The American Society of Cinematographers

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As a further motion test, he also added a person walking in the opposite direction from the camera’s movement. “In some cameras, you could open the shutter to get less strobing and more blur,” explains Fierberg. “That works fine until you encounter the person walking the other way; then, the person’s head becomes a disturbing blur.” He notes that because the camera is moving at one speed and the person is walking a certain speed in the opposite direction, the blur is much more pronounced. “The bicyclist isn’t very blurred because the speed difference between him and the camera is very minor.”

The scene was shot in front-light — sunlight — but because the camera passes in front of dark shrubbery, the test showed the contrast capabilities of the cameras, too.

Night Interior: Goi

“The only parameters for this setup were that it was a night interior that had performers of varying skin color in it,” says Goi. “They left it to me to figure out what else I wanted to work into the scenario.” The scene is a living room at night, and Goi came up with the idea of having three characters — an African-American male, a Caucasian female and a Caucasian male — surrounded by boxes, as though they have just moved in. They toast each other with wine. “I specifically chose red wine because it’s particularly difficult to make it look like red wine onscreen,” notes Goi. “Often, it looks like black oil.”

Because the characters have just moved in, Goi included a bare lightbulb in the scene, which “gave me the opportunity to see if there was any streaking.” To look at values in the highlights, he began the scene with the couch covered with an off-white sheet that was slightly overexposed by the bare bulb. “When the sheet is removed, the couch is of a very different density,” he says.

Goi opens his shot with the African-American and the Caucasian woman side by side, with the same amount of light on their faces. They then cross to the couch, where Goi gives the African-American actor about another third of a stop to see what the difference would be. To also test the cameras’ abilities to separate dark values, Goi positioned the African-American on the couch so that his head would be in front of a black marble fireplace.

The Caucasian man is wearing a red T-shirt, the tone of which is very close to the color of the uncovered couch, so the test reveals how the cameras separate those close tonalities.

“There’s a lot of stuff in this test that’s very close to the edge in terms of how I’d shoot it on film,” notes Goi. “If one camera or another is more crushy, you’ll see those differences clearly.”

Inside Light, Outside Light: Leonetti

Leonetti says his scenario offers one of the most challenging assignments for a cinematographer: balancing interior and exterior lighting. “Every time I show up for a setup like that, I have to put my thinking cap on,” he remarks. The main question was whether to shoot with blue or incandescent light. Blue was chosen. “Given that information, I dreamed the shot up,” says Leonetti. “I was trying to create some contrast, some very highly illuminated, reflective pieces in the shot. In addition, the idea was to see how each camera would balance the inside and the outside, which is seen through a bay window.”

The shot begins on a hot tray of glasses in the foreground. “I put a light on the balcony and made it pretty bright so I could see how each camera would take the highlights and if it could hold the highlights,” says Leonetti. The camera then pans left, past two ungelled windows that are 4-5 stops over the f-stop for the rest of the shot. The camera continues panning until it settles on two people, an African-American man and a Caucasian woman, standing in front of the bay window. “I tried to do the balance so it wouldn’t blow out,” says Leonetti. To do that, he explains, you must either build up the inside lighting or use ND gel on the windows to darken the outside. “I chose to do a little of both. I put the camera in a place where I could hide HMIs outside, so each of those windows had a light coming through. I had two 0.3 neutral-density gels on the outside window.” For each camera, he then made a second pass, taking off one of the 0.3 gels.

Leonetti chose the exposure for the film camera, but he had
the cinematographers for each digital camera set their own f-stops. “I didn’t touch the lighting. We tried to make it look as consistent as possible. I kept reading the light to make sure the light didn’t change. That was important.”

To maintain that consistency, this test was spread over two days so that all shooting was done between 10:15 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Day Exterior: Lighthill and Toll

Although the cameras spent most of their day rotating from set to set, there were two scenarios that all cameras shot at once. This was one of them. The scene takes place in a park playground, where a number of people of varying races are throwing balls, spinning Hula-Hoops and so forth. A pale woman pushes a baby carriage through the foreground. “I’m really happy I got to do that one, because the most common thing all cinematographers have to do is take the dynamic range of a day exterior, midday or late day, and make it work,” says Lighthill. “There are different skin tones and lots of different values, so I think it will test all the media.”

The scene was shot twice, once at dusk (overseen by Toll) and the next day at midday (overseen by Lighthill). “John’s situation was quite different from mine, of course,” notes Lighthill. “He had more light coming in and long shadows. But the midday setup has almost all the challenges cinematographers typically face that are so hard to wrangle. There’s a great dynamic range between the brightest and the darkest elements in the shot.”

The Lake: Lindenlaub

The scene at the lake was also shot by all the cameras at once — at sunrise. “It’s a wide shot of the lake with the mechanical shark and a big flame explosion,” says Lindenlaub. “The information in the setup is actually quite interesting.” Behind the lake is a big hill with a lot of dark foliage, and the water and flame offer an extreme contrast range. “The shadow was under 2 stops in the dark part of waves, while part of the flame was 6-7 stops over. It will be interesting to see which cameras hold that detail.”

Lightbulb: Primes

The main purpose of this scenario was to see latitude in a very challenging situation. “These days, if you can’t shoot under low-light conditions, you’re at a competitive disadvantage,” notes Primes. He decided to start with a large close-up of a bare lightbulb. Then, a man’s face comes in and the camera dollies back, revealing a dark garage with lots of objects and detail in the background shadows. As the frame widens, the man walks over to stand behind a workbench. “We made a mark for the actor that was about 1 foot away from the bulb — he was 4 stops over incident light,” says Primes. “At the bench, he was 1 stop underexposed.” Meanwhile, the background was about 4 stops under.

Although Primes considered blacking out a window in the background, he decided instead to tent it and put a light with a blue filter there so that it would be a nice compositional element with the same tonality on every take. He also took care to ensure that the lightbulb and voltage would be the same from take to take, and the face at the same distance. “The set never changed, the voltage was brought up to a very tight tolerance, and the actor was very well-rehearsed,” he says.


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