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Eric Gesualdo

Best method for exposing for an interior scene while maintaining an image through windows?

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Apologies if this isn't the right forum for this particular question.

I was wondering if there were any tips for maintaining a consistent exposure of an interior shot where you can see directly out a window into the outside? I have played with the thought of placing a double net or ND gel on the window but I'm not sure if that's the best method. Thanks for the help.

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Nets outside the window can help reduce the contrast range, but they’ll also reduce the light coming into the space from those windows. So you still need to lift the ambient level inside the room to a suitable level.

Large fabrics and HMIs to bounce into them are generally the best way to lift the ambient to compete with bright windows. 

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You can also try Rosco Scrim on the outside of the windows. The advantage over ND gel is that it can be roughly taped over the window frame, so it can be put up very quickly. But it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny as well, so you don’t want it to ever come into focus. 

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Outside suggestion, but depending on what your final product is, you could also play around with your camera's dynamic range. If you're delivering in Rec709/P3, then you could get away with underexposing the camera and bringing it back up in post. It'll be noisy, but you can clean that up and get extra info in your highlights.

You can't do just this alone, but it'll give you some more play in the color grade.

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I don't know why people try to make a format cleaner than it already is.... 

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No single trick works. I use a combination of the following:

  • Double-Net outside window.
  • Polarizer (to attack interior floor light reflections) or sunlight kick off street/trees
  • Shoot into trees or dark colors, not a white fence (sometimes must be timed with the sun)
  • ND gel on windows. It is expensive but smaller windows can be treated inexpensively.
  • Punchy HMI Key. 1200 or M18's is a good start. But it also depends on your key size. 2x 2500's may be better if lighting a larger space with larger rags. This is of course, if lighting from inside. If trying to push through a window... I'd imagine 18k, but that's out of my experience range.

I'd advise against shooting something big into the ceiling to "raise the light floor" or "create ambient." I becomes toppy light and unnatural indoors. Always light from the side, as if window light is reaching them. I did this once with a 4K Arrisun in the ceiling and gave me about a 15-ft of well balanced lift against the outside. But it was so unnatural as they walked inside.

If you can afford it, go with punchier lights like 2500s or 4Ks. You can always take away light.

 

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Generally it is not desired for the ambient light outside to participate to the exposure too much because of continuity. That's why a classic way to do it would be indeed a combination of ND or nets on the windows and raising interior exposure by carrying the window light, either by bouncing an HMI into the ceiling near the windows, or using Kinos or now LEDs (SL1s are great for that use), or Joker soft tubes. However it's a challenge to keep things subtle and not ruin the beauty of light coming from the exterior and side, as said earlier. It's important to keep any light sources inside very controlled and have an eye on the sky to match your ambient level. Hopefully it will just have to be for the wide and medium shots and you can do whatever to match what you had in the master in the close-ups and coverage, where you can bounce lights directly into windows that are not in shot.

But I find a modern approach would lean towards keeping the sources that are supposed to be outside, outside, as much as possible. That's also made possible by the wide dynamic range of the cameras. First, if the budget and location allow, you can put what is visible outside in the shade using a flyswatter or another rig. Then I agree that the best way is to bounce large HMIs (as big as possible, in fact) into a white fabric above the windows, at the lowest correct angle for camera. I've seen that technique used by a few people now, so I think it's trending! It doesn't raise the light level inside as efficiently as setting an HMI inside, but the quality is better because it is shaped by the actual windows, and the falloff is also more realistic if people move closer to the windows.

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And study the magnificent Russian film "Leviathan" shot by the incredible Mikhail Krichman. It has (quite possibly) the most masterful balancing of daytime exteriors for interior scenes that I've ever seen.

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3 hours ago, Mark Kenfield said:

And study the magnificent Russian film "Leviathan" shot by the incredible Mikhail Krichman. It has (quite possibly) the most masterful balancing of daytime exteriors for interior scenes that I've ever seen.

All shot with natural and available light. 
They built the main house in an area (and in a way) where they could take advantage of the natural light. 

Mikhail is, to me, the best cinematographer in the world, such an artist and a gentleman!

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For me, the best approach tends to be the simplest -- use a camera with the widest dynamic range possible and then do what little you need to balance for bright windows, if at all.  Because while there are times when using ND gel is the best approach, they are a pain to do correctly and they are hard to switch out as the light outside changes, unless you have the money for hard acrylic sheets of ND in different strengths in frames that can be popped into the windows. So often I've had windows with a bright daylight view on the scout so I have the grips cover the windows with ND.9 in a pre-call, only for call time to be set too early in the morning on a heavily overcast day and find myself taking it all off because there is barely enough daylight outside with no gel.  So if possible, I'd rather add lights to bring up the interior, and again, only the minimum because I don't want to overpower the natural ambience.
The main problem there is that if you didn't surround the location with big HMIs and used mostly available light instead, what happens when you keep shooting two hours after sunset?  As the sun is going down, that's the worst time to stop everything to surround the location with big HMI's, and even if you wait until it is clearly too dark to use available light, you still are down for a half-hour or more doing the big relight.  So sometimes just for efficiency's sake, you put a lot of lighting outside from the start, maybe scrimmed down until you need more out of them later.
Double Net scrim on frames is fine too but they only cut one-stop of light and they wash-out and blur the view. I find they are better for distant windows with nondescript views where I just want to knock them down a little.

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6 hours ago, Wendy Sanders McDonlad said:

I have not actually done this, but I'm thinking, will it work if you just paste those films made for Car window tint and reduce the sun light? 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Black-Windwo-Tint-Nano-Ceramic-Car-Home-glass-Vinyl-Tint-Window-Film-35-VLT/324191995288?hash=item4b7b594598:g:eVUAAOSwV3hb8pZz

Wendy .. these cannot be used because they are way too cheap.. a high end video camera sensor will only react to ND gel that costs a minimum, $1,000 per foot .. and must be installed by experts ..  the much loved Arri camera  will only actually work with Arri gel made in the mountains (its the air quality) in northern Germany ..

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15 hours ago, Wendy Sanders McDonlad said:

I have not actually done this, but I'm thinking, will it work if you just paste those films made for Car window tint and reduce the sun light? 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Black-Windwo-Tint-Nano-Ceramic-Car-Home-glass-Vinyl-Tint-Window-Film-35-VLT/324191995288?hash=item4b7b594598:g:eVUAAOSwV3hb8pZz

Hi Wendy that would work (in terms it would cut the light) - but the issue is its quiet a specialist skill to get it installed without air bubbles etc... 

I had a 4 m square area of windows tinted with that film in my house - it was fairly expensive.. took a team of 2 workers all morning to install. Had I had attempted the installation myself I'd have most likely made a mess of it and in the long term it would cost more money to buy more materials and and expert to fix. Much like the time I tried to replaster the bathroom... 1 hour to skim... 3 additional days to sand the wall back to flat...

Not really practical on a film set.  It would also be quite a job to remove.

Normal ND gel rolls can sometimes be rigged quickly if you hang them outside the window - if its not windy and the area is out of focus they don't need to be perfectly cut to match the window.

Personally - NDing windows seems to be thing that happens less these days ... in the MiniDVcam days - I had to gel every window for pretty much any shot just to be in with a fighting chance. Now cameras have a 14stop range and you've got cooler running LED's - is easier to balance the light in a scene without reaching for the ND as often. Plus in the UK is not often that sunny 

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1 hour ago, Phil Connolly said:

Hi Wendy that would work (in terms it would cut the light) - but the issue is its quiet a specialist skill to get it installed without air bubbles etc... 

I had a 4 m square area of windows tinted with that film in my house - it was fairly expensive.. took a team of 2 workers all morning to install. Had I had attempted the installation myself I'd have most likely made a mess of it and in the long term it would cost more money to buy more materials and and expert to fix. Much like the time I tried to replaster the bathroom... 1 hour to skim... 3 additional days to sand the wall back to flat...

Not really practical on a film set.  It would also be quite a job to remove.

Normal ND gel rolls can sometimes be rigged quickly if you hang them outside the window - if its not windy and the area is out of focus they don't need to be perfectly cut to match the window.

Personally - NDing windows seems to be thing that happens less these days ... in the MiniDVcam days - I had to gel every window for pretty much any shot just to be in with a fighting chance. Now cameras have a 14stop range and you've got cooler running LED's - is easier to balance the light in a scene without reaching for the ND as often. Plus in the UK is not often that sunny 

Alright, then why don't pre-install some window tint film on a blank gel, and then reuse it later as some sort of home-made ND. 🙂  

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No need, since there already is ND gel, which you can buy in rolls, which you can also use on Lights.

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1 hour ago, Wendy Sanders McDonlad said:

Alright, then why don't pre-install some window tint film on a blank gel, and then reuse it later as some sort of home-made ND. 🙂  

Window tint is just sticky ND gel. It's about the same price or slightly more than the non sticky stuff

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With the car window screen, I’d be wary of color problems. I would splurge on real ND gel, you can put it on the windows using Windex then remove bubbles with a squeegee. It will hold for a few hours. And it’s reusable!

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Though we're talking about daytime interior scenes, Steve Yedlin, ASC shot day for night interiors by heavily gelling the windows and shooting during the day. I believe he used a hard gel? Not sure exactly what it was, but the result was obviously stellar:

Food for thought regarding gelling windows! 🙂

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Oh, he must be talking about the Rosco acrylic panels. Expensive! However, you don't necessarily need acrylic panels to do that. The concept stays the same: heavy ND. I did it twice, once as a gaffer and once as a DP on a short. I messed it up as a DP because I used ND and CTB filters, so now I can tell you the trick is to just use straight NDs and not color gels because underexposing saturates the colors, and the outside is already blue enough. Also, the gels need to somehow be mattified, otherwise they reflect all the lighting indoors like a mirror. Thats probably the superiority of the acrylic panel (or any scrim material). On the other shoot as a gaffer we used ND9, but a heavier ND like 1.2 or more would have been better. The DP then put a bunch of 4K HMIs outside shooting through the ND for moonlight.

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You can't really "matte down" a gel, the problem is that by simply making the exterior darker than the interior, the window becomes a mirror reflecting what's inside the room, just as in real life when it's dark outside, so the gel has to be smooth and flat so that the reflections are not warped or moving in a breeze (and lights have to be position in non-reflecting angles). That means either hard acrylics or wetting and using a squeegee to get the gel flat to the glass without bubbles and ripples.

One problem becomes that ND gel looks heavier when seen from a raking angle than when flat onto the gel, because from a raking angle, you are looking through more of the gel.

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I would say just increase the ambience by bouncing a light to flatten out the contrast without making it completely flat. This is the easiest and the safest way in my opinion. Determine a contrast ratio for example ext being 1 stop over and int. Being 2 stops under so this way you can retain information on the outside and have a nice contrast inside without losing details etc. Then again, this depends on the general brightness of a room. All white walls and light colored furniture versus dark wood interior with darker toned furniture. In that case, I would be a bit more mindful of how much underexposure you want for your general ambience to hold detail in set pieces etc. Ot is all subjective regardless though. 

Edited by Giray Izcan

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7 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

You can't really "matte down" a gel, the problem is that by simply making the exterior darker than the interior, the window becomes a mirror reflecting what's inside the room,...

add a polarizer filter filter to eliminate the reflections then? 

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