Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996
Published : 12th April 2005
>I hope I don't appear too naive as I write this but even having shot a number of successful short dramas on 16mm and 35mm I still some very basic questions regarding my exposures.
>The first point is that it seems due to recent advances in emulsion technology my exposures are dictated less by my meter and more and more by my knowledge of the stocks. By this I mean that often when I wish to light a 'moody' scene and I am shooting close to wide open on a set of primes the rushes I receive look WAY over lit even though the background and other areas of the frame show no exposure at all on my spot meter.
>Should I be going with this exposure, confident in the knowledge that I can 'knock it back' in the grade or should I ignore my meter on many occasions and under expose trusting that the film will see into these areas? The other answer is that maybe I am just over lighting and need to keep an area correctly exposed and instead cut and manipulate the light I have.
>Often I have shot night exteriors, with an exposure of nil on my meter, expecting no image at all and have created a nice moody feel.
>I hope I can get some advice on this.
An "eager to get better" DoP
Most often in a dark situation your spot meter will still read white. My method is where you are working in low light is to spot meter a white card so that if it reads say, 2 stops under key, then you know that , for instance, 18% grey would read 4.5 - 5 stops under key if only your meter was that sensitive.
>You just need to know the difference between the reflectance of the surfaces you are shooting and white and work out your own "Zone System".
>Are the rushes you get back film or video? Are they one-light or corrected?
>The latitude of modern film stocks is such that even if you have exposed "correctly" for a dark moody look, an ill-advised colorist can "help" you out by pulling everything up brighter.
>Those dark shadow backgrounds will yield lots of information if you print up light, especially in a video transfer.
class="Paragraph">>even if you have exposed "correctly" for a dark moody look, an ill->advised colorist can "help" you out by pulling everything up brighter.
>I used to on occasion write on camera report to the lab: "NO Printer Lights below XX-YY-ZZ If it's too dark it's my fault not yours"
>Later someone told me Allen Daviau usually had "DON'T HELP ME" written on his.
Avant-garde and Old School at the same time filmmaker
>Sam Wells writes :
class="Paragraph">>Later someone told me Allen Daviau usually had "DON'T HELP ME" >written on his
>In Australia we still stand by the one light principal for film rushes, not so good for impressing the producer but great to see if you've screwed up.
>For telecine I always shoot a MacBeth at least for line up but am surprised at how few do.
Director of Photography
High Def./Standard Def./Film
Aaton XTR Prod owner operator
class="style7">>Later someone told me Allen Daviau usually had "DON'T HELP ME" >written
class="style7">>In Australia we still stand by the one light principle for film rushes
>Years ago we (not my present lab) participated in a lab comparison for a US cinematographer on a shoot here: should he process locally or use the US lab he usually went to?
>We (innocently) did the usual thing for our half of the test - a one-light work print. The US work print arrived at our theatre for the comparison screening. We discovered the camera sheets for the US part of the test had been left in the can. They included a note from the cinematographer to the US grader which simply said "make me look good!". He needed the help â€“ and they had done as he asked. Our print didn't look nearly so good - of course we hadn't received the same instruction.
>I think we eventually got the gig, but it took a lot more selling than it should have done. Lesson learned.
>Dominic Case writes:
class="style7">>They included a note from the cinematographer to the US grader which >simply said "make me look good!". He needed the help - and they had >done as he asked.
>I remember one of our first projects with SuperDailies. I was working with a fairly new colorist, and asked him to help with the exposure in the sky. It was a typical Los Angeles spring sky, pretty blown out grey. We got into a discussion about whether we should 'fix' the footage. The young colorist said, "Don't they want to see what they shot?" I replied, "No, they want to see what they think they shot" I always say if we did true one light dailies there would be 90% fewer cameramen working in town.
Ed Colman, President Â SuperDailies, Inc.
Cinematographer Supervised Video Dailies
Dominic Case writes:
>To wit :
"DON'T HELP ME" unless I really need it, then "DON'T TELL ME".
IA 600 DP
>He needed the help - and they had done as he asked. Our print didn't >look nearly so good - of course
I remember an Australian lab asking me "Do you want the truth or do you
want to look good" and I said I wanted the truth because I consider it is
my job to make it look good
>I always say if we did true one light dailies there would be 90% fewer >cameramen working in town.
LAURIE K. GILBERT s.o.c.
Director of Photography
High Definition Cinematographer
Helicopter Aerial expert
>"No, they want to see what they think they shot" I always say if we did >true one light dailies there would be 90% fewer cameramen working in >town.
Wow, I'm really ambivalent about the attitude of a timer or colorist showing me "what I think I shot". It seems to me that that could lead to a vicious cycle of cinematographers never really having a chance to learn how to properly place their exposures. Perhaps if 90% of cameramen are so inept as to not be able to get work if not for the intervention of the colorist, that's in some part because the colorists have been saving them all along.
If you want to be in that elite 10% of deserving-to-work cinematographers, you need to see the results of your work so you can learn from mistakes and do better next time. So if I say "don't help me", then don't help me. I'm an adult, I'll survive. Even if it's in a different industry.
If it's important that what I shoot looks good in dailies even if I messed up somehow, then I'll say "make me look good". Go to town.
If I say nothing, then I think it's fair to assume that I mean "I want to see what I think I shot".
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