Pushing light through windows

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  • #215082

      Dear Roger and all forum members,

      due to lack of experience when it comes to lighting a series of windows from the outside with serious HMI’s, I would be excited to get a little bit of insight into your experiences with it.

      Concretely speaking, in a lot of diagrams and “looking at lighting” articles by Roger when going for a natural daylight look, I see 18k’s bouncing into large 12x’s or 20x’s, usually combined with light diffusion on the windows.

      What I’m surprised by, is how different the results often seem to look.

      Sometimes, the resulting images seem still on the dark side, often the characters are in heavy silhouette, there seems to be very little bounce in the room and it’s almost just a beam of light coming through the windows. (for example in Bladerunner – Sappers Farm, Sicario – Silva’s son or Empire of light – living room scene)

      In other instances, this lighting approach seem to light up the whole inside space and there is no other light needed (Unbroken – Restaurant scene, Goldfinch – bedroom scene or Prisoners – inside scene).

      Is this only due to the design of the inside space (high or low ceilings, wall color and material, size), distance of the actors to the windows and blocking or am I missing something about different ways of “pushing” light into spaces?

      I can see how in Bladerunner for example the bounces were further away from the windows and also maybe flagged on the sides, so that it would be more of a “light tunnel” effect?

      Is it also just an exposure adjustment, since the windows are blown out anyway, that you have the choice to just open up the aputure and light up the room without changing much about the texture on the windows?

      I’m excited to hear your thoughts and experiences on this!

      Thank you all!


      empire of light




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    • #215086
      Sean Buffini

        There are a lot of factors that contribute to it,

        As you suspected, exposure plays a huge role. Also light quality, shape, intensity and many more. There are often lights or modifiers in the room accentuating the light. You’re also correct that set design plays a certain role in it (Light bouncing off of white walls vs black walls, size of the space)

        Roger Deakins

          I would not say exposure plays so much of a role as you think. In every case you refer to there is detail in the windows. In no case was I wanting the highlights to be a pure white. The nature of the light is effected by the size of the set window, which is different in every case, and the quality of the light that is being ‘punched’ through the window. A series of lamps that are wider than the window project the light to each side, whereas a source the size of the window and at a distance from it creates a ‘tunnel’ of light that falls off to the sides of the window. And, the inverse square law plays its part as well. The light I was bouncing into Sapper Morton’s was far closer than the light I used to light the restaurant in ‘Unbroken’, which meant the light fell off far more quickly and the far walls of the set were that much darker. And lastly (maybe), a heavy diffusion on the window itself will become the source and spread the light whereas a very light diffusion will allow to be constrained.

          How to light a day interior is actually quite complicated and we have not even discussed the limitations a location might bring into the equation.


            Thank you so much, Roger! Those are great insights and it all makes sense. Can’t wait to build my own experience with those setups, since I’m sure any theoretical knowledge just can’t compete with figuring these things out as you build your experience as a DP. I just haven’t had the chance yet.

            Sean Buffini

              I would not say exposure plays so much of a role as you think.

              Welp, shows how much I know! I didn’t consider you weren’t clipping the windows.

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