One of the technical problems I experienced during the filming of Assignment 3 was with the over-exposure of the large kitchen window in many of the shots. Most of the actors were standing inside the kitchen and so I made a choice to expose for the interior so that it was possible to see the expressions on the actors’ faces. However, this meant that the window was seriously over-exposed.
If the window had been discretely small and to one side, it probably would have been acceptable but instead it was right in the middle of my frame. I needed the window to be in the shot because in one of the last shots it becomes an important component in the narrative (a physical separator between people).
To try to mitigate the over-exposure, I had lights to brighten up the interior. At first I tried soft boxes but they were not bright enough so I changed to spotlights. The spotlights worked, however for one of the actors, when filmed close-up, the spotlights were visible in the reflection in his glasses. Nonetheless, even with the interior lighting, I still ended up with a blown out window.
Noam Kroll, a Los Angeles-based film-maker and colourist wrote about this issue in his blog. Noam ends up doing a lot of colour grading where the major problem is under-exposed film because the cameraperson exposed for the highlights. The problem then becomes a loss of detail in the shadows.
Noam’s view on the choices that have to be made is that it is better to over-expose the highlight than under-expose the actors/interior detail. His reasoning is that if you have under-exposed your actors, the only way to correct in post is to raise the shadows and mid-tones and this will end up making the shot grainy. If the shot has been over-exposed you can bring down the highlights in post. He does caution however that this only works with some cameras.
Noam provided a great example of his own work where he over-exposed with a Black Magic Cinema Camera and then corrected in post, which can be viewed through the link below.
Finally, his suggestions for dealing with this problem were:
- Accept that there will be some over-exposure in some parts of your film. This is true of even major feature films.
- Light the interior adequately so that the highlights don’t blow out but if there is still a problem use colour gels on the highlight areas.
I wanted to try to recreate one of the shots from my assignment for the exclusive purpose of trying to get a better exposure on the window. Since I didn’t have any colour gels, I looked elsewhere for potential solutions.
In David Landau’s book Lighting for Cinematography (2015:130), he suggests that where possible, to lower the amount of light coming through the window by putting “card over the lower half of the window, or tape diffusion or black cloth over the window”. Clearly this would work if the window was closed and there was no need to see outside of it.
Landau (2015:65) also suggests that predawn and sunset are good times to film when the sunlight is not so intense. He also gave me a potential solution to my exposure problem by stating that “plan on shooting when there is no direct sunlight coming through the window, and when what is seen outside the window is in the shade for the longest time.”
Taking the above advice, I waited until eight in the evening on a day when there was a bit of cloud cover and I could see the outside clearly through the window. I then used all the lighting I had available to me to light the kitchen – this included full opening shutters and curtains, putting on all the normal kitchen and living room lights and using all three studio lights (spotlights). I then replicated one of the shots from the assignment. As before, I exposed for the interior. The result was a big improvement on my assignment shot which was done at midday with full sunlight on the window side of the house.
The result is below, the first part of the video is the original shot and the second is the experiment – clearly my actors aren’t ‘acting’ – but I did want people in the key positions to see how well-lit their faces are and be able to compare it to the original shot.
Overall, the experiment is a definite improvement as you can see some detail out the window. At the same time, the actors’ faces are well lit. At the end of the shot, the window does become a bit over-exposed but is still acceptable.
Although I am not able to re-take the shot for my assignment as the same actors are not available, I do feel that I have managed to make some progress with dealing with over-exposed parts of a shot (the window) and will have a better plan for dealing with it in the future.
Landau, D. (2015) Lighting of Cinematography. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
http://noamkroll.com/cinematography-rant-why-protecting-your-highlights-is-killing-your-footage/ Accessed on 20/07/2016.