Night Shooting, Cars, and Flares
Published : 25th April 2008
I'm going to be DP'ing a pick up of a night shoot involving cars. Some of the issues with the original shoot included multiple flares that the camera operator missed(as well as light stands in the shot, hence a re-shoot), car headlights flaring all over the frame, and not the nice, sleek looking flares seen in car commercials, but the ugly diffused flares that simply spread over the entire frame and ruin the shot.
One of the shots involves a car pulling up to the camera into a close up and turning off it's headlights. The original shot had terrible flaring from the head lights that covered the entire frame, reducing visibility of the car in the frame.
My camera package is an Arri SR2 with Zeiss high speed primes(9.5mm, 18mm, 35mm, 85mm). Are there any suggestions on how to shoot in these conditions and avoid the kind of major flaring that plagued the original footage, especially when dealing with the vehicles and their headlights?
>>One of the shots involves a car pulling up to the camera into a close up >>and turning off it's headlights. The original shot had terrible flaring from >>the head lights that covered the entire frame, reducing visibility of the >>car in the frame.
ND the headlights?
Engineer and Somewhat DP
>> ND the headlights?
It used to be that masking tape worked pretty well, but modern stocks hold highlights so well that doesn't so well work anymore. ND and good, clean lenses sound like an answer.
Art Adams | dp
San Jose | ca | usa
Depends on how close the camera ends up on the headlights and if you want them to look normal after they switch-off in a close-up. If you don't get too close to them, then Rosco Scrim material works, masking tape, Streaks-n-Tips, diffusion gel, etc.
Closer and ND works if done neatly. That's usually what I do (use ND gel) but the problem is when the lamp goes off, you can tell it is darkened by the ND gel.
Sometimes I have no choice but to use the best non-flaring prime I have and build-up the f-stop as high as I can and stop down.
There are also ways of putting the headlamps (if tungsten) on dimmers but I haven't tried that.
David Mullen, ASC
>>Are there any suggestions on how to shoot in these conditions and >>avoid the kind of major flaring that plagued the original footage, >>especially when dealing with the vehicles and their headlights?
I have worked on car shoots where the headlights were covered with neutral density gels cut to fit to reduce their intensity and flare. At least ND9, as I recall, and another time double layers of ND6. Black paper masking tape was used to secure the gels, though clear tape would work also..
An even better solution is something made by Rosco called Rosco-Scrim, I think. This is a flexible plastic material, black on one side and silver on the other, and perforated with hundreds of small holes. We covered the headlights with the black side out, and the holes let the light through, still with the correct directionality, but at greatly reduced intensity.
I have also seen black "Streaks and Tips" (hair color in aerosol spray cans) used on headlights, but much less successfully - it's very hard to get even coverage, so it always looked kind of splotchy and fake.
Streaks and Tips also comes in silver, which looks a little less noticeable if the lights go out during the shot, though, as Doug mentioned, it is hard to get an even distribution - get someone who knows how to spray paint to apply it.
I have also knocked headlights down with a combination of streaks and tips or ND gel or window screen or Rosco scrim and a layer of diffusion on the top to kill the hot speculars from the headlight reflector. The diffusion does not kill the overall intensity, but it removes a strong specular reflection which might make for a very powerful flare as opposed to a lesser flare that you get from any light source in frame.
LA based VFX DP/Supervisor
>> In the footage we currently have, once that driver's side headlight turns >>off, the detail in the headlight is very clear and those ND gels would >>probably be very visible, along with whatever tape we end up securing >>the ND gels with.
Do you really have to light the front of the vehicle that brightly?
Why not let it fall off to darkness once the light goes out?
Also, how bad are the flares? If they're momentary, no big deal. Another solution might be to start the shot low and then boom up as the vehicle approaches its second mark. As most headlights are aimed down you might be able to get out of the beam by the end of the shot.
Also, a lot of modern cars (mine, for example) have adjustable headlights. I have a control where I can adjust them up or down.
There are also screws that adjust where the headlights are aimed but I suspect the owner doesn't want you messing with those.
Art Adams | dp
San Jose | ca | USA
>>We definitely can't spray the headlights. From what I hear, the vehicle >>owner had major issues with the ladder that was secured to the sport >>rack(part of the plot of the story). We might run a major risk in losing >>the vehicle by spraying the headlights, since we are getting the vehicle >>for free from someone.
"Streaks & Tips" and Dulling Spray are NOT the same as spray paint. They are easily removable with a soft cloth and some alcohol or windex or other cleanser, which is why we use them for film work, so we don't damage props, vehicles or set dressings.
In case you are unfamiliar with the product, there is so-called snot tape, a clear adhesive tape that is sort of like a roll of rubber cement. It is often used to put gels on windows, gels on 4x4 frames, filters behind lenses, etc and can be used to stick your ND or diffusion on the car headlights. It comes off pretty easily.
You don't necessarily need a lot of it - a little piece here and there might be enough to get the gel to contour to the headlight. This obviously varies a lot depending on whether you have streamlined headlights like a lot of the new type projector bulb headlights, or the older sealed beam-type headlights, whose faces are more planar and easier to work with. There is also a Scotch product which is a repositionable magic tape... matte finish like normal "magic tape" but designed for graphic layout work - you can get it at art supply stores.
>> So just to make sure I understand, to avoid any form of flaring from >>practical vehicle lights and emergency vehicle lights the aim is to bring >>down their intensity with ND gels, or Streaks and Tips, and that should >>reduce or eliminate flares?
With vehicles with emergency lights on them, you can very often remove the colored lens/dome/strip from the light and add diffusion and/or neutral density between the bulbs and the lens/dome/strip.
Easier and more even than streaks and tips.
Flare is a function of multiple factors - some lenses are better than others in dealing with flares etc... but reducing the intensity of the sources relative to the overall exposure is a really good first step in massively reducing the flaring effects of those sources when they are in frame.
Hey, thanks for all the replies.
So essentially, all I need to really be doing is bringing down the amount of light coming from the headlights? The vehicles involved in the shoot are a silver colored Jeep Liberty, and a plum colored Honda Civic sedan.
In shots where the cars are farther away the ND gel technique sounds like it would work very well. Is there a specific amount of light I should aim to knock down(1 stop, 2 stops?). The concern I have with the ND gel would be that in the close up shot the Jeep Liberty pulls up very close in the shot, starting with the entire front of the car visible, and ending with only the driver's side half of the front of the vehicle in the frame(in the original shot, this was done on a 35mm lens, with the headlights approaching from 25 feet away to 11 feet away from the camera, and the T-stop at 2.8). In the footage we currently have, once that driver's side headlight turns off, the detail in the headlight is very clear and those ND gels would probably be very visible, along with whatever tape we end up securing the ND gels with.
We definitely can't spray the headlights. From what I hear, the vehicle owner had major issues with the ladder that was secured to the sport rack(part of the plot of the story). We might run a major risk in losing the vehicle by spraying the headlights, since we are getting the vehicle for free from someone.
I also don't know how good our lenses are against flaring. So far, it doesn't seem like they handle flares well. We're using the same 35mm Zeiss high speed primes(maximum stop opening of T1.3) used in the original shoot. The other shots from the shoot had a lot of flares everywhere, including in interior scenes, which were coming from side and back lights(camera operator wasn't paying any attention to flares there). So it definitely doesn't look like the lenses we're using do well against flares in general.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
What everyone else said, plus can you angle the headlights down?, make sure they aren't on full beam, don't use filters, change the lens height or angle slightly so the light isn't pinging down the barrel so hard. Use primes stopped down as much as possible, anti flare coatings are better in Ultra Primes or Cooke S4's. Try moving camera back, use a longer lens and a hard matte, so that the flare is not so continuous.
Some lens flare can be very desirable, use it to enhance your pics, listen to Doug hart, no one would suggest vandalising a car, we are used to handling and respecting expensive toys, be methodical, it's a process, trial and error will sometimes overcome your problems, so if you are having trouble, stay calm and think clearly. There is usually a way.
Watch out for consumer products like the Scotch magic tape. Headlights get hot - I don't know how that will affect the tape - it might melt it onto the headlight.
Silicon Imaging Inc.
Thanks. I'll look into the streaks and tips/dulling spray. Looks like the best bet we have for the close up shot.
So would that technique of using Streaks and tips apply to shots involving emergency vehicles with their lights on as well? Cause this crew had a shot with a police vehicle that had plenty of flares, and it was a long shot with the vehicle in the distance. I've seen similar angles/shots of police vehicles with their lights on in many shows/films and there were no flares involved.
So just to make sure I understand, to avoid any form of flaring from practical vehicle lights and emergency vehicle lights the aim is to bring down their intensity with ND gels, or Streaks and Tips, and that should reduce or eliminate flares?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada