Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lighting for High Definition (HD)

by Michael Brennan

Is it faster to light on HD
This is down to technique and communication. Nothing mysterious. There are two aspects to this. One is the use of HD monitor the other is taking advantage of greater depth of field of 2/3 inch imagers (compared to 35mm) for given amount of light

HD Monitor
Communication is faster, gaffer sees the shot sees what you are up to faster with a decent monitor. During blocking he watches. He knows what is in shot and what isn't. Point to the monitor, a slash here a flag there, you are not gesturing in space you are pointing at the picture.

The monitor empowers the gaffer. Lots of finger prints on the monitor! In frame practicals, reflections, are faster to adjust.

Dropping light sources into a scene, observing where the light falls from the cameras POV is really useful. This helps gaffers and electricians drop in cutters fingers ect.

Light measurement across the image is instantaneous. No need to use a spot meter measuring 10 different parts of the picture, as a good monitor has 1920x1080 spot meters that you see at a glance. Their are also zebras for the real enthusiast.

Communication with a director is fast. It is very easy and quick to nail a look under the black cloth. (this is particularly useful when working with a new director)

Night scenes can be shot with absolute confidence. Worried about a colour temperature of a neon or a dodgy looking fluorescent?
Worried about subject failure? Strange casts?
Bounce light in particular is great fun and fast to play with on HD. The brain doesn't need to number crunch. No estimating what colour shifts are happening, you have a ringside seat on the image plane.

Lighting continuity is a breeze if you record a few seconds of every scene on a separate tape. recalling the scene file and switch between playback and live image to swiftly compare moods and tones from one location to the next. Particularly useful if something unplanned is occurring.

Depth of Field
Greater depth of field on 2/3 inch imagers. Less light required usually equals faster setup/derig reposition.

Can use ambient light levels, say in a night exterior as a base, rather than calling in Muscos.

Bluescreen, less light for same depth of field. Do you want to light a bluescreen studio and subject to T5.6 or T2? All the subject must be sharp for blue screen

No question pack shot lighting is faster on HD. Positioning products in respect to reflections, mini bounce cards ect is a breeze with a big HD monitor a few feet from the table. Assistants look at the monitor. Greater depth of field plays a roll here too. No need to hang a 1.2 with a Chimera from a truss or goal post, use a 800 watt bug light with chimera on a right angle arm. Easy to adjust. Extreme close-ups are much easy to light/meter. Fiber optics are great for close-up work but moving them half an inch equates to a few stops if they are close to a subject. Instead of setting the light then metering your are metering while you set the light.

These are lighting techniques that have lent themselves to video and have been practised over many years on video.

DPs and gaffers without video experience may not be tuned in...

My first feature I worked with a very established Italian gaffer who had worked with the greats. He had just come off his first HD feature and was looking stressed! After a week with me he was over the moon. In his words he felt after 25 years in the business he was actually crafting the light exactly (to the 1/4 stop) the way *we* wanted it and seeing it live he felt closer to the image than he had ever been on film. I invited him into my decision making process and gave him confidence in the HD monitor.

Filmmaking is a team effort the HD monitor is a brilliant communication tool. Even a small one is useful in this respect.

It just a matter of knowing how to do it, the right approach, ideally from all departments.

If you have a generator or butterfly frame it is simply a question of more fill or go up a level of diffusion on the silk, pop in a pola, or .6 grad, ensure makeup do their job, craft the image to look good. You will only be "stuck" if you and the director have an unrealistic expectation of what the combination of set, crew equipment format grading can achieve. In the whole scheme of a production, films superior dynamic range may be more critical for some projects than others. But one of the first HD movies was shot in a snow field. Are there special video cameras for the winter Olympics?

Now the above comments are more relevant to a tightly scheduled tightly crewed production.

Bear in mind whenever I talk HD it is usually across features docs commercials, not only high budget features where the established working practices of a production crew numbering 200+ remains pretty much unaltered regardless of format.(perhaps bluescreen movies is an exception).

About the Author
Director of Photography Michael Brennan specializes in shooting High Definition and is Europe's first HD owner Operator. He is experienced in High Definition Aerial Photography using Cineflex V14 as well as using Viper Filmstream for TV and theatrical release. In 2004 he began editing High Definition Magazine Europe's bimonthly specialist publication. In 2002 he founded ClipHD the worlds first HD specialist stock footage library.

1 comment:

Julie Best said...

Hi. I know this may sound crazy, but I am a designer and I would like to use the photo of the lighting equipment that you've used in this blog post. Do you know where I can get a high res version of this artwork? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Great blog, by the way!