Lighting a Coffee Shop at Night Interior

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    Scott Lancaster

      Thank you for providing such wonderful resources for filmmakers.

      I will be the cinematographer on a small short film scheduled to begin production in December.  There is a scene that takes place inside a coffee shop at night.  One location we are considering has these huge plate glass windows that look out on a city street with a neon lit bus station across and down the street.  I love being able to see the city lights and activity behind the table where the two characters would be sitting.  However, I am concerned about reflections of the camera/crew in the windows… especially on a symmetrical master shot where the camera is straight in front of the table and also on any wide shots.  My initial thought on lighting the table was to use a china ball hung over the table between the actors and the wall/window as my main source and then build from there.  Does anyone have any tips or advice on getting rid of reflections when setting up a shot like this?  How much would a polarizing filter help?  I thought about having something on the table that could block the camera from the window for the straight on 2 shot, but not sure if I could have anything large enough to do the job.  Maybe I need to look for a new location or just have the actors at a table in the middle of the space instead of against the windows.  I have attached a frame grab I took of the location last night while our director was speaking with the shop owner… (not lit or color graded, etc.)  Any advice is greatly appreciated!  

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    • #170115
      Scott Lancaster



          A polariser filter would help reduce the amount of reflections, but it won’t get rid of all of them, also be careful when using one as they reduce the exposure. I haven’t  read the script nor seen your gear list, but a china ball can spread the light source quite a lot.

          I’d consider flagging and controlling the angle of the china ball, so you’re reducing the amount of light that is hitting the walls/furniture the window is facing, resulting in less reflections on the mirror.  Maybe I’d do as you say and use a flower pot to cover the camera’s reflection and move the table/scene to the middle to build a larger depth. But again I haven’t read the script so my advice may be inappropriate.

          simon m

            How about using a small practical lamp on the tables for your main light source? Maybe augmented by a draped china ball. Also, you could rig up some black curtains/fabric opposite the windows and poke your camera through the gap.

            Roger Deakins

              It looks like you should be able to hide your reflections pretty easily in a space like that. A simple black square with a hole in it for the lens can get you out of trouble. You might find the light being in shot is more of a problem. Perhaps bouncing a lamp off the ceiling would be more forgiving and you could use a silver reflector to ‘focus’ the bounce if necessary.

              Scott Lancaster

                I had wondered about the black square possibility.  Thank you all for the suggestions.  It is very helpful.  I have been mostly in the promotional video business for years, but am starting to work on short narrative projects and I love it.  I still have much to learn.  Sir Roger, you are a gem!

                Al Duffield

                  You can also consider if the table needs to be aligned parallel to the window. Sometimes adjusting the layout of the room can get you out of tricky reflection situations.

                  I would also consider if you want to cut all the reflections. Reflections let us know there is glass there, some shots without reflections might look like they were outside

                  Mark Wuerthner

                    You might try something as simple as turning off the lights in the area that is opposite the window. In looking at the location wide shot it seems all the reflections are of the opposite wall, bar, etc. If you can’t block that off with a “duvatine wall” then keep it dark and light only the table area. Using a polarizer will knock down your exposure about 1.5 of a stop and will darken the outside street that you want to see.


                      Polarizors only kill reflections at a specific angle and besides, you generally want the exposure at night to capture low-level practical sources in the background, you don’t want to use a filter that reduces your exposure.  You have to first think of it as if there were a mirror there instead of a window, you want to be at angles to it that only reflect things that belong in the shot, so if you need light in a certain area, you work with the set dresser to get practicals where you need them.  Then when you do have to shoot more directly into the glass, and the camera & dolly is reflected, you have to hide them with black, maybe black on the wall behind them and black on the dolly or tripod, black on anything bright on the camera, cover any LED lights with black tape, crew wears black, flag the light off of them, etc. And keep in mind that you may see in reflection where your black area begins on a flat wall so it has to be done neatly unless that whole area is flagged off from light.

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