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Gabriel Cortez

Treatment of windows

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Hello everyone,

 

I would like to hear some opinions from you on the matter of windows, specifically what is the degree of overexposure you favor for a window when showing what's outside is not an issue.

 

I am mainly asking this because i'll be filming a studio day/int scene soon, and the exterior (what's seen outside the window) is irrelevant to the movie, but i'm not sure WHETHER to drape the windows and overexpose them a few stops so they go blank, OR to go for a backdrop and keep the window clear (of drapes). Hope i'm making myself understood here.. :unsure:

 

I know you'll tell me "it depends on this and that" or something like that, and you'd be right, but I was wondering if you guys could advance some arguments/cases/examples on the use of one method or the other. Some cinematographers like to blow them windows big time, like Kaminski does in some scenes in Munich or Minority Report (just what came to mind), others go easy, like Rousselot in Dangerous Liaisons etc.

In Capote for instance, usually the windows seen in the shot do hold "windowframe" details, such as the folds on the drapes or the very window grid pattern, without showing the outside, though -- so i suppose this would be an intermediate solution between full-blown-blank-shaft of light-kind of window and the traditional "see the outside, the backdrop" one.

 

 

Well, I hope I didn't mess it up too much in this post, sorry if the question may sound silly but I think it's fairly important to have it discussed.

 

 

Thank you very much!

 

Cheers

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Hello everyone,

 

I would like to hear some opinions from you on the matter of windows, specifically what is the degree of overexposure you favor for a window when showing what's outside is not an issue.

 

I am mainly asking this because i'll be filming a studio day/int scene soon, and the exterior (what's seen outside the window) is irrelevant to the movie, but i'm not sure WHETHER to drape the windows and overexpose them a few stops so they go blank, OR to go for a backdrop and keep the window clear (of drapes). Hope i'm making myself understood here.. :unsure:

 

I know you'll tell me "it depends on this and that" or something like that, and you'd be right, but I was wondering if you guys could advance some arguments/cases/examples on the use of one method or the other. Some cinematographers like to blow them windows big time, like Kaminski does in some scenes in Munich or Minority Report (just what came to mind), others go easy, like Rousselot in Dangerous Liaisons etc.

In Capote for instance, usually the windows seen in the shot do hold "windowframe" details, such as the folds on the drapes or the very window grid pattern, without showing the outside, though -- so i suppose this would be an intermediate solution between full-blown-blank-shaft of light-kind of window and the traditional "see the outside, the backdrop" one.

Well, I hope I didn't mess it up too much in this post, sorry if the question may sound silly but I think it's fairly important to have it discussed.

Thank you very much!

 

Cheers

 

 

I think this is a very good question. To blow or not to blow windows. This is a very subjective question. I am a DOP with feature experience and I don't think blowing out windows helps the storyline of a movie. I often try to avoid seeing out windows, but if you must, I think it is a far better idea to make the view from the window realistic. In a recent feature, The Backup Man, coming out in the cinemas this year in Canada, we had the principal actors arriving at the police station at dawn (bluish light). Then a day later we are shooting the police station interior in a tiny office with the same actors and with a view out the window. Luckily, we shot this in November when the light was failing outside so I lit the interior so that the exterior was 2 stops under the key lighting in the office. We had about 20 minutes to shoot the wide shot including the window and then move into medium and close-ups all avoiding the window. This is a great example of film realism. It adds a degree of credibility to the scene. The public are constantly second-guessing story elements and lighting is one of them.

 

I personally think that blowing windows looks sloppy. No window looks like that in real life. With film you can still see details even if the incident light outside is 4 stops overexposed. If you've got greenery, it will eat up the light and you can go to 6 stops and still see detail. So why not balance interiors and exteriors. The windows will look more natural.

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I don't think blowing out windows helps the storyline of a movie.

 

I think that it really depends on the movie and the story... I find it hard to generalize and say that one way ALWAYS works better.

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You can always split the difference -- have the windows open, but obscured in such a way that you don't see specific details beyond the window. Use sheers, or venetian blinds that are part way open. David Mullen has mentioned a technique before of putting Hampshire Frost on the window glass, and then covering the glass with partly opened blinds or sheers. This throws the outside detail out of focus, and the blinds help hide the fact that the glass has been treated.

 

Sometimes I've "faked" the exterior, by putting a large frame of silk or big sheets of foamcore outside that blow out white, but then use some potted plants closer to the window outside, to look like landscaping (also lit to a high stop). It gives you a sense of seeing something outside, without it being specific.

 

Keep in mind you're also talking about completely different looks. "Minority Report" and "Munich" were very high contrast, beyond what you get with normal film. And film is more contrasty than what you see by eye. So what "reality" do you want to create for your story? "Naturalism" (what your eye sees)? "Photorealism" (what film sees)? Or something more stylized still? To me this is really the deciding factor, and you choose the technique that's going to best serve the visual style you've chosen for the film.

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Blowing out the windows can have a strong dramatic effect. When you look through a window and all you see is white limbo, you create a clastrophobic feel to the scence, as if there is no where to run, no world out side, etc....

 

Ofcourse the windows (or other openings) should be apperant in the compistions and big, otherwise it wont work as good.

 

A good example is the openeing scene in "The Crying Game" inside the greenhouse. In the scene there is very strong contrast between the hostage in a huge greenhouse, which is open to the world, and the blown out glass of the greenhouse dome. You get a feeling he has no where to run altougth the outside is just within his reach , because you cant see the outside, nothing but white limbo.

 

 

It works the otherway around too.

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Thank you all for your replies so far, looking forward to hear other opinions too and perhaps some solutions/approaches on this window thing, like David Mullen's Hampshire Frost trick that Michael mentioned.

 

And no Jason, I don't think that there is any way that "always" work better either. It's a plain choice, very much in the terms that Michael puts it.

 

On the other hand, I was wondering if any of you actually considers blown-out windows a mistake, in general, or what do you consider to be the "overexposure treshhold" for it.

 

 

Thanks a lot everyone!

 

Cheers!

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Out of interest, what material do people typically use to cover the windows with? And is there a particular distance from the window it should be?

 

Thanks.

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Oh and, last week I was messing about with some lights and one of the main things that really messed things up was reflections of the windows. Are there any kinds of anti-reflective coatings out there?

 

What methods do you use to cut down on them? (Apart from polarizing filters)

 

Cheers.

 

(I realise that in studio based work you probably wouldn't have a window there, but I'm talking about real location shooting)

Edited by Daniel Ashley-Smith

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Truth is that most of us professionals don't have any real tricks to get around this other than moving the lights or the camera to a position where we can't see them reflected in the window glass.

 

With experience, what happens is that you predict this is going to happen before you even light a scene ("hmmm... if I put the light there, it's going to be reflected in the window when the camera is there...")

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Howdy-

 

I've also done the thing where you have a grip or gaffer hold up a mini-mag light or whatever's handy from the spot where you might want a light to guage any reflection issues you might be dealing with.

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Sometimes you're lucky and a large black flag placed between the window and the light can hide the reflection of the light without getting in the way of the light falling on the actors.

 

Polarizors don't really help remove a major reflection, just soft reflections at select angles. Plus you lose nearly two stops of light.

 

Sometimes if it's a reflection of a big soft light that just produces a white haze on the window, we live with it -- and sometimes if it's a tiny hard reflection, we find a way to block the view of it with a plant, or tilt one blind in some venetian blinds -- or even, if the window is far away enough, we can get away with putting a piece of black tape right over the reflection on the glass.

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Sometimes you're lucky and a large black flag placed between the window and the light can hide the reflection of the light without getting in the way of the light falling on the actors.

 

Polarizors don't really help remove a major reflection, just soft reflections at select angles. Plus you lose nearly two stops of light.

 

Sometimes if it's a reflection of a big soft light that just produces a white haze on the window, we live with it -- and sometimes if it's a tiny hard reflection, we find a way to block the view of it with a plant, or tilt one blind in some venetian blinds -- or even, if the window is far away enough, we can get away with putting a piece of black tape right over the reflection on the glass.

Ok brilliant, thanks David it's appreciated.

 

So, from a professional working in the industry, what material do you personally use for covering windows, David?

 

Thanks.

Dan.

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I'd always rather have something for outside the window other than just white because I can always revert to using white if I have to or prefer it, but it's nice to have a backing or some greenery out there... even though I overexpose it to the point where it is nearly white. Really hot views with a little detal feel more realistic to me than pure white, but it really depends on the size of the window in the frame. If at the far end of a hallway you can see a little window, I'm more than happy just to white it out.

 

So besides the backing, it's standard operating procedure on any movie where shooting might go into night for a day interior for the art department to give you some options for window treatments. And basically it comes down to either curtain sheers or blinds as the two most common option, blinds being more expensive since they sometimes have to be custom-made for the window. And there are advantages to both, depending on how much brightness I want back there -- sheers tend to burn-out, while blinds don't. But often it's a matter of the design of the film and the architecture of the room in terms of which makes more sense. A school classroom, for example, is unlikely to have sheers instead of blinds.

 

On bigger movies, you also have "greensmen" with various potted plants and trees that can quickly be dressed outside of windows, and an "efx" person to blow wind on them. But ideally you'd plan for that in advance if it's a low-budget movie, telling the art department to have certain things on standby like a small tree or a big branch on a c-stand or a fake wall covered with ivy or a small backing to put out the window. Sometimes you can take the curse off of a white background by covering the window with sheers and then putting the shadow of a swaying tree branch with leaves over the sheers to create some movement and depth.

 

Like Michael Nash said, I also sometimes put Half Hampshire Frost on the windows to throw the view out of focus, which helps if you only have something fake-looking like a tree branch on a c-stand arm against a white background.

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As far as i am concerned ,unless there is something going on outside that is important to the scene , i let them blow , but must be keyed from that window/windows though ,not a huge lamp casting shadows on wall next to the window . :)

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I would have thought that if you don't want to see out of a studio window then you simply light the window from behind with a large soft light.

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I would have thought that if you don't want to see out of a studio window then you simply light the window from behind with a large soft light.

Normally you would hang some semi-transparent white material in front of it, and then shine a powerfull daylight balanced light through it.

 

Like this:

DSC00115ljbvgik.jpg

 

(This image was originally posted by 'Alex Haspel' in another thread. Alex, I hope you don't mind me using it to illustrate my point, if you want it taken off I'll do it no problem)

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You could do that, although if the light coming through the diffusion on the window is supposed to do more than simply be white, but actually expose people in the room, then the problem is that you are essentially pointing the camera at a light and probably the lens would get flared.

 

Plus it tends to look like you've covered the window with diffusion and blasted a light through it in terms of fall-off.

 

If you want to both see a whited-out view and be able to shine light through the window, normally you'd put something white farther away, whether backlit or frontlit, and then have room to shine some lights in from the side of the window.

 

Yes, sometimes you can get away with doing something as simple as covering the window with tracing paper, shining a light on it, and then putting some sheers or blinds over that to take the curse off of it. But generally you aren't using that window then as a source if you are pointing the camera right at it. If the window were to one side of the frame so that you were looking at it more edge-on, then you could increase the amount of light shining through the paper/diffusion so that it lights the room too.

 

The trouble with the example in the photo is that if the camera were looking dead at that diffusion frame with a light behind it, it would probably not see an even field of white, but a hot spot in the gel, perhaps bright enough to flare the lens. If all you want is an even field of white, you'd use much heavier diffusion and probably less light or the light backed off.

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Normally you would hang some semi-transparent white material in front of it, and then shine a powerfull daylight balanced light through it.

 

Ah...that's just about what I meant.

 

Thanks, Danny...my cinematography skills just improved, a bit. :D

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But generally you aren't using that window then as a source if you are pointing the camera right at it. If the window were to one side of the frame so that you were looking at it more edge-on, then you could increase the amount of light shining through the paper/diffusion so that it lights the room too.

 

 

So David, you're saying that you can't shoot straight at the window if it's the source because it flares the camera, right? (as a side question, you mean that would happen only when using diffusion on the window, or also in the case when you'd go the other way? - placing something white outside and positioning the lights on the sides, as you said.) Then, what practical solutions are there to allow pointing the camera at the window - no flares - but preserving the character of the light that was shining through the window when it was the source (in the previous shots up to the one which requires shooting at the window).

Sorry if i'm not being too clear. It's just that from what you're saying I understand that if for a given interior one would choose to put diffusion on the windows - and use them as the main sources - then this would mean that shots taken straight at the window become impossible (flare).

 

And also, David, maybe you can explain a bit more "Plus it tends to look like you've covered the window with diffusion and blasted a light through it in terms of fall-off.", the fall-off part of it. What's the difference in falloff when you're using:

a) diffusion on the window

B) clear window and diffusion on (or close to) the source (say you have a tenner outside or smthg)

c) no diffusion whatsoever, just plain hard light from a naked fresnel

 

 

Thank you very much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry, the B) got there by mistake, took the place of point b.

 

:)

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On the other hand, I was wondering if any of you actually considers blown-out windows a mistake, in general, or what do you consider to be the "overexposure treshhold" for it.

 

Well, I tried to address this in my previous post. It depends on the look you're trying to create.

 

If you're trying to create a contrast range that's a "naturalistic" look (emulating what your eye sees), then it would usually look wrong to not see any detail out the window. The exception might be what David alluded to about distant windows (like at the end of a hallway), where it's reasonable that your eyes would be adjusted to the darker indoor light and not really see bright detail out a distant window.

 

If you're trying to create a contrast range that's more "photographic" (what film captures in real-life situations), then blowing out a window could look fairly normal, at least on a sunny day.

 

If you're trying to create a high-contrast look (like a skip-bleach negative), then you would expect the window detail to blow out.

 

I can't speak for others about an overexposure threshhold for detail outside windows, but generally for a "naturalistic" look you want the outdoors to go pretty hot but still hold some detail. The precise amount depends on the film stock/video camera you're using. On film you might find +3 stops or more looks fine, but on video you'll need to reduce that to +1.5 for a similar look (just as a comparison).

 

When shooting on location you'll often want to put ND on the windows to help get the indoor and outdoor exposures closer together. When shooting on a stage, you often want to put a lot of light on the backing or exterior view to make it look realistic and not "fake."

 

Perhaps David can tell us what he does on "Big Love." I haven't seen the show yet, but I assume there may be sets where you see the "studio" backyard out the window.

 

Like Michael Nash said, I also sometimes put Half Hampshire Frost on the windows to throw the view out of focus, which helps if you only have something fake-looking like a tree branch on a c-stand arm against a white background.

 

Thanks for clarifying that (no pun intended ;) ). I looked up Half Hampshire Frost in the swatchbook and it's indeed slightly lighter, with more clear image showing through, than "Hampshire Frost."

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Whether to white-out a window partly comes down to "do you have a choice?" -- i.e., if not white, what do you have to put out there if you've lost the light? Maybe if you're lucky, there's a wall outside the window that could be lit-up instead, but maybe not. Maybe a big bush, maybe not. What if outside one window there is a wall or big bush, but the others look out into black space at night? Would you want a view outside one window but whiteness out the others? Or would you want a consistent look to the windows?

 

So this is what I'm referring to as "taking the curse off of white windows" by using some sheers or blinds to break it up. This looks more acceptable -- for example, look at the opening of "The Godfather", which has point of view shots looking through the blinds at the wedding outside, but otherwise, the windows are whited-out with blinds over them. Not strictly realistic but it creates a graphic look (the bright-dark lines of blinds crossing a whited-out window.)

 

Now if you are looking straight at a window where the light is supposed to be coming from, but don't want to flare the lens by looking right into a bright diffusion frame surface, then you have to recreate the effect from the off-camera sides of the frame. Now maybe you are lucky and a backlight outside the window just hidden by the top of the window frame can shine into the room far enough, but sometimes you can't get that angle so you place a soft backlight inside the room just above the window frame to create that soft backlight effect (I've sometimes mounted a 4' 4-bank Kinoflo above the top of the window for that look). And maybe you are shining in soft light through the window from each side hidden by the sides of the window frame.

 

Here is an example of Kinoflos just above the window frames creating a soft backlight from the direction of the windows:

 

northfork32.jpg

 

In fact, not only does the practical bedside lamp show a reflection of the Kinoflos on the top of the shade, the shine on the arm gives away the warm sidelight from off camera right to simulate the bedside lamp.

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Regarding the fall-off issue, it's pretty obvious what the problem is. When you cover a window with diffusion and hit it with light, the diffusion becomes the "source" not the light behind it. So if you're a foot away from the window, you're a lot brighter than when you're four feet away from the window, because you are so close to the source. Compare this to a real room with overcast daylight coming through where the far background is the source of light in the room, so moving from one foot to four feet back from the window will not create the same fall-off in intensity.

 

However, if you are simulating a bright frosted window, then the fall-off would be the same (frost versus diffusion material) since in either case, the surface of the window has become the source of light. But if you are simulating distant overcast skylight or ambient daylight, then to realistically create the same fall-off, you need bigger, softer lights farther away.

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Guest TJ Williams

sometimes when you want the outside to match 2 or 3 stops of ND sheet material can be applied directly to the window surface. This comes with an 85 conversion if you are using quartz inside to match the std. day outside.

best application is with a little water a squeeze and a razor knife to cut to the size of the window. A little practice here is good. A lot of the local grips in my market have become very quick at this.

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Thank you all for your input on this topic, and especially you, David. These considerations cover just about everything related to my window questions, thank you again.

And by the way, David, that picture you posted helped a lot; I wonder if you could post an example of a DAY/INT. situation, of the same kind? (along with the lighting details)

 

 

Cheers

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