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Let’s play with practicals


Nicolas POISSON
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I am looking forward to improve my lighting know-how. I did experiments a few weeks ago for a short film. Two people are talking around a table in the house of a theater. There is a lamp on that table that will be in the frame. It will be the fake source to light the characters.

Our mission, if we accept it, is to have the dynamic range of that lamp to fit in what the camera can accept, without catching the eye too much. We are enthusiast (read “we have no money”). We do not have plenty of devices to balance the overall lighting. So we go the cheap other way: lower the hot spots, raise the ISO.

The photos below were made on purpose later after the shooting. These are taken in my living-room.

 

Here we go!

 

First picture:

The lamp with a conventional 4W LED bulb. The lampshade does not lower the light enough, it is way too bright, and washed out. The top allows to see the inner white fabric that reflects too much light and clips.

01_amp_std.JPG.cad692216933946ddf60084eb26bf283.JPG

 

Picture 2:

Same setup, we just lower the exposure. The whole scene is very dark, the bulb create a hot spot through the lampshade, and the top is still clipping. That is exactly what we do not want: YES, we could make the whole scene dynamic range to fit going that way, but the lamp would be by far the hottest object in the frame. Changing exposure will not allow to change the order of brightness of the objects. Wrong, try again.

02_low_exposure.JPG.28c490ee5e7895c22232789778d092da.JPG

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Posted (edited)

Picture 3

We go back to initial exposure. We replace the bulb with a 0,5W (yes, half a watt) LED bulb. The intensity through the lampshade is better, but the bulb still appears as a hot spot. The top no longer clips. This is better.

03_led_half_watt.JPG.ee2e474522957d0c424b7c45b7573700.JPG

 

Picture 4

We place a roll of diffusion (Lee 400) right around the bulb. We are rather happy: the lampshade brightness is adequate, it is rather homogeneous, and the top is not clipping. We really like the lampshade now. But the table now receives hardly any light. We did try to light it using a projector outside the frame, but the lamp creates shades that look unnatural (no picture of this, just believe me).

04_led_half_watt_L400.JPG.875ebca489648451a6a75c9eb0e11b56.JPG

 

Picture 5

The bulb in the lamp shall be strong enough to light the table top. We use another bulb, a 2,5W LED, with a silver cap at the top of it. It prevents the light to hit directly the upper part of the inner white fabric, which avoids it to clip. Great. But since we removed the diffusion, the lower part of the lampshade is washed out again.

05_led_silver_cap.JPG.24bee03384f82f7f907bde008162781c.JPG

 

Picture 6

We know we cannot put the diffusion directly around the bulb, since it would lower the light hitting the table. So we put the diffusion right against the inner white fabric (we needed to remind some geometry to create the shape at this point). The light through the lampshade is more homogeneous, but still too bright and washed out.

06_led_silver_cap_l400.JPG.4432f417fcfbc50b7f0ce8ed05f96b0f.JPG

 

Picture 7

We inserted a layer of ND0.3 filter between the diffusion and the lampshade. It is better, but still a bit too bright.

07_led_silver_cap_l400_ND.JPG.e160739133ecf2eb027f24f53bdf1f95.JPG

 

Picture 8

We could have used a stronger ND. But we would also like the lampshade colour to pop. We add a layer of red filter Lee 106 between the ND the lampshade (this is the third layer: Lee400 + ND 0.3 + Lee106), which will also cut off some light as a stronger ND would have done. Yeah! Look at that wonderful red lampshade! No need to play with Resolve’s Colour page later.

08_led_silver_cap_l400_ND_l106.JPG.22b7cd3af51879b567588d655c9b9785.JPG

 

Our mission is complete. Champagne!

(for those old enough: think about the victory theme of Dune II game)

 

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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If you don't mind me saying, I think you had the intensity right in the first picture. If the lamp is supposed to be the main source of light for your actors, it should be the brightest thing in the frame. Pic 6 looks good because you've lost the hotspot, but in the others, the lamp looks too dim to be a main source of light.

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Have to agree with Stuart.  First pic looks realistic. You could try a different approach to continue with this experiment... 

Pick an ISO and Tstop that you want to film at and adjust the fixtures and lights to suit that.  Place a  lit candle and put it in the frame next to the light. If the candle flame looks like a tiki torch in your monitor, chances are your ISO is way too high. Adjust it so the candle looks normal, then adjust the lamp accordingly so both look right within the same shot.  A candle flame should look like a candle flame. Nothing more or less.  So you can use one as a general benchmark to see if your ISO or whitebalance is completely off.  The reason why this works is that you should be able to light a scene where an actor, could pull out a zippo and light a cigarette and it wouldn't look completely ridiculous like he just sparked a flamethrower.

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17 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

If you don't mind me saying

Sure! This is the goal. Thank you both of you for your remarks. By the way, anybody willing to share its own experiments or tricks is welcomed.

I am a bit surprised, and thus interested, by what I understand as a question of “realistic” look. I thought, maybe naively, that one could cheat a lot with lighting. Even in movies that are supposed to be somewhat realistic. One cheat with white balance. Characters are rich spoiled brats that leave lamps on during daytime. The moonlight is deep blue. There are smoky atmospheres in bars where nobody actually smokes.

I spend a lot of time googling pictures from movies. Here is an example by the Coen brothers:

inside-llewyn-davis.jpg.428f81c31a8052d8737be65bee816db3.jpg

The brightness of the lampshade is slightly below the character’s left part of the face. I currently have this kind of winter soft horizontal lighting in my living room, and I have a lampshade similar to this one (it appears in every other movie indeed). I checked: even with a low wattage bulb, even at noon, the lampshade is several stops above every other object in the room.

Here is the lamp I modified, in context:

lamp_medium_shot.jpg.322bc9046ea301da2a9be1ab6054a209.jpg

When I saw this afterwards, I was still wondering if the lampshade was not too bright. When looking at this image, do you tell yourself “oh, there is something weird with the lighting” ? Is there some kind of secret rule that tells “the audience may not notice, but unconsciously, it does matter much more than one would think” ?

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This is really interesting.

I tend to agree with Stuart's assertion that in many of the test shots the lampshade appears too dim to be realistic. There is a point at which it is acceptable to have some usually small areas of clipped whites in the frame, and one of the things we cherish in cameras is their ability to render those features attractively.

The fact that some cameras don't render those features attractively is what leads to this sort of desperate avoidance of clipped highlights.

Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with pictures five and six, and I don't think there's anything seriously wrong with picture one. Pictures five and six are described as having "washed out" detail in the lampshade, whereas in my view there's still detail there. It's near the top of the exposure range, but that's fine; in my view, if we start avoiding that, we're just underexposing the image.

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22 minutes ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

 

I spend a lot of time googling pictures from movies. Here is an example by the Coen brothers:

inside-llewyn-davis.jpg.428f81c31a8052d8737be65bee816db3.jpg

The brightness of the lampshade is slightly below the character’s left part of the face. I currently have this kind of winter soft horizontal lighting in my living room, and I have a lampshade similar to this one (it appears in every other movie indeed). I checked: even with a low wattage bulb, even at noon, the lampshade is several stops above every other object in the room.

 

The difference here is that the lamp is not being used as motivation for the key light, which is evidently off to camera left. If you're not using them to motivate light, you can expose them how you want.

 

24 minutes ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

Here is the lamp I modified, in context:

lamp_medium_shot.jpg.322bc9046ea301da2a9be1ab6054a209.jpg

 

In context, it works better than in your original frames because it is throwing a hotspot onto the table which is bright enough to be realistically lighting your actor's face. That wasn't visible in the other pics.

I don't think you need to worry about the top of the shade clipping. They often appear that way to the eye anyway, and it's not as if there is any detail in there that an audience needs to see. If you obsessively control hot highlights and fill in deep shadow, you just end up with a rather flat image.

 

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I start to understand where I mistook. What please me in picture #8 is that one can better see the folds of the lampshade, whereas in picture #6 we see more the mesh of the fabric, folds being more "shadowy silhouette" (do we say that ?). From what you all say, if I want the lamp to look like in picture #8, I should accept it to be purely decorative, and have the key light motivated by something else. The lamp could still justify a bit more light here and there, but not be the key light.

By the way, is there a benefit to have the (fake) source from that other key light in the frame at some moment, to make it clear in the viewer's mind what the whole place looks like ? Or can we skip this because any viewer knows and accept a modern room is lit somehow ?

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44 minutes ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

From what you all say, if I want the lamp to look like in picture #8, I should accept it to be purely decorative, and have the key light motivated by something else. The lamp could still justify a bit more light here and there, but not be the key light.

There’s no hard and fast rule how bright the practical should be. If you prefer the shade darker that’s fine, but remember you’re trying to sell an illusion. The lamp has to look as if it is bright enough to be reasonably lighting the faces. In your screen grab, it works because even though the shade is fairly dim, the spill below the lamp is much brighter and looks enough to be lighting them.

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6 hours ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

lamp_medium_shot.jpg.322bc9046ea301da2a9be1ab6054a209.jpg

When I saw this afterwards, I was still wondering if the lampshade was not too bright. When looking at this image, do you tell yourself “oh, there is something weird with the lighting” ?

Personally, the brightness of lampshade here does not bother me at all. I think Stuart is right that the bright spill from the bottom sells it as the light source. It would look better to me without the shadow line running thru the top third of the shade though. Just my opinion.

One alteration that I would prefer (based on this one frame) is for the room ambience to be darker, as it feels like there is an additional light source above the frame and to the right, lighting the wall behind the man. I think it would look nice for that wall to be lit as if from the lamp, to further sell the lamp as a light source. Something like a low soft glow from a small tungsten unit behind the man could work.

You could also do the same for the woman to separate her dark hair from the black background, though due to her key light she needs it less. 

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2 hours ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

By the way, is there a benefit to have the (fake) source from that other key light in the frame at some moment, to make it clear in the viewer's mind what the whole place looks like ? Or can we skip this because any viewer knows and accept a modern room is lit somehow ?

I’m not sure we can make the assumption that modern rooms are always lit. I think light has to come from somewhere, and the choice of what and where makes all the difference to the mood of the scene.

Is there sun bouncing off of a neighboring building and reflecting off the wood floor in the next room?

Are all of the lights off inside and only cool ambient skylight filtering in thru thin green sheers on the windows?

Is tv on at night in a dark room, while everyone’s faces are lit by their cell phone screens, with the only warm light coming from the kitchen door in the background?

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Random questions:

What about composition? Does the lamp in the middle of the frame dominate the actors?

The pen. Does it dominate the actors (as it appears to have its own mini-spotlight devoted to it)?

 

 

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Just my five cents... here is a similar experiment I did https://vimeo.com/user76613338

What I learned:

- The reflection from the book (a blank white sheet of paper over the pages) is what sells this effect.

- The softbox from the right makes it look over-lit. I would now leave it out or at least dim it down a stop.

- The lamp shade is (too?) thick, and no hot spot is created. A slight hot spot would probably look better. So picking the right lamp shade would be very important.

- There could potentially be a gag light behind the lamp shade, alternatively there could be a big hole cut out in the rear of the lamp shade (not visible to camera)

Edited by Jan Sandvik
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Posted (edited)

Very interesting ! My feeling is:

- I do not find the soft-box too powerful. Indeed, the problem is mainly a question of direction. If it was at a lower height and slightly upward, it might work better at selling the book as a reflective source.

- yes you could cut a hole in the lampshade, or hide a light behind. But in such a scene, I would not put the lamp in front of the character. I would rather put it on its side. Then this kind of trick would no longer work.

- I am not at all annoyed by the lampshade being too thick. A slight hot spot would be good too (slight variations are great), but I think that is really a question of taste.

- the HMIs are too powerful. I really like the idea of creating a geometric flat pattern in the background, but with that power it kills the intimacy. Are these HMIs creating the back light on the head ? You might cheat with this too: having lower power HMis to light the window outside, and another cold white source for the rear of the head.

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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