Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More Lighting for Directors- Chapter 2 STRATEGY

Continuing on lighting knowledge for filmmakers (not DP's)... I write this so that the Director can better communicate with his Director of Photography.

In generations past, lighting was approached through a three-point plan.  A "key" light, a "fill," and a "back" light.  You'll see this in documentary interview situations and in studio television.  But for story-telling in the narrative, or movie, lighting is approached today different.

The movement has been for a "realism" approach.  What this means is that the DP looks at the scene and determines where the natural light would come from, and then emulates that in his lighting attack.  You might ask, then, why not just use available natural light?  Because cameras, especially non-film, have needed more light than what is commonly natural to get the proper exposure.  So a whole lighting plan is created to basically copy what is there.

For instance, shooting in a room at night-- the DP might determine that there is a yellowish glow coming from the fireplace, yellow tungsten from a lamp in the corner, and blue moonlight streaming in through the window.  So he and the gaffer will use lighting instruments to recreate this.

It gets trickier when there's no natural lighting source.  The hardest is interior car scenes at night.  A few directors are heading towards shooting this the way it is naturally-- almost dark with hits from other headlights on the driver (see Michael Mann's Collateral).  What is traditionally done, is to set "dashboard" lights, usually a small Flo or LCD light on the dashboard or on the instrument panel. Also, woods on a moonless night.  At that point, real life would be shooting "radio"-- a DP's term for not seeing anything.

Bad lighting stands out when lighting is used from no discernible source.  I remember in one of my earlier movies, it's a park at night.  Problem is, we set up a big 12K, presumably a street lamp in the park, but I never established it.  Felt very forced on the lighting and it's always bugged me when I watch.

Today, with the technology constantly improving, image quality is getting better and better with lower exposures.  The Red camera has a new build that they did a promo with Leo DiCaprio-- he's in an unlighted room and illuminates himself with just the match and cigarette.  It's amazing.  Look for the trend to head this way.  Less lights, better cameras.

1 comment:

  1. The one thing that keeps me from supporting local sitcoms and dramas is flat lighting. I just can't take it seriously. Same goes for soap operas (besides the hopeless stories).
    The mistaken assumption that I have to always correct when filmmaking stuff for church is that shadows are bad, on the contrary; shadows are what give the scene depth.
    Also I love the anaolgy of good lightning can make a cheap camera look good, and bad lighting can make a good camera look cheap.