Friday, June 11, 2010

Very Basic Lighting for Directors - Chapter 1 COLOR

I'm not trying to make you a cinematographer or a gaffer, this post is for the filmmaker to have a basic understanding of some narrative lighting principles and techniques.  First, as always, let's start with some definitions.

A "Gaffer" is the person who actually lights the movie.  He reports to the DP (Director of Photography).  On some foreign sets, the term "Lighting Director" is used, but here, we call him the Gaffer.  His chief assistant is the "Best Boy."  And under them you will find Electricians. 

There are two primary types (color) of light (really lots more, but let's start here)-- tungsten and HMI... which basically means 3200 kelvins and 5600 kelvins.  Tungsten is the yellowish light that you get from your common light bulb.  HMI burns at the color temperature of the sun, which is blue compared to tungsten light.  A common amateur mistake is to mix these two types of light in a scene.

For instance, a new filmmaker showed me her movie.  Near the beginning of the movie, there's a interior car scene.  What her DP did was to light the talent with tungsten (3200), while blowing in from the car windows was sunlight (5600).  So to make the sunlight natural, the tungsten is now very yellow on the actors.  Or you can balance for the tungsten and blue light is pouring in.

Now an experienced Gaffer will sometimes break the rule of not mixing the two, but it's by design because he wants a blue hint or a yellow feel.  But as I always keep saying in the seminars, I think it's best to break a rule because you choose to, not because you're ignorant.

One cheat that is employed on a regular basis, when faced with shooting in a sunny room, but you still need lights and HMI's are out of the budget, is to gel the tungsten with a light blue gel.  This color corrects the light giving the appearance of the same color of light.

I tell all of you new directors this info, because when you choose a location, it doesn't hurt to have a basic knowledge of what the resources it might take for your lighting department to pull off your vision.

Some principles for color-- the higher the definition of your acquisition footage, the more latitude you'll have in post to color it.  So it's not a bad strategy to play it safe on the set and don't color your lights too dramatically.  You can achieve a lot in post.  Remember, blue is cold, yellow/orange is warm.  Green is sick.  (Notice this in uncorrected florescent lights).

And speaking of florescents (flows), they used to be some sickly mid-range color for the purposes of film.  But now, they have a whole line up of various colored flows and over the last fifteen years, flows have become a common way to light scenes.  The don't burn hot.  You can make really small ones to put on top of the lens to punch up an actors face.  You can bank them together to give you some pretty serious light.  They're soft light, not hard or harsh.  So you can see why many DP's are using flows more and more.

I'm sure you DP's reading this will want to correct/comment etc.  I'm just trying to give director's an overview so that they will understand what you are trying to do.

1 comment:

  1. "the higher the definition of your acquisition footage, the more latitude you'll have in post to color it." wow I did not know that.
    Do you mean that you can you can drop the blacks or raise the highlights, but still have a little more detail with higher resolutions?