HOW TO FILM IN LOW LIGHT CONDITIONS

CAMERA SETTINGS

From my visit to The Ritz I learnt that it was a surprisingly dark there and definitely in the need of the a lot of light for a shoot.

APERTURE. SHUTTER SPEED. ISO.

These three pieces of vocabulary are key for any photographer or filmer that needs to tackle scenes with low light. They’re camera settings, but how can these be manipulated to get footage with a good amount of light is something I thought was wise to research and study.

Apertures

Let’s talk aperture. An aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels into the camera. The wider the hole means the larger amount of light gets in therefore creating a higher exposure and a brighter result.The hole differentiating in size can be observed to the right however, below is a diagram explaining the setting of how aperture is controlled in comparison to the f-numbers. The lens aperture is usually specified as an f-number, “the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter”. A lens typically has a set of marked “f-stops” that the f-number can be set to. A lower f-number denotes a greater aperture opening which allows more light to reach the film or image sensor. However, there is, what can be, a problem when messing around with f-numbers in that reducing the aperture size increases the depth of field, which describes the extent to which subject matter lying closer than or farther from the actual plane of focus appears to be in focus. This can be difficult to handle in that getting your subject focused can be a delicate process when shooting at a low f-number such as 1.8, 2.0 or 2.8.

Aperture_diagram.svg

Next up; shutter speed. It is the shutter speed and the aperture that determine the Exposure Value (EV). Within photography, shutter speed is fairly simple to understand; a longer shutter will allow more light but may add motion blur while a fast shutter speed can freeze motion but cuts down on the amount of light entering the camera. The confusing part is how this affects video. When we are shooting stills with action, a slow shutter speed will have motion blur and a fast shutter speed will freeze action. When we translate this concept to video, a slow shutter speed will create a smeared look to the video. If the shutter is too fast there isn’t enough motion blur to smoothly transition from frame to frame causing a stuttering effect. This is clearly and cleverly illustrated in the video below.

But what about shutter speed in relation to LIGHT. Well it’s simple. The longer the time the shutter’s open, such as if it was set to be open at 1/10 of a second, one would have a far brighter image than if it were set at, say, 1/1000 of a second, and there is indeed a big difference and so this will have to be noted and taken into consideration.

Last but not least it’s ISO. ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain.

Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds. For example an indoor sports event when you want to freeze the action in lower light. However the higher the ISO you choose the noisier shots you will get.

iso-1-tmAbove are two images shot each with a different ISO setting. The image on the left is shot at 100 ISO and the one on the right is shot at 3200 ISO and you can clearly see the difference in quality due to the abundance of grain in the right image. I’ll have to choose the right ISO wisely so that I get a bright image but keep the amount of grain to little and if not, none.

The above is all detailed in this great tutorial video by Fenchel & Janisch where I learnt to a few rules to follow by when filming at night:

Rule #1

When filming, never go higher than ISO 1600. Any higher and the image gets noisy.

Rule #2

Shutter speed should range from 1/30s to 1/50s. Higher shutter speeds may cause some lights to appear flickery.

Rule #3

Aperture should remain from F/1.2 to F/5.6.

Rule #4

Change the picture style of the camera to make no contrast.

It is said if these rules are followed, good results should follow. This research would be pointless of course if we didn’t apply it to our film opening and so hopefully if we remember these points the footage should turn out well. The tutorial video can be viewed below.

THREE POINT LIGHTING

BRIAN HALLI’m currently taking part in the British Film Institute’s programme at Lincoln University studying filmmaking and as part of this process I got chance to speak to cinematographer, joint programme leader and senior lecturer Brian Hall. I asked him about lighting a scene and discussed mine and Jannath’s short film and ways we should light the scene in the cinema and this is where I first heard about “Three Point Lighting”. By using three separate positions, the photographer can illuminate the shot’s subject (such as a person) however desired, while also controlling (or eliminating entirely) the shading and shadows produced by direct lighting.

sketch tplDuring our discussion, he drew out a quick sketch of how three point lighting would be incorporated into a filmed interview. The “<” drawn represents the camera whilst the two circles are the interviewer, who remains behind the camera, and the interviewee. The “Key light” is placed facing the subject as you can see in the sketch and can be move to create more or less shadow depending on its angle. It shines directly upon the subject and serves as its principal illuminator; more than anything else, the strength, colour and angle of the key determines the shot’s overall lighting design.

The fill light also shines on the subject but from a side angle relative to the key and is often placed at a lower position than the key (about at the level of the subject’s face). It balances the key by illuminating shaded surfaces, such as the shadow cast by a person’s nose upon the rest of the face. It is usually softer and less bright than the key light (up to half), however, not using a fill at all can result in stark contrasts (due to shadows) across the subject’s surface, depending upon the key light’s harshness.

The back light shines on the subject from behind, often (but not necessarily) to one side or the other. It gives the subject a rim of light, serving to separate the subject from the background and highlighting contours.

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Here you can see my own use of two point lighting. Notice how in this “after” photo there’s a shadow on her nose which needed to be avoided through another light.

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