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How to light through a window without blowing out the window?


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If the window is not frosted, relatively clean, and the beam is coming in at an angle, then the window itself shouldn't be getting bright since the light is just passing through it.

 

You basically just want to have a dark background behind the window - if it's too hot out there, then you'll need to treat the window itself with ND or Roscoscrim, or significantly underexpose the room to hold exterior detail.

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Yes, it's mostly about how clean the glass is, any surface defects, dust, etc. will get lit up by the light -- it's the same problem, if not worse, when the real sun hits the window.

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Thanks guys! That's very helpful!

 

As a followup question,

 

If my (evening) scene is being lit/played as windowlight primarily what would you use to bring up the ambient in the room to reduce the contrast? Is this where chinaballs are used a lot?

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If it's an evening scene, then why is the light primarily coming from the windows? Is it still dusk outside? Or is it a strong streetlamp or moonlight effect? Because you'd deal with the ambience inside differently depending on all these scenarios. Even with a dusk scene, you'd do something different for ambience if you established some tungsten room lights on versus only having the room lit by the outside light.

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It really depends on the look you want, and also which format/camera you are shooting with.

 

Part of using ambient fill is artistic - for example, if you wanted re-create the look of a relatively bright room with lots of windows so the character is surrounded by evening skylight, but you're stuck in a location with windows on only one wall. Or if you want to see a little more detail in the actor's faces.

 

The other part of fill light is technical - say you want to go for the bright look, but you are shooting on a camera with only 7 stops of dynamic range. Then you will have to underexpose the exterior more in order to hold your highlights, which makes the interior pitch black. So you have to introduce ambient fill to achieve the look you originally intended.

 

I think if you want the scene to feel like the room is only being lit by a single large window, then it would make sense to keep the foreground fairly dark and add directional fill from the window side if necessary. That way, the light will still feel motivated by the window. A lot of DPs will use Kino Flos above the windows, or HMI Jolekos bounced into white cards taped above the window.

 

One lower budget variation of the latter that works well is to use something like an LED Dedolight on the ground, under the window and aimed straight up. Flood it all the way out and use the barn doors to make a long, narrow strip of light on the ceiling right above the window frame. If you're shooting towards the window and framing out the floor and ceiling, you won't see the light and it can add just a bit of directional fill for an actor in profile. Just enough to read their expression which might otherwise be a silhouette.

 

You could also make up other motivated sources in the room to justify lights coming from other directions.

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Hey thanks guys, to clarify, I mean moonlight coming through the window. All the lights are off. for instance, it's a bedroom scene middle of the night. the room doesn't have a lot of light coloured walls so everything is really falling into black more than I want. so I want to lower the contrast range between the moonlight and the rest of the room.

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Ah, different story then. I assumed you were asking about balancing interiors to a dusk/twilight exterior.

 

If the 'moonlight' is coming from the window, then it still makes sense to fill from the window side. You'll have to decide if you're motivating source is hard like a cloudless full moon, or soft like an overcast sky. You also have to consider how deep the room is and how far you want that fill to extend into the room.

 

At some point, I think you'll have to make up some other sources, whether that is another window somewhere, or a skylight in the hallway, etc.

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Sure. Re-reading your post, it sounds like at least some of the fill you need is purely for technical reasons due to the dark walls. In which case, you may also need something overhead like the china ball you mentioned. Tough to know for sure without seeing the room or knowing what light levels and contrast ratios you'll be working at.

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Keep your moonlight source as far back from the window as you can, to minimize the fall-off between the window frame and the rest of the room. Then, you might want to raise the ambient level in the room. I've done this in the past by bouncing a single 2ft kino tube off the ceiling. If you want something more directional, try mounting a kino tube above the window, just out of shot.

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Ah okay thanks, so a bounce into the ceiling or a lighter wall off camera or something like that will give me the ambient level up that I'm looking for (non directional, soft) vs a chinaball.

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Just depends on what you are trying to achieve with the lighting. Generally there is the hard moonlight coming in and any other light would just be for dim ambient fill so as to not clutter the look of the single source, but if you were doing something more film noir-ish, I can imagine a more stylized approach where besides the hard moonlight, you have some dimmer hard-ish (or semi-soft) spots on selected areas in the darkness that are cut into shadow patterns. It's not strictly realistic but it may give you the mood you want to achieve.

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