it would be like a booklight cube with lots of stop loss.

I agree with Stuart on the direction those par lights throw.

Every production has a budget, and every budget has solutions. Rosen has some really interesting techniques. Like his greenscreen exposure trick and the "double 85b", both I've wanted to give a whack at.

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I have to say I'm actually not that big a fan of this; the softness of it makes it read as artifical to me.

Cheers! Do you happen to have an example of a moonlight scene that you think is more realistic with a harder source? every-time I look at moonlight in real life, it is definitely hard but every time I see it being a hard source in films, Im not sure, it seems a bit weird looking to me but maybe we aren't thinking of the same thing.

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I have to say I'm actually not that big a fan of this; the softness of it makes it read as artifical to me.

I have to agree. In this example, his moonlight is the same color as the light from the buildings around it. As they are all quite brightly lit as well, his "moonlight" really just looks as if it is coming from the building on right of frame.

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Just now, imran qureshi said:

Do you happen to have an example of a moonlight scene that you think is more realistic with a harder source? 

There are many examples, but two that actually come with lighting diagrams are the night scenes from True Grit and NCFOM. Roger Deakins has posted stills and diagrams on his website. Obviously, these were huge setups with multiple lamps, but the principles remain the same no matter how big or small your scene.

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8 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

There are many examples, but two that actually come with lighting diagrams are the night scenes from True Grit and NCFOM. Roger Deakins has posted stills and diagrams on his website. Obviously, these were huge setups with multiple lamps, but the principles remain the same no matter how big or small your scene.

Thanks a lot!!

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3 hours ago, imran qureshi said:

Cheers! Do you happen to have an example of a moonlight scene that you think is more realistic with a harder source? every-time I look at moonlight in real life, it is definitely hard but every time I see it being a hard source in films, Im not sure, it seems a bit weird looking to me but maybe we aren't thinking of the same thing.

One of the things about night exteriors is that they very rarely are realistic. Most of us are used to living in urban areas which are lit. Without that, night is dark, and even the sensitivity of the human eye struggles to make much out in moonlight, much less just starlight, or even less than that if it's overcast. That sort of realism is perhaps best expressed in something like the HBO Chernobyl, which frequently, to be nice, leveraged underexposure. This is perhaps dawn, but it's about as close to realism as you're likely to get.

chernobyl3.thumb.jpg.18dba5473905a0c84501330e63347189.jpg

I don't know about realistic, it's too bright and too blue, but the the other end of the scale is the movie moonlight look, perhaps best represented by Terminator 2. Whether this is really supposed to be the moon or whether it's intended to represent an artifical light source in a nearby parking lot isn't clear, but either way neither would be a soft source.

t2-reprogramming-the-terminator.jpg

It's also worth being clear that successive remasters of T2 have made many scenes, particularly the night exteriors, generically more colourful, more blue and orange.

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A 4x4x4 cube, lifted up high for a night exterior is a fairly hard light source as its small relative to the distances involved.

The advantage over a fresnel or other “hard” light source is that the light gently falls off to blackness vs. a focused light that is evenly lit until... it goes to black.

ive used balloon lights, that look big on the ground, but once up high and far away create a fairly hard light, with gentle fall off that can look quite natural.

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I've shot photos by real moonlight and it can be dead overhead, it can be frontal, etc. just like with sunlight.

Hazy overcast could soften the overhead moon but as soon as you get into heavy cloud clover, real moonlight is too dim to register to the eye.

Plus in reality, the moon isn't always full either, a crescent moon doesn't put out much light...

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39 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

I had heard that the shoot-out in "Road to Perdition" was backlit by a 20K - I don't know if it was cooled-off in color-correction or with a gel, or softened with diffusion or simply the rain acted as a diffuser.

Could be just the rain! It’s a beautiful image, regardless.

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48 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

I had heard that the shoot-out in "Road to Perdition" was backlit by a 20K - I don't know if it was cooled-off in color-correction or with a gel, or softened with diffusion or simply the rain acted as a diffuser.

There's a production still from this scene on the ASC Magazine website that looks much warmer than the scene was in the movie, so maybe the blue was added in color timing.

https://theasc.com/magazine/aug02/perdition/image11.html

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43 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

I've shot photos by real moonlight and it can be dead overhead, it can be frontal, etc. just like with sunlight.

Hazy overcast could soften the overhead moon but as soon as you get into heavy cloud clover, real moonlight is too dim to register to the eye.

Plus in reality, the moon isn't always full either, a crescent moon doesn't put out much light...

I also think an individual’s frame of reference for such things often depends on their influences. I grew up in a very foggy part of San Francisco, so I rarely ever saw hard moonlight - ‘moonlight’ to me came to mean a soft overcast ambient glow. The Hollywood-style wet-down/hard backlight ‘moonlight’ never felt realistic to me (although it often worked as beautiful and evocative imagery).

Much later, when driving through desolate parts of the Southwest at night, I saw that moonlight could be something else entirely. 

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2 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

There's a production still from this scene on the ASC Magazine website that looks much warmer than the scene was in the movie, so maybe the blue was added in color timing.

https://theasc.com/magazine/aug02/perdition/image11.html

I think the street lamp practicals also going cool might support that theory.

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6 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

I also think an individual’s frame of reference for such things often depends on their influences. I grew up in a very foggy part of San Francisco, so I rarely ever saw hard moonlight - ‘moonlight’ to me came to mean a soft overcast ambient glow. The Hollywood-style wet-down/hard backlight ‘moonlight’ never felt realistic to me (although it often worked as beautiful and evocative imagery).

Much later, when driving through desolate parts of the Southwest at night, I saw that moonlight could be something else entirely. 

This reminds me of an old interview with Scorsese. He was commenting on Spielberg's love of "godlight" rays of sunlight, and how for him, growing up on the streets of New York, he had a completely different appreciation of light to Spielberg, who grew up in the Arizona desert.

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For me a beautiful example of night exterior cinematography is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Throughout the 3 films there's an immense amount of different types, from the plain forests of the shire, magical, glowing elven fortresses, to massive battles lit by both torch and moon. Albeit this example may be very fantastical, giving the lighting style a lot of leeway to be "unmotivated" - in the Fellowship of the Ring I can think to a few shots where you can basically see the source they're using as the moon. But it all "works" and is incredibly beautiful and striking.  

Additionally, I think one of the most interesting things about the difference between an audience "detecting" a day and a night scene is the background. For me, you could leave the same style of key light between two scenes unchanged, and set the time of day purely by the illumination of the background. 

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