Monday, 21 July 2014

It's Too Dark: Lighting

The actual angling of light is equally as important as the positioning of the fixtures, as with lighting the hallway, and the intensity of light that is used, as with balancing indoor light with outdoor light.

Lighting is important - ignore this at your own peril!

This post comes from a highly regarded dissertation length reflection piece I wrote for the Planning and Making a Film module I undertook in the penultimate year of my BA (Hons). The module's practice was undertaken between October 2011 to June 2012 and it provided me with a hugely enriching experience. For a more detailed overview of the module and the projects I undertook as a part of it, see Planning and Making a Film: The student filmmaking experience.

Tish's inspiration for the visual style for the film had been Neil Gaiman's short film Statuesque.

The Intention, like the house scenes in Statuesque, was to give One Door Opened a very naturalistic and everyday visual feel. Therefore, the imperative was to construct a lighting set-up that would adequately fulfill that brief and, like natural lighting, not be something that the spectator would notice in the finished film. 

Ultimately, it proved a good job to have lighting because the house itself was not very well lit by natural light. The living room was in the middle of the house and its only source of natural light came through a small door that went into the kitchen.

Due to the conservatory, the kitchen was also cut off from direct natural light.

Lighting the hallway, at first, seemed impossible because it’s just a tight corridor begging one question: where can I you put the lights without them being in shot?

On the first day of shooting, my solution had been to put the soft box upstairs and angle it down onto the wall beside the stairs so that the light would bounce into the hallway. Basically, this did nothing to increase the light level! This is why all the hallway shots filmed on the first day were originally very orange, because we ended up using the household lights.

A screen capture from the originally shot footage.

However, that night I had look through The Filmmaker’s Handbook and rethought how I could light the corridor. What I came up with was to install two spots on the landing upstairs…

…and then bounce the light of the wall so it flooded into corridor. I also put blue filters over the spots so that it would look like daylight was streaming in through a window upstairs. To boost the light even more I placed a third spot, again with a blue filter, just below the camera and angled it up at the ceiling so that the light would bounce off onto the corridor. Finally I placed the soft box fixture in the conservatory and had it shining through the kitchen window as a back light.

This more elaborate set-up accounts for the higher quality hallway shots from the second day.

A screen capture from the film.

However, not all the hallway shots from the second day were to this quality and one example is towards the end of film.

A screen capture from the film.

As can be seen, the doorway is incredibly overexposed and that is because the exposure setting on the camera had been set for how dark it was inside; not how light it was outside. In hindsight, the way I could have fixed this would have been to inject more light into the hallway. This would have ensured that the light levels inside the house were close to the light levels outside the house; as The Filmmaker’s Handbook says: "Most natural and available light situations have a range of brightness that exceeds the film or video camera's ability to capture it. Often, lighting is needed to make shadows less dark, or highlights less bright." By doing this we would have been able to adjust the exposure setting according to the light levels outside; while not leaving the hall way under exposed.

One of the deleted scenes has Amelia on the phone to Richard in the kitchen. This scene we ended up shooting in the evening; even though it takes place during the day. Therefore, I had to light the kitchen to make it look like it was daytime.

A screen capture from a deleted scene.

The way I went about doing this was by shinning the soft box through the kitchen window…

…and then bouncing the light of the three spots, with their blue filters, off the ceiling of the kitchen.

At best, though, all I’ve managed to do is make it look like the kitchen has a very powerful ceiling bulb; with just a hint that the sun is rising outside. 

As The Filmmaker’s Handbook says: "the vertical angle of light - that is, the height from which it strikes the subject. Top Light, which shines down from directly above the subject, can make deep shadows in the eye sockets." Already then, the angling of the spots up at the kitchen ceiling was a mistake and, in hindsight, I should have probably shined these through the window with the soft box. This has shown me that the actual angling of light is equally as important as the positioning of the fixtures, as with lighting the hallway, and the intensity of light that is used, as with balancing indoor light with outdoor light.

When it was agreed that I would do the lighting, as Taylor was unable to attend any of the lighting demonstrations, I said to myself that I was going to try and do the best job I could. In addition to attending two lighting demonstrations, I went through the lighting section in The Filmmaker’s Handbook and marked out a number of points. I also had it with me on set so that I could reference it. I am glad that I did this because I know I hadn’t the lighting would have look like a botched job!

While I did enjoy providing the lighting, it would have been useful to have had an assistant as operating the lights, moving the lights, adjusting the lights, ensuring the lights aren't setting fire to anything, checking that they haven’t fallen over and having everyone wait around while you set them up is unbelievably tiring - I had a splitting headache by the end of the first day.

Also, The Filmmaker’s Handbook claims that: "On feature films, lighting is usually top priority", however, with our film this was not the case and I feel that, with the house being badly lit, this needed to be the case. Before production Tish had provided me with some photos but it would have helped to have actually gone to the house beforehand. That way I could have properly work out where the camera would be and, therefore, where I could put the lighting in order to adequately light a shot. Instead of having to arrange the lighting set-ups on the spot as soon as Tish told what the next shot was going to be. This proved both stressful and, at points, caused the rest of the cast and crew to have to wait for me to finish working out how best to light a shot. Again, a storyboard would have assisted here. 

Overall, though, I am glad we used lighting because a good lighting set up adds a professional quality to any film. In terms of how well our naturalistic style lives up to that of Statuesque judge for yourself:

The lighting in One Door Opened does not have exactly the same colour pallet of Statuesque. Statuesque has more a golden, nostalgic feel; whereas One Door Opened has a more sunny, wintery feel. However, I do think the amount of extra light that has been injected into some of our shots is believable, in that, on a very sunny day you could expect that amount of light to filter into the house. 

Whether or not the Director of Photography has used lighting in the house scenes of Statuesque I don’t know, it certainly doesn’t look like it. The end credits does list a Telecine Colourist so maybe they have just used natural light and colour graded it later. Regardless, though, I am confident that in some of our shots I have managed to mimic the same amount of natural light and have supplied an everyday look, if not the same colour pallet.

Next: Bringing it all together: Editing

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