Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Window Light

I'm doing the lighting for the inside of a restaurant that has a big picture window looking out onto the street. Very common. Of course, the window light is blown out when you set exposure for the inside surroundings, esp with video.

My question: Is there anything I can do about this, beyond putting ND gels over that huge window area? I suppose one could simply put a lot more light inside. That might help some...

Rich Wells

>>>My question: Is there anything I can do about this, beyond putting ND >>gels over that huge window area? I suppose one could simply put a lot >>more light inside. That might help some...

Shoot when the exterior is backlit, or mostly in shade.

Shoot on an overcast day.

Shoot at dusk or dawn.

Cover the window with a light diffusion, like Hampshire Frost or painting drop cloths, and layer double nets behind it. The Frost should eliminate moire from the overlapping nets and you'll see something of the outside, although it'll be more stylised. (Haven't tried this trick with the layered nets but I have done it with Hampshire.)

I'd just get a compass and an almanac (or Suunto compass and Sun Where) and figure out when I could shoot out the window into shade or twilight without sun spilling into the shot through the window.

Bringing up the interior level always helps but it's usually a
combination of that plus knocking the windows down that works the best.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | HiDef | Video
Mountain View, CA, USA

RE : "My question: Is there anything I can do about this, beyond putting ND gels over that huge window area? I suppose one could simply put a lot more light inside. That might help some..."

I worked on a small shoot a couple of years ago and we had a similar problem, the window not quite as big as you describe. We flew a 20x20 double net on a frame outside of the window about 12 feet away from it and it worked just fine, the camera didn't read it and we were shooting on 35mm.

Maybe for a bigger window you could put up two 20x20's and position as to not see the frames from the camera's point of view? I don't know everything, but I know it worked for us.

Sean Smith
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

What I have been doing when budgets or schedules haven't permitted the use of ND gels is use black voile stretched tightly outside the window. This material is available in 3 meter widths from curtain fabric suppliers and helps defocus the outside as well as bring the exposure down. You have to be careful that the texture doesn't get into focus, though.

You will want to test this effect first to confirm that your camera format won't resolve the fabric's texture and see if one layer gives you enough drop in exposure (I've never measured it but I would estimate 2 to 3 stops). Otherwise you will need to double it and need to test if the additional texture and moiré between the layers registers on your camera format.

The other problem you might want to keep in mind is if you have any scene with the camera framing an open door but you would have this problem with ND gels too.

Bruce Douglas, DP
Sao Paulo, Brazil

I had posted an earlier response saying we had used a 20x20 net to solve this problem (we had a bit of a budget that was enough to rent the net and frame and mambo combos.) I was curious as to how you stretch the material you mention. Do you use a 20x20 frame on stands or did you actually stretch it across the outside of the window and staple it? What were you shooting on and how did it look? I've started shooting on a Panasonic HVX 200 HD camera and I like the look of the camera. I am curious to know how the black voile would read to that type of camera. Your suggestion sounds like a really brilliant idea for us struggling filmmakers who work other film jobs to pay the bills and our Indie film projects!

Sean Smith
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Usually we have taped the voile directly to the outside of the windows so that we can move the camera without seeing stands and frames. It makes it easier to hide the fabric joins between window panes as well.

I have used this most with Betacam SP.

I made up a net from this to use with a 6x6 frame for knocking down backgrounds in close-ups but had problems with folds showing (after being folded a couple of times in my "rag bag", the folds really show).

When I stretched the material tighter so the folds disappeared it tended to tear along the seams I stitched the ties to. However, this week I was at a location where they had put up similar material to prevent water spray from being blown in on rainy days and they used the fabric with no stitching, just tied cords on with sheet bend knots. It seemed to be holding up quite well. I'm going to try this next.

Bruce Douglas, DP
Sao Paulo, Brazil

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