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Simulating the "blue hour" in a forest. (3 replies and 2 comments)

Joseph Schweers
3 years ago
Joseph Schweers 3 years ago

Hello Roger and forum members!

I will be the DP on a feature shooting this summer and I have a scene in particular that I think will be quite challenging and would love some input.

The scene takes place shortly after sunset in a forest that has recently been burned by a forest fire. The scene is of one man alone in the woods immediately following an event that will ultimately change his life for the worse. He breaks down in the woods and attempts, but fails, to take his own life. The scene is meant to be quite intense and dark, visually representing his struggle. There will be a few wides, but almost all of the action will take place in a single static MS, with a few inserts.

I am imagining that the scene will be quite demanding of the actor, so my goal for the setup would be to light and shoot it in a way that gives the actor freedom to take his time and to really sink into the performance.

I really want to capture the look of the "blue hour", that look you get during the last little bit of available light. Because the time of day we are trying to capture is such a short window, I am considering shooting during the night and lighting the scene so we can keep a consistent look and exposure.

My original thought is to have a few pools of soft light from above, simulating clearings in the trees. One in the main area where the action is taking place, and then a few off in the background filling out the frame. Possibly achieved by bouncing lamps off of frames of ultra bounce up in the trees. I could then adjust brightness between the pools, and if shot at a shallow T stop, I think it could work…

Another factor that could be in our favour, is that in the film the forest was recently burned, so we could justify having a good amount of lingering haze which could allow us to light up the background a little more.

We won’t have a ton of equipment, but I’m certain we will have a few large frames with bounce material and access to some larger tungsten lamps, probably something in the  range of 2k-12k.

Will be shooting with a Red Epic Dragon on Zeiss Ultra Primes and aiming to keep ISO at 800.

Thank you very much for your time!

Roger Deakins
3 years ago
Roger Deakins 3 years ago

I think lighting a forest at night to make it look like dusk is a real challenge. I don't know where you will be shooting but if you had an overcast day you might just be able to create the look you want with a little extra floor lighting.

Joseph Schweers
3 years ago

Thanks for the response! Yeah I thought it might be a bit of a lofty goal. We are shooting in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. And overcast days during the summer are actually pretty rare.
Perhaps we just have to go for it and shoot during that short window. We don't have an exact location yet, but if we found a area that had more sparse trees, we could let more of the after sunset ambient light in and then add a bit more ground level if necessary. It's going to be a tough setup but I'm excited for the challenge.

3 years ago
Wouter 3 years ago

I would definitely analyse The Revenant in detail if you haven't already as there are quite a number of scenes in that film (if not virtually all of them) that are close to the look you're after, I think.. you have to take the snow into account though.

Lighting it up at night would be a challenge indeed.. you're trying to emulate the quality of the sky... depending on your widest shot.. this will be very difficult to get right or maybe even impossible given the circumstances. 

This is an image of the "after-sun", sun below the horizon:

As you can see: if you can get a piece of a clear sky in the frame to silhouette your character against it works great. If not, you're running the risk of the image turning out a bit murky.

Maybe you can play out the scene in one shot, if that is something that would work the context of the film. If that's the case you have the entire day to rehearse it. And that would give you a window to do at least 3-4 takes I think.
That's how they shot most of The Revenant, we're told. 

Scouting will be an important part of proces I imagine. And I also think you can use this "after-sun" quality of the light to give the light a little bit more shape.. Then again, if you rate the camera a bit lower, you can reduce the noise level so that you have extremely clean shadows which would allow for some softer, more flat lighting. 

Then again: this type of lighting/exposure could look amazing in a theater but horrible on consumer displays if you consider compression and all that. 

You can also create some sort of an aftersun yourself and shoot it under flat daylight. If you warm up the sun quite a bit you could cool down the image in its entirety to get that blue-hour effect.


Joseph Schweers
3 years ago

Thank you very much for the advice. We went through the storyboards for the sequence and I am confident we could get it accomplished. The plan as it stands now is to shoot the sequence in a valley on the east side of a mountain. That should give us the most ambient daylight once the sun is past the peak of the hillside.
Again, thanks for the advice and for your time!

Joseph Schweers
1 month ago
Joseph Schweers 1 month ago

Hey all, for anyone interested, I've shared two stills from how this shoot turned out. We ended up getting cloud cover as well as a little smoke from a nearby forest fire, so dusk came a little early for us which was exactly what we needed. We shot this around 4:30pm in the middle of summer.

Thank you all very much for your advice.
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