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Balancing Out Heavy Backlight

Published : 13th November 2003


Hi, we're shooting a music video for a small band and I have some questions about our last scene. We have a crashed car in the road and it's surrounded by a quite dense forest. I'm hoping to achieve some silhouette but still want to see some details on the car. The singer's sitting on the hood of the car so we should see some details about her. Is it possible to balance out heavy natural backlight at late evening at all?

The sun's pretty strong at about f 5.6 with our reversal stock . We will be using some smoke to create shafts of lights coming through the forest. I think underexposing the singer would be OK, but since our stock is reversal, we don't have too much latitude. A possibility would be to block the action so that the sun doesn't shine directly to camera. What would you do in a situation like this? We don't have practically any gear, only some really small reflectors and maybe a silverish cloth we could rig in front of the car.

Riku Naskali



Riku Naskali writes :

>We have a crashed car in the road and it's surrounded by a quite dense >forest. I'm hoping to achieve some silhouette but still want to see some >details on the car.

Assuming you have some direct sunlight available, one approach might be to key your foreground with some semi-hard reflector boards made with aluminium foil glued to foamcore board. One of the neat things about using reflectors when shooting into the sun late in the day is that they'll keep your subjects lit at the same color temperature as your backlight.

You might also use a color contrast viewing glass to help you keep your lighting ratio under control, since you're using reversal stock.

You'll probably want to err in the direction of more detail in your subject. You can always increase contrast in post to get more of a silhouette, but you can't restore detail that's just not there in your reversal original.

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



>You'll probably want to err in the direction of more detail in your subject. >You can always increase contrast in post to get more of a silhouette, but >you can't restore detail that's just not there in your reversal original.

I love reversal films but I think I'd want a negative (like 250D) in this situation. Using a good colorist and good gear in telecine you can get a reversal-like feel with the highlight range you need.

Sam Wells



I would bounce as much light as possible to your subject with the boards you already have and try to make some new boards you can hide on any available place in order to rise your exposure. Since you need detail on the crash itself, I would underexpose the crash just 1/3 so you would have a nice detail because of the bounces and the expo is almost there, at the same time you would be having strong highlights on the background with a nice contrast control for post.

Ivan Araya
Costa Rica



Thanks for all your input guys, although it came a bit too late due to time zone differences. But those were the suggestions I had in mind too, although you overestimated our resources, we're not doing any professional color grading. I wish we would but that's too pricey since this became quite a weird production, funded by our production team and not the band. And for the shot, we used every reflectors we had and built some more.

Judging by eye it looked quite balanced, can't be sure before the film comes from the lab since we didn't have even a spot meter at our disposal. I tried to measure the contrast with my incident meter, highlights were about two and a half stops hotter than medium grey. Sounds pretty ideal considering we're using reversal, now just have to cross my fingers and wait for the film.

Riku Naskali