Posts Tagged ‘color’

Some of the Earliest Color Motion Pictures You Will Ever See

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Sometimes you can’t appreciate how far you’ve come until you take a look at the road behind you. With the rapid advancements in film and video technology, it’s sometimes hard to believe that the motion picture industry is barely over 100 years old. I really enjoy studying history, including film history. One of the items in my collection is Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918), a DVD set of early short films. To me, it’s fascinating to watch these motion pictures to get a glimpse of people and places long since gone. Thanks to film, they are preserved forever, including the people in this 1922 Kodachrome film test. Kodachrome was Kodak’s long-standing brand of color reversal film, and (as the video’s opening title says) this footage is some of the earliest color film you will see.

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Shooting the Grocery Store

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Twice this week I have been up all night working as the DP for Filament Artists’ latest short film, entitled “Love at the Grocery Store.” The screenplay was selected as the winner of the Production Prize at the 2008 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival and will premiere at this year’s festival on September 26.

Shooting inside a grocery store has its particular set of challenges and so I wanted to pass along some things to remember if any of your projects take you inside the same environment.


Most grocery stores are lit with fluorescents, meaning that everything will be washed with a flat, even, diffused light. If the tone of your piece calls for high-contrast lighting, you might want to see if the grocery store manager will allow you to turn off the overheads, giving you more freedom to light as you see fit. If this isn’t possible and you still want to create a surreal look with high-contrast, you can always light your subject with hard, direct light, that comes from the side, creating harsh shadows. The hard light will force you to stop down your f-stop. This should darken the background, while leaving your subject properly exposed.

Since fluorescent bulbs cast an even, diffused light, your subjects can come out looking drab, flat, and uninteresting. You will need some additional light to help create more natural skin tones and make colors that pop just a little more. However, reflectors alone won’t get the job done. They just won’t provide enough reflected light underneath fluorescent bulbs. And aiming a 1Kw or 650w tungsten at your actors will create an obvious difference in color and tone.

To give your shots a warmer look under fluorescent lighting, start by using your tungsten lamps and reflectors together. Mount a large piece of white foam core onto a c-stand and then bounce light from a 1Kw lamp onto your subject. The result is a soft, diffused light that isn’t overbearing, and yet one that warms up the scene a bit more. And I always recommend a little rim lighting to help your subjects stand out more from the background.

Bear in mind that the above solution assumes that you want a natural, warm tone for your project. If the mood of your film is a bit darker and somber, then you might like the sterile, flat, “blue” tone that the existing lights create.


Shooting under fluorescent lights can affect the white balance of your shot. If not properly monitored, the lights may cause the color of your shot to drift slowly from a cool tone to a warm tone, then back again.

However, I’d advise you to look back at our previous post for a more extensive look at shooting under fluorescents. To that article let me add that using a Kino light bank will be a big help. Kino’s do use fluorescent bulbs, but unlike the bulbs installed overhead in a grocery store, these bulbs burn at a constant color temperature. This will give your shots more accurate color representation while maintaining a consistent look with the rest of the lighting in the store.

Fluorescent lights might also appear green on camera. A green tone might work well for your project if the mood is more sinister and the location of your story more urban, decayed, or threatening.

Look for the comedy, “Love at a Grocery Store” at this year’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The screening is tentatively set for 9pm at the Alabama Power Building.

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A Crash Course On Color Bars

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
SMPTE color bars

SMPTE color bars

Color bars are a necessary reference tool for anyone in video production. They help technical directors, camera operators, and editors calibrate their equipment to ensure accurate color representation and consistency across cameras and monitors. Knowing how to use them is important. A few years ago, I found a great tutorial at Video University on how to adjust your video monitor using color bars. Be sure to bookmark the article for future reference.

  1. Allow the monitor to warm up for a few minutes
  2. Dim the room lights and block any reflections on the monitor
  3. Feed color bars to the monitor either from a camera or “house bars”from your editing system
  4. Set the contrast also called “picture” to its midpoint
  5. Turn the chroma also called “color” all the way down until the color bars
    are shades of black and white

Next, you will need to adjust the brightness and the contrast of the image by using the three narrow bars at the bottom right.



Notice the three narrow bars labeled 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 on the bottom right. Adjust the brightness control until the middle (7.5 units) pluge bar is not quite visible. The lightest bar on the right (11.5 units) should be barely visible. If it’s not visible, turn the brightness up until it becomes visible.

Since 7.5 units is as dark as video gets, you should not see any difference between the left bar (3.5 units) and the middle bar (7.5 units). There should be no dividing line between these two bars. The only division you should see is between 11.5 and 7.5


The next step is to set the contrast control for a proper white level. To do so, turn the contrast all the way up. The white (100 unit) bar will bloom and flare. Now turn the contrast down until this white bar just begins to respond.


Adjust the hue of the monitor until the Yellow bar is a lemon yellow, with no shades of orange or green. Adjust the Magenta bar until you eliminate the red and the purple. If you aren’t confident in your ability to “eye-ball” these shades, consider the following:

Many professional monitors have a blue-only switch. If your monitor has one, switch it on. If your monitor does not have a blue-only switch, you can use a piece of blue lighting gel. Hold it to your eye like a viewing lens. If you see any of the red, green or yellow colors, double the blue gel over to increase the blue effect.

By using the blue-only switch or a piece of blue gel, you have removed the red and green elements of the picture. Only the blue remains. If the tint and color (also called “hue”) are correct, you should see alternating bars of equal intensity.


  1. With the blue switch on (or your blue gel in front of your eye) turn the chroma or color until the grey bar at the far left and the blue bar at the far right are of equal brightness. One trick is to match either the gray or blue bar with its sub-bar.
  2. Adjust the hue control until the cyan and magenta bars are also of equal brightness.
  3. You can also match either of them with their sub-bars. Now the four bars – gray, blue, cyan, and magenta should be of equal intensity. The yellow, green and red (which are black in the diagram) should be completely black.

You should now have a properly adjusted video monitor. However, if flesh tones don’t look right, you may need to make further adjustments to the chroma and hue.

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Shooting Great Exteriors

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Shooting exteriors can be tricky, because you have less control over the light falling onto your scene. It would be nice to have access to a one-ton grip truck with shiny boards, silks, butterflies, and HMI’s. But most often you won’t have the budget to acquire all that extra gear. Even without all the fancy grip and electric toys, you can still get some fantastic exteriors. Here’s how:

  1. Pay Attention to the Time of Day – Shooting in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky is ideal for exteriors. Conversely, shooting at mid-day when the sun is at its highest will produce nasty shadows on your subject, creating unwanted contrast. If you have to shoot the exterior of a building, scout the location first. Find out when the sun is hitting the front of the building. If the sun is at the back of the building and the front is in the shade, your shot won’t turn out very well.
  2. Invest in Lens Filters – Filters are great additions to your camera package and give you a little more control over the way your exteriors look. When placed over the lens, a filter will manipulate the light entering the camera. When shooting on cloudy days, the scene will look flat and gray. Adding a warming filter to the camera will improve skin tones and give more saturation to your colors. A definite must-have, in my opinion, is a circular polarizer filter. A polarizer has a number of different uses:
  • Increases the saturation of blue skies – You’ve probably seen video footage shot outdoors where the sky looks gray or even white. Adding a polarizer to your lens will block out the haziness of the sky and will intensify the blues, giving the sky a rich, natural look. You can rotate the polarizer to adjust the intesity of the color.
  • Reduces glare – If you’re shooting footage of a lake, river, or ocean, a polarizer will cut down on the amount of sun glare coming off the water, reducing intense highlights within the scene
  • Eliminates reflection – If you’re shooting through a window, or a car windshield, a polarizer will reduce reflection off the glass, allowing you to see through the window.
Scene without filter

Scene with polarizer filter

Top: Scene without filter, Bottom: Scene with polarizer filter. Photos from

3. Use Reflectors – Even if you can’t purchase large shiny boards or flex fills, sturdy foam core will do the trick. You can use the boards to reflect sunlight back toward your subject. Bear in mind that if you place your subject in the shade, you will have to contend with the contrast between the shaded foreground and sunlit background. If you expose for the background, your subject will be too dark. If you expose for your subject, the background will be over-exposed.

A shoot scheduled at the right time of day, coupled with a few well-placed reflectors and the utilization of lens filters will ensure great exterior footage, even with the smallest of crews.

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Production Tip: Shooting Under Flourescents

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Shooting under flourescent lights while on location can be a nightmare. First, the light emitted by the bulbs creates a very flat, even, and uninteresting scene. Second, each flourescent bulb gives off light at a different frequency, which can play nasty tricks on your camera’s CCD. For those of you who have been forced to shoot under flourescents, you may have noticed that the color of your footage will gradually shift from a cooler tone to a warmer tone, then back again. Ideally, it would be best to turn off all flourescents while on location and set up your own lights to ensure maximum control over the lighting situation. However, this isn’t always an option – especially if your shoot is more run-and-gun. So, how can you best control the lighting when using your own light kit isn’t always an option?

  1. The very first thing you want to do is set a MANUAL white balance. Don’t leave control of the color in the hands of the camera’s auto white balance function. This could make things worse and the color shift could become even more noticeable.
  2. Try using a minus green card for your white balance. Flourescent lights will add a green tint to your scene. White balancing off of a minus green card will negate that tint and give your scene a more natural look. However, I’ve noticed that some green cards when used with certain cameras will make the scene look a little too rosy. you may have to experiment here.
  3. Adjust the camera’s shutter speed to 1/120. Usually, this will sync up the camera’s shutter with the rate at which the flourescent bulbs give off light, preventing the scene from color shifting. In my experiences, this has worked well with the Canon XL-1s, Canon XL2, Panasonic DVX-100, and Panasonic HVX-200.

Those are a few tips for correcting in-camera. If you ARE able to use your own lights, here are a coupe of additional suggestions:

  1. If you are able to use your own lights, but are unable to turn off the overhead flourescents, be sure to add green gel to your lights to compensate for the green tint emitted by the flourescent bulbs. Then, after adding the gel, get a manual white balance.
  2. Invest in a Kino-Flo light bank. the flourescent bulbs in a Kino kit emit light at a constant color temperature, so you don’t have to worry about fluctuations in the color of your scene.

Following these suggestions will certainly help compensate for an unpleasant lighting situation. I would also suggest that you visit the forums at for tons of useful information on camera techniques.

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