Proper Outdoor Exposure
Published : 11th October 2007
In two weeks I'm shooting the opening shot on a new project, which is being taped with a GL2. The shot is an outdoor telephoto of two people walking toward the camera. The actors are supposed to be wearing black suits with white dress shirts underneath. The shoot is to take place in the early afternoon, and the forecast calls for a sunny day. FYI, the background will be filled with a couple white houses.
I want to properly expose all the elements in the shot, taking care to preserve detail even in the brightest areas of the frame (should any overexposure be unavoidable, I would prefer to relegate it to the background). ANY and ALL advice is very much appreciated.
Thanks a bunch...
Student, Penn State Behrend
Jarrod Gathers wrote :
>>In two weeks I'm shooting the opening shot...The actors are supposed >>to be wearing black suits with white dress shirts underneath.
The solution will depend on the percentage of various reflective surfaces you allow in the frame and with a bit of imagination, you should have a reasonable amount of control over these factors.
What you are really trying to do is give correct exposure to the skin tones and bring the whites and blacks into a range the camera will handle. If you have lots of white in the frame from the background houses, expose for the white and the skin tones and try an bounce a bit of light with reflectors, into the black clothes to bring their value up .
If the background was a smaller, controllable area of white, you might be able to take its value down if its excessive, by shadowing it with a large scrim or similar.
If you don’t see the talents feet or the path he may be walking on, you can angle the action in relation to the background to a line where the reflection on the white background is not as bright.
Hope this helps a little.
Thanks for the quick response!
Yes, my goal is to give correct exposure to the actors' skin tones and bring the whites and blacks into a range the camera will handle.
As you mentioned, proper exposure will depend largely on the various reflective surfaces that are allowed in frame.
Can anyone tell me whether or not it would be prudent to have the talent wear light grey shirts instead of white (and how light or dark they should be to expose as white)? My hope is that it would lower the respective contrast ratio of the actors, and allow me to open up another stop or two in order to bring a bit more detail into the black areas of the clothing. Of course, the extra exposure would probably blow out the primarily white background a bit, but that might be acceptable, given the style of the project.
My only reservation about blowing out any part of the frame is that the final product may be printed to film, and I'm not sure how the over-exposed swaths would appear once that occurs. Any advice would be appreciated on this as well.
Lastly, and I know this is probably an obvious/dumb question, what is generally considered correct exposure for white skin tones?
Thanks very much for the help.
Student, Penn State Behrend
Lee makes pretty good low contrast filters which help outdoor shooting immensely. I've used the filter on a matte box on both a GL-1 and an XL-1, and with both the filter worked really well.
New York, NY
I just purchased the Tiffen Ultra Contrast 3 filter. I haven't used one before (or anything similar) so I'm hoping it fits the bill.
Like Lee, the Tiffen filter supposedly works with ambient light from surrounding highlights, transferring it to the shadow areas to lower contrast uniformly throughout the scene.
For me, the most important detail about this filter is that it brings more detail into the shadows, without adding any flare or halation to the lighter areas (so they say).
Thanks to everyone for their advice so far! Again, feel free to offer any and all advice if you feel it might be of use.
Studen, Penn State Behrend
>>Again, feel free to offer any and all advice if you feel it might be of use.
Frame the shot so that the sun is back-lighting the characters. This will also mean that the background houses will be backlit as well, and the whites will not be overblown by direct sunlight.
DP / Camera Operator
>>Frame the shot so that the sun is back-lighting the characters.
>>This will also mean that the background houses will be backlit as well, >>and the whites will not be overblown by direct sunlight.
If I remember correctly in the first post, the shot was going to take place in early afternoon. To add to the back-lighting comment - is there anyway to make it more of a magic hour shot, or at least late afternoon? Overhead sun is usually harsh and unflattering - unless, of course, that is what you are going for.
Rather than a lo-con filter, I was going to suggest a polarizer. I shoot quite a bit out in the bright sunlight here in Florida and get great results with proper exposure and a polarizer. But - either will be fine.
Also - I wouldn't worry to much about bringing up the shadows, they can add a nice contrast to the white of the houses in the background.
Finally, maybe it's just me, but whenever I have shot outside with DV in bright sunlight, something was either too hot or too dark. Depending on what you are shooting, there is quite a bit of contrast, and it sounds as if that will be the case looking down a street with white houses, black suits, and most likely trees with shadows and so forth. Without really seeing it, I am inclined to say expose for the highlights (with polarizer) and let the shadows go black. Chances are, on a sunny street, there will be more bright areas than dark, and as I said above, it can make for a nice contrast to balance the frame so it won't be too flat (that is in a contrast sense in terms of light vs dark, not in a depth of field sense).
Let us know what you decide and how it comes out.
August Moon Productions
I forgot to mention that we will be throwing up a huge piece of diffusion cloth over the area of action, which will soften the direct sunlight considerably. Because of that, the time of day won't be as critical, so long as we're mindful of the camera set-up (i.e. back-lighting).
I have a circular polarizer; does anyone know if/how the filters (polarizer and low-con) should be stacked? I can always test, but I would like to know your opinions as well.
>>I wouldn't worry to much about bringing up the shadows, they can add >>a nice contrast to the white of the houses in the background.
I am shooting for maximum flexibility within the confines of the lighting style. For me, this accomplishes two things:
1) It gives me plenty of room to tinker with the each shot, and
2) The final product may be printed to film, so I have to keep a certain amount of detail in the shadows so they don't crush and look like huge black swaths on a theatre screen. So, if I have something going on in the shadows that I want the audience to know about, I try to keep the lighting level from dipping below 10 IRE.
Thanks for the on-going input. It really helps!
Student, Penn State Behrend
>>I have a circular polarizer; does anyone know if/how the the filters >>(polarizer and low-con) should be stacked? I can always test, but I >>would like to know your opinions as well.
I'd put the polarizer closest to the lens. I'm not sure why, I don't have a logical reason really. That's just the way I've always done it. That's also the way most matte boxes are designed (with a round pola closest to the lens).
>>I am shooting for maximum flexibility within the confines of the lighting >>style. For me, this accomplishes two things: 1) It gives me plenty of >>room to tinker with the each shot
I hope the low con works for you, you're going to need it. Just having white and black in the shot is going to flummox even a "pro" DV camera, let alone a GL2.
You're not going to have a lot of room to tinker later considering that DV is a 25 mbps heavily compressed format. Especially if you're going to film. Might be worth a test to see how far you can go. The easier way to do this might be to use dark grey suits instead.
They'll probably end up reading black anyway, but at least they'll have some detail.
Director of Photography
Film | HiDef | Video
I've always used this as a "rule of thumb" for filter stacking - darkest filters out in front, to reduce the amount of light reaching the other filters, especially the diffusions, which are more likely to flare with more light hitting them. The darkest filters protect the lightest.
Although, as you say, the matte box manufacturers sometimes have made that decision for you. If you have a round polarizer (138mm or 4.5" for example), and are using a 6.6"x6.6" (or 5"x6") matte box, round filter trays are available for the matte box, so you still might be able to mount the pola out in front of the diffusion.
With grad filters, position can affect the use of the filter - the closer to the lens a grad filter is placed, the softer the grad line will be (further out of focus). And conversely, the farther out in front, the sharper the grad line (closer to the depth of field limits) will appear.
What's a source of 138mm round trays for a 5X6 mattebox? I've got an old Ultracam Mattebox that I've manufactured mounts to attach it to my ARRI / Tobin 26ab combination and would love to be able to use 138mm filters - I've already got a pola scored cheap off eBay. Conversely, if there's someone out there lusting for an Ultracam mattebox and has something more standard to trade, make me an offer.
>>I hope the low con works for you, you're going to need it. Just having >>white and black in the shot is going to flummox even a "pro" DV >>camera, let alone a GL2.
I was already considering using light grey shirts, instead of white, and/or dark grey suits, instead of black. Taking into account what you've said, I almost certainly will do that.
>>You're not going to have a lot of room to tinker later considering that >>DV is a 25 mbps heavily compressed format. Especially if you're going >>to film.
Definitely, each shot will have to be lit with care to avoid as much tweaking in post as possible.
I have a few days until the shoot, and all your input is shaping things up well.
Doug Hart writes:
>>darkest filters out in front, to reduce the amount of light reaching the >>other filters, especially the diffusions, which are more likely to flare with >>more light hitting them. The darkest filters protect the lightest.
Unlike, say, film or digital sensors, filters are not themselves
light-sensitive. Their properties are whatever they are, regardless of light levels.
The only kind of filter I know of that IS sensitive to light levels is the type of glass used in self-darkening sunglasses.
Diffusion filters may flare more when out front because they're less shaded and therefore picking up more SIDElight, but that's a separate issue. Their distance from the lens may also affect the degree to which the diffused light rays have diverged before encountering the lens. But absolute light levels per se should have no effect whatsoever on a filter's behaviour.
>>the closer to the lens a grad filter is placed, the softer the grad line will >>be
All else being equal, that's true. And of course your DOF is a big factor with grads as well.
Marin County, CA
>>What's a source of 138mm round trays for a 5X6 mattebox?
I've only used the round filter trays that were supplied from the rental house, and now that I think of it, the rental houses made their own. I've never seen a "commercially made" one.
I don't think Arri makes these for their boxes, although they should.
I should have described them as round filter ADAPTERS for 6x6 matte boxes. Start with an aluminium plate 1/4" thick or so, and cut it to fit into the standard 6x6 or 5x6 filter tray. If you bevel the edges of this plate, the spring loaded thingy in the tray will hold it securely.
Once you have that, cut a 4.5" or 138mm hole in the center, leaving enough metal for the rim of the filter to rest on. You could get fancy and build a spring loaded thingy that will hold the round filter, or glue a thin strip of rubber around the inside of the round hole so the filter will remain snug in the adapter, or just use a couple of strips of paper tape to hold the filter in.
I would suggest finding a rental house that has them, borrow or rent one for a day, take it to a machine shop and have them copy it.
That explains why I haven't seen one in a catalogue. Thanks for the clear description of how the ones you've rented were built - I can produce a drawing from it and then get quotes from a machine shop or two.