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Grayson Wolfe

Lighting a Hotel Room

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I'm planning to shoot an extended fight scene in a hotel room. Not a fancy hotel, think Days Inn. We will be shooting very quickly and I want 360 degrees of camera movement, with no apparent lights in frame. I'd like to shoot the whole scene at one f-stop, being able to move actors in and out of light and shadow as need be. Maybe f4, so focus isn't a huge pain. I'm shooting on a GH3. These are the two options I came up with…

 

1) swap practical lamp bulbs for 100W or 200W bulbs.

 

or...

 

2) put a 1K on the balcony and light room through slats in blinds. swap practical bulbs for 25w bulbs.

 

Will option #1 cause the lamps to blow out, or can I arrange them so that there are pools of light serving as both key and fill? I am a newbie and need your help, so please impart your sage advice. My goal is to keep the lighting as simple as possible.

 

Thanks so much!

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That's two different looks, so the question is which one do you want?

 

I'd probably go with the first version and have bright bulbs in the lamps, it would look more natural. I wouldn't worry to much about how hot they look, just don't overdo it, expose them just on the edge of clipping, unless they are featureless shades where it would be hard to tell if they were clipped or just smooth white anyway.

 

Or go with the second and turn off the interior lamps, if that makes sense, just keep in mind that if you go 360 degrees and end up with the camera in front of the window looking in, you'd have to watch your camera shadow, plus that's the flatter angle.

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Thank you, David. This is my first post, but I always seek out your advice on the threads. I find this forum indispensable.

 

Good point on the shadows for #2. I'll go with #1 and expose as you say. I'm thinking I could bring in my own shades and try to turn the lamps into miniature soft boxes. Do you think shooting the entire thing at one f-stop is possible?

 

The action will spill into the bathroom and foyer as well. What if I put daylight bulbs in the bedside lamps, balance for those, and then leave tungsten practicals in the bathroom and foyer? Would that create an interesting gel effect in each section of room, or be a total disaster?

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Depends on how much green your daylight bulbs have in them and whether you'd make them the neutral color and thus let the tungsten areas go warm. Because I think a lampshade practical might look odd if you let it be a blue-ish source, unless it was stylized in a room with blue walls, etc. A lot of hotel rooms opt for warm tones.

 

You may want to ride your stops a little when doing a close-up near a bright practical versus one across the room in hardly any light. Not enough to erase that established brightness difference, but just to bring things slightly back towards the middle.

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Also depends on whether you have permission from the property owner to film there. If not and you are planning on stealing all of your shots guerilla style, then you probably shouldn't be putting any movie lights outside the room.

 

I would scout for rooms with the lamps you like and bring your own lamp shades on the day, darker shades with some texture will keep them from blowing out on camera. Then maybe get a few battery powered 1x1 Litepanels in a suitcase and have your gaffer handhold them if you need a key light or edge light.

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Trouble with darker shades is that they reduce the light coming through the shade and if you open up the stop to compensate you're back to the brightness of a lighter shade, only now the direct spill from the bulb below the shade is hotter.

 

I don't think darker shades work if they are actually supplying the light on the actor. Of course, they work if the light from the shade is mainly for people further behind the lamp and you replace the off-camera side of the shade (cut away) with some diffusion.

 

Dark shades is one of my biggest beefs with set dressers, I guess they are used to DP's who aren't actually trying to light the scene with the light through the shade.

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@ David - If I go the mixed temp route, I'll let the tungsten go warm.

 

@ Satuski - Thanks! Great tips. I might have to steal some shots so I'll keep that in mind.

 

I would be concerned about the dark shades for the same reasons David mentions. I do want to keep it super simple.

 

It seems to be a catch-22… The lamps need to be bright enough to light the actors, while not distractingly overblown whenever they're in frame. I did some tests at home with my light meter and even a 60w tungsten bulb seems to meter around f16 at 800 asa. I guess I'll have to be careful when actors and lamps are sharing the frame, and ride the stops like David said.

 

Perhaps I could bring 1-2 additional lamps of my own and put them on the opposite side of the room, sandwiching the action?

Edited by Grayson Wolfe

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Since most lampshades spill raw light up and down, there is a lot of ambient bounce off of the ceiling naturally so you could augment that by bouncing a light off of the ceiling to get the practical lamp effect to carry further in the room, just don't overdo it.

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That's a great idea.

 

The way the scene is written, the TV will be switched on, playing static snow. I could crank up the brightness on the TV… Maybe even hide a light near the TV...

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Trouble with darker shades is that they reduce the light coming through the shade and if you open up the stop to compensate you're back to the brightness of a lighter shade, only now the direct spill from the bulb below the shade is hotter.

 

I don't think darker shades work if they are actually supplying the light on the actor. Of course, they work if the light from the shade is mainly for people further behind the lamp and you replace the off-camera side of the shade (cut away) with some diffusion.

 

Dark shades is one of my biggest beefs with set dressers, I guess they are used to DP's who aren't actually trying to light the scene with the light through the shade.

Yup, that's true. It certainly helps to shoot with a camera system that can handle those highlights. I recently did a low budget web series pilot with a lot of night interiors lit with practical lamps and felt very lucky to have the F65 with its enormous highlight latitude. I pretty much treated it like film negative and rarely had to worry about highlights clipping.

 

Another thing that I used was finding colored bedsheets, scarves and other textiles and draping them over the various lampshades. Obviously that falls under art dept (if you're lucky enough to have one!) and only works if it makes sense for the space but it was a way to add motivated color to a scene and soften the light from the practical at the same time.

post-5721-0-86226700-1421205127_thumb.jpg

post-5721-0-55366400-1421205142_thumb.jpg

post-5721-0-76754200-1421205154_thumb.jpg

 

A few other tricks:

Adjusting the sources: Most of the practicals were fairly low wattage and wired to dimmers so they could be dimmed if they were in shot. When the practicals were out of shot, I just moved them closer to the actors.

post-5721-0-38993300-1421205391_thumb.jpg

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post-5721-0-43748600-1421205406_thumb.jpg

 

Adding light: I used a Dedolight with the beam projector to bounce a precisely cut square of light into the wall just above the frame and near the practical to augment the source (stole that from you, David! B) ). This gave me a consistent amount of extra light from the direction of the source and appeared very natural. I could also stop down a bit, making the white walls behind the actors darker.

post-5721-0-36154600-1421205425_thumb.jpg

post-5721-0-54319700-1421205414_thumb.jpg

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Thanks for those pics, Satsuki. Nice work. I like your colored curtain technique. I'm gonna be shooting ridiculously fast, so I'll need to light 360 degrees. My BMPCC has good dynamic range, but I'm going with the GH3. Better battery life and 1080 60p. Lots of slo-mo in the film.

 

In the No Country image below… Deakins says he used a 100w bulb in the lamp on the floor. He bounced some additional light off the right wall, similar to what you describe. I won't need to light the background like he did the bathroom here, that's why I'm thinking two bedside lamps with 100 or 200W CFL bulbs. I like this shadowy look.

 

maxresdefault.jpg

 

I've read about using a pro-mist filter to help with the hot spots from practicals. I'm considering it because of the GH3's limited dynamic range. Any thoughts on that guys? Looks like Soderbergh used one a few times in The Informant and Girlfriend Experience.

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A low budget web series with an F65???

 

;)

Haha! Passion project of the prep tech at a local rental house. He got all the gear for free. Ironically, the F65 is the one camera that never goes out, we would have had to pay for a C300/F5/55, etc. My back would have appreciated those other options, since it was 50% handheld with lots of oners and long takes. But the images were fantastic.
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I've read about using a pro-mist filter to help with the hot spots from practicals. I'm considering it because of the GH3's limited dynamic range. Any thoughts on that guys? Looks like Soderbergh used one a few times in The Informant and Girlfriend Experience.

Using lens diffusion for a little bit of halation around bright highlights to hide the hard digital clip edge is an old trick with digital cameras. I don't think it's as necessary any more with wide dynamic range cameras and log gamma but it's still a nice look. For a low key scene like you are trying to achieve, I would try a diffusion filter with a contrast retaining element like Black ProMist, Black Net, Hollywood Black Magic, or Black Satin. These filters have black specks inside to reduce the amount of light dispersion.

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When shooting a scene lit with practicals, try to have a few hand-dimmers with you! You can buy them pre-built or build them yourself, fairly simply. Dimmable CFLs now exist, however, you might consider using incandescent bulbs instead of CFLs. Whichever you chose, be consistent so that you can avoid unintentional color shifts between lamps. Consider the color temp of the bathroom, kitchenette, or any other bulbs that exist in the hotel room. If you do get a chance to scout the room, take that opportunity to turn on every lamp. I've seen some peculiar bulb choices in hotels recently.

Also, don't overlook the bed and set dressing's impact on your lighting. Light colored linens (sheets, blanket) will bounce light and give the overall impression of a lighter, brighter, scene. Darker linens will absorb light and make it all feel darker.

When your ability to light, and/or control your lighting, is limited, you can strategically place lighter and darker items in the room to help balance exposure.

For example: if a lamp on a night table, next to the bed, is perfect for the actors face while standing, yet the white pillow next to the night table is clipping... you can solve this by throwing a (non-white) blanket, jacket or bathrobe over the pillow.

If the actors travel to a darker area of the room, a white robe, or towel draped over the right bit of set dressing might provide an important bit of fill.

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Great advice, Laura! Thanks. I do prefer incandescents over CFLs, if the room fixtures can handle the higher wattage. I need to scout it out like you say. Using wardrobe and set dressing as fill is a brilliant idea.

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