The Importance of Being Well Lit

Last weekend (Update: a few years ago now.), we drove down to the country side in Ontario, on the border of Quebec, to film some scenes that needed to look somewhat medieval (for a fundraiser/trailer and for the geek programmer web series We had no problem for our day scenes, not even any shadow off-setting the sun to worry about. It was cloudy, so the light was consistent everywhere, at all times. All that was needed to do was lower the exposure on the camera. However, there was a scene at night, and given that we had no LED spotlights that are good to light up an exterior night shot, it required some problem solving.

With a proper budget, one should pay for the rental of proper lighting equipment as well as someone who knows how to light up a scene at night. Usually it’s the Director of Photography who figures out how to light up a scene. The lighting technician is the expert in making it happen, often also the DOP or working in collaboration with the DOP. But mostly, the DOP is usually the Cinematographer, coming up with all the shots and angles. However, sometimes, one can do cinematography and not be a DOP, knowing the basics, but exterior night shots are a whole other story.

However, we came up with a “decent” solution. Note to self: rent LED lights next time. Colour correcting a night shot, even with exposure raised, can make the image too grainy and we risk losing image quality otherwise.

The scene in question required the character, wearing a black cape, to stand behind a camp fire. I think you’ve all identified the problem here and it doesn’t take an expert to know we have a problem. Fire alone was not enough to light up the scene. So we all put on our thinking caps.

We had one car and one truck, both with high beams on, placed behind the scene, off screen, slightly in diagonal, lighting up the background a bit. Not so much the trees up above, but mainly some grass to give some depth to the scene.  It could barely be seen in the shot, but without those high beams on, the shot looked dead; you could say it was a not-noticed-if-there but noticed-that-it’s-not-there-if-not-there situation. We had another car, behind the camera, also with its high beams on, and luckily there was a hill, so it was at a low angle, lighting up the scene. As for the fire, we fed it and fed it, and fed it. It was at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet high, sometimes higher right after feeding it more logs. We made sure it was blazing. And we got the character real close to the fire, basically as close as possible without risking that the cape catch fire.

The result? Better than if we had not set things up as we had, but not as good as if we would have had proper lighting. Hence: Not enough lighting to show a proper result on screen. Advice: Have proper lighting on set, because colour-correcting of a black cape in a night shot makes the image quality still too poor. Conclusion: With minor colour-correction adjustments, having the face seem to appear out of nowhere gives a cool effect and a better result given the circumstances.  It’s not terrible, it’s not the worst, despite everything.

You may have a look for yourself below at the different colour-corrected “tests”.


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