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Learn 50's style direct lighting (4 replies and 3 comments)

Jay Young
2 months ago
Jay Young 2 months ago

Dear Roger, and Forum,

I really love the old lighting styles.  I have collected a number of texts written by cinematographers from the period of direct lighting, but I am having a hard time understanding practically what is happening. 

Hail! Caesar, was magical in its attempt to recreate the lighting style of the epic film productions, and I learned a great deal. 

Are there any other sources that describe or show how lighting was used on the large stage productions of the period?  Personally, I feel shooting at ever increasing ISO/ASA sensitivities is really hurting the practice, or ability to control light. I try to slow the camera down as much as is practical, but there is a point of going too far.  I find it quite difficult to get a real 50 or 100 ASA out of an Alexa - and having thick ND's create problems elsewhere.

If there are any thoughts on this style, please elaborate.  

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

Lighting styles have changed as cinematographers are increasingly looking for naturalism. The speed of digital cameras has, to some extent, driven that further as it is possible to shoot with 'available' light more often than it used to be. But, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Films look far more real than they ever did and cinematography has come a long way but, as you suggest, we are also missing so much.

dmullenasc
2 months ago
dmullenasc 2 months ago

Occasionally you might find yourself in a project where you have to recreate a lighting style from the past -- just last year I had to recreate exactly the lighting used on a 1959 TV broadcast of the Steve Allen Show. I also did a whole movie in that style ("The Love Witch").  So it helps to know what the technology was like at the time but also the aesthetic mindset of the people doing the lighting back then.  One reference would be John Alton's book "Painting with Light".

Here is one of the shots I did where the TV studio lighting was matched to original footage:

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MMM2_steveallen1.jpg
gabj3
2 months ago

Sir,
That image has made me really curious! Judging from the harsh shadows it just seems like one relatively large fixture almost frontal but just off to the side as the key with a little bounce off a wall or something and one above acting as a hair light. However it seems to have a different quality about it like ‘news’ lighting (which if I remember correctly is a series of multiple harsh fixtures) but judging from the shadows there doesn’t seem to be multiple fixtures?

dmullenasc
2 months ago

I was matching historical footage — the room lights dimmed and they had one follow spot on Lenny Bruce and one on Steve Allen, then when Lenny walked away from the piano, they put both follow spots on him so later he had two shadows. So I did the same. The fill that dimmed down came from Scoop lights above the TV audience heads.

dmullenasc
2 months ago
dmullenasc 2 months ago

Here is one shot from "The Love Witch", which was lit as if it were made in the 1950's/60's.  We shot on 35mm 200 ASA film which I rated at 100 ASA, requiring me to light most sets to 100 foot-candles, which helped push me into that style.

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/lovewitch_frame21.jpg
Baudelaire
2 months ago

very nice, i remember being fascinated by the stills from the love witch. great work.

dmullenasc
2 months ago
dmullenasc 2 months ago

Here’s the footage I was matching to, I didn’t match exactly for various reasons...

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/D2BD017D-5707-4570-A6AB-55A92FC9A570.jpeg
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