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Thread: Lighting for b/w (on the cheap?)

  1. #1

    Default Lighting for b/w (on the cheap?)

    I am considering doing something in graduated b/w (or perhaps 'monochrome' is the correct term). Film in colour, then use software to convert it.

    My dumb question today is: Can I assume that lighting for black and white is easier than for colour; and that using standard household light/lamps/torches are ok because the colours don't matter?

    (I foolishly thought that colour footage in low light on a cheap cam would convert well; and remove the ugly colour effects of the low light. I was, of course, wrong. It simply converted the ugly random colurs into lots of ugly patches. )
    In effect. I must follow the rules. I must use lights.

  2. #2

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    Hi Tim, I'm not a lighting expert buy any stretch of the imagination but I remember seeing a program on TV about lighting for b&w. What they seemed to be saying was that it's a totally different science than lighting a colour set. One thing I would recommend is if you know you want black and white then don't shoot it in colour and change it in post. I think you need to see the difference that a black and white image gives, try altering a colour photo to B&W in photoshop and look at what it does to the image.

    Some B&W images can look flat so I would recommend extra back lighting to overcome this. It really depends on the look you want. IE. If you want a high contrast film noir look make sure you light the set so you have bright areas and dark shadows.

    It's amazing how I can waffle on about something that I know nothing about.

    Hopefully Gaffer will tell you what you should really do.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Midnight Blue View Post

    Hopefully Gaffer will tell you what you should really do.
    Get Midnight to film it. What he said is right. Half the skill is in the lighting, the rest in the converting. I have only shot two black and white films (notice how I subtly slipped that in) and made the decision to shoot them both on black & white stock (one on Kodak, the other on Ilford) because in the tests I just couldn't get colour film to look "right" in monochrome.

    Sorry about that, just felt the need for a bit of trumpet blowing.

    In video (docu-dramas) where the director wanted B/W sequences I've kept the light directional, using backlights more than I normally do and it seems to have worked so far. I notice that it's the greys which seem to be the most unsatisfactory and, on set, I worked more with the b/w viewfinder than with the monitor. I found that it's important to keep the light "clean" ie your supposition that the colours don't matter didn't work for me. With a three chip camera, a strongly coloured light will only affect one or two of the chips, which causes a lack of definition when converting to monochrome.
    I remember that we ended up shooting quite high key, making sure not to overexpose the highlights, and then reducing the levels in the edit, adjusting the brightness and contrast until we got the blacks nice and dark without the highlights blowing out.

    It also depends whether you want a monochrome look or a b/w film look.

    I think that this is one of those tasks which is going to require lots of experimenting. On the Casanova doc (notice another subtle bit of self-promotion there) I spent days faffing about with the colourist, wardrobe and designer for, what amounted to a few "flashbacks". It would have been cheaper and easier, in the long run, to have shot it on B/W 16mm and telecine it!

    Even though I would have strong lighting, I would avoid a "soot and whitewash" look in the original footage. You can alway increase the contrast in post but you can't add details which aren't there.

    All in all this hasn't been a lot of help has it? :(
    Last edited by Rembrandt Rob; 04-23-2010 at 01:10 PM.

  4. #4

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    Here is an interesting video I found which you may find useful.


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    A lot of "mistakes" in that video.

    The hairlights clipped the end of the nose, making it look shiny and giving it a glowing tip. Lowering the lights a tad would have solved that. The key light was too high for my taste, giving her a large nose shadow which has the effect of (a) making her nose look bigger than it actually is and (b) occasionally touching her mouth both of which are easily avoided by lowering the light slightly. It also left her eyes in shadow when she lowered her head even slightly.

    Having a hard light as a fill, below eye height is okay providing that the talent keeps perfectly still but a soft fill would have made life a lot easier.

    Finally he claims that this looks like a shot from a 40s film, nah, sorry. Those guys were masters of their craft and this set-up didn"t get near their skills.

  6. #6

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    Thanks for pointing out the errors Gaffer. It's very useful to us novices to see a video like that and have it critiqued.

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    It's easy to criticise! It's harder to do the job.

    But, bearing in mind that the bloke is trying to sell "Hollywood Lighting" DVDs, his lighting should be perfect.

    I'm not saying that I haven't made the same mistakes, just that I don't make them when I'm showing off what I can do! If I were going to do a video presentation about lighting, like this bloke, then I would set it up and look very, very carefully to make sure that there were no nose-glows, long nose shadows, double shadows under the chin etc. etc.
    This isn't rocket science!

    I'm not saying it's awful, just that he shouldn't be selling himself as a lighting guru if he can't get it absolutely perfect in situations like this where there's no excuse.

    Edit: Hmmm, maybe we should have a VideoForums lighting weekend...? I know someone who teaches lighting.
    Last edited by Rembrandt Rob; 04-23-2010 at 04:58 PM.

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    A lighting weekend, that sounds interesting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Gaffer View Post
    Get Midnight to film it. What he said is right.
    Annoying, isn't he? Admits he knows nothing but gets it right

    It goes to show really how much of filming is really a case of thinking things through logically and I'm sure Midnight learnt more about this subject by doing this than I did by simply reading his conclusions.

    And yet there's always so much more to learn as you, Gaffer, have shown in your follow-up post to the "Hollywood Lighting DVD" clip.
    Tim

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by TimStannard View Post
    Annoying, isn't he? Admits he knows nothing but gets it right
    Ha Ha. You don't know how much that made my day.

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