Achieving uniform color, lighting, and overall look when shooting on an amateur budget (1 reply)
Hi Roger and everyone,
I was recently watching a video explaining that it is often easier for an amateur filmmaker with little to no budget to shoot in black and white because it is very difficult to achieve a consistent color temperature and lighting style without a set or professional lighting rigs. The example that was used in the video was Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, which had a $6000 budget (although of course he had other reasons for deciding to use B&W)
I was curious if you had any advice on how an amateur or low budget filmmaker can achieve a uniform/consistent lighting temperature and style without having to resort to shooting in black and white. In your films, what steps do you take to ensure that your visual style and color stay consistent across the entire film? Thank you.
Consistency of the look requires a lot of technical knowledge, adaptability and control. I think it is more difficult than to make a pretty picture. It is an unrecognized skill because when it is well done, it is completely invisible to a profane viewer. Also, one can’t judge it from a DP’s pretty commercial or music video reel. I have worked with a DP who made great looking shots but then struggled with keeping consistency; I suspect his background as a still photographer might have been the reason.
You’re right, shooting black and white (or using heavy handed color grading) is a nuclear solution to this problem. If the film wants to be black and white, then great ; but the question of choosing lighting continuity over the appropriate look for the film is absurd of course.
At the film’s level, I find that consistency is often achieved by following certain rules. They can be subtle, for example, one may decide to not move the camera if the actors aren’t moving. Or maybe the whole film is shot at 4300K (Fincher). Or you can decide to never do over-the-shoulders but only clean singles. Or maybe you’re Christopher Doyle and want to use a hundred different camera systems and lenses -variety being still a consistent approach.
These rules emerge from the script and the director and how you translate all that into visual themes.
Then, at the scene level, you would usually start with wide angles -over which you have less control- and try to light the space to have a good overall starting point ; only then add subtle relight touches for your coverage and close-ups. It’s one method, but overall I would say that cheating lighting between camera angles is what creates inconsistencies with beginners. The more lights need to move between each shot for relighting, the more you might have consistency problems. On the contrary, keeping roughly the same lighting conditions for one scene will keep consistency automatically (although sometimes for some reason it still won’t match!… That’s where color grading comes in).
Keeping the same conditions is, of course, especially difficult to pull off when the elements are against you: imagine one of those windy days when clouds pass by very fast, or a day that starts sunny and ends cloudy but it’s the same scene. And this is not just outdoors, but also in interiors when you are using the outside light as part of your lighting. That’s why we often block the sun and relight with big sources —that sunlight is always imperfect, but will last throughout that 16 hour shoot day! The general approach is then to shoot against the sun, again start with wide shots, and use diffusion to block the sun if you decided on an overcast look. You can also shoot “sunny” and “overcast” takes to give more options in the editing.
For some reason I find British DP’s to be excellent at consistency -could it be that England’s weather honed their skills? Roger of course, but I would recommend to take a look at the work of Dick Pope on Mr.Turner, if I remember well there is an interview somewhere in which he explained he had to face a very changing weather.