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Albion Hockney

Underexposing Faces in daylight - how much fill do you need?

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I have been having trouble with my day exterior work ....in specfic when shooting in more middle day (not sunrise sunset). I have a taste for natrualism and low key lighting I suppose and I have been having a hard time figuring out how to expose faces.

 

so often people say "put the sun behind your talent and fill them in" but to me this approach often looks really false to me because if you bring up the fill enough to get a nice exposure on the face at or just below your shooting stop it looks really lit to me. ....

 

I recently did a fashion shoot where we did a scene at around 10AM sun in a semi low position and I put it behind the talent and filled with a 12x and it just looked really false to me....just flat and bright.

 

So I guess my question is simply.... how much fill do you need in a daylight setting and has anyone had a good experience with underexposing? and if not what are some other techniques people like when dealing with direct sunlight to create more natrualistic images with good contrast.

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Sometimes the act of bringing in fill from the sun on a clear day can result in a "lit" look but it's primarily because daylight is blue but sunlight is orange. It's when you bounce it back into a face that you really see this distinction and it tends to read as false. You can try to bounce through a slightly blue silk or use a frame of CTB which might be noisy outdoors. Set it up like a booklight. But I've found that helps quite a bit. The bounced fill looks more like an HMI unit at that point.

Edited by Michael LaVoie
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I use Day Blue Muslin bounce cards and large frames for this reason; it's also less strong than white but you could also drape bobbinet or scrim over a white bounce to knock it down.

 

The main thing is to just use a lot less of it, don't use fill if it isn't needed, and when you do use it, use very little of it.

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Ah, didn't think about the color temp issue! .... David do you ever underexpose faces backlit by the sun.... lets say in a traditional scene with dialog?

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I've always underexposed faces backlit by the sun, because it doesn't make visual sense that they would be at key or full exposure if the sun is behind them.

 

How much I underexpose depends on what percentage of the face is lit by the sun, i.e. how high is the sun. If the sun is very low and just creating a halo around the head, then most of the face is in shade and I only underexpose about a stop or even less (and generally in such a scenario, fill light isn't necessary). A high, toppy backlight from the sun means I'm more likely to split the sun and shade exposure, so maybe the face is two-stops under or 1.5-stops. And I might use some fill to help balance with the sun.

 

But if you have a lot of dynamic range to work with, you could also print down for this effect, expose for the shade, print down / darken to look more natural. I'm just more likely to expose for the final look so that dailies intercut OK.

 

I always think of those Terrence Malick movies where they don't use any fill outside and it looks great (of course he tends to not shoot faces at high noon) -- thinking of this always makes me pull way back on the amount of fill I use outside.

 

Sometimes you don't have a choice if the actress doesn't look good filled in naturally from a high skylight (like in the canyons of New York City) or from the low bounce off the ground -- they need a more frontal fill, artificial-looking or not, to complement their facial features and minimize the negative. In those cases, I've had to employ negative fill to get rid of light coming from a bad direction.

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Like David, i tend to split my exposure between sun and shade readings, which usually leaves a backlit face about 1.5 stops under. Often, there is enough fill from the surroundings (walls, buildings, etc) for me to not need to add any. If extra fill is needed, I keep it very soft and very subtle. I try not to use white bounce. Unbleached Muslin is a favorite, but I also have a selection of other pale rags, which I use to match the surroundings if I can.

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