Posts Tagged ‘sunlight’

Another Great iPhone App for Cinematographers

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

helios-screenshotI love my iPhone. It’s incredible to have that many resources and tools in one device. I’m always interested in learning about new apps that can increase productivity and make my life a little more organized and efficient. Last month I posted a video about Cinemek’s storyboarding application, Hitchcock. Today I wanted to post a little information about Helios. Released last April, Helios is a tool for cinematographers that will allow you to calculate the position of the sun for any given day, at any given time, at any given location around the world. This can be an incredibly useful tool for DP’s working with natural light. Let’s say you have an exterior shoot in Grand Rapids, MI next month, but it’s overcast and rainy on your location scout . With the Helios app, you can instantly calculate where the sun will be at the exact moment of your shoot. It’s a great way to keep track of the ever-changing lighting conditions when shooting outdoors.

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Video Production 101 – White Balance

Friday, February 5th, 2010

This question came to me recently:

My videos have been oddly yellowish. I read somewhere about ‘white balancing.’ I have a Sony Cybershot. Do I white balance on the camera during filming, do I do it during editing, if so where? Thank You so much for your help!

Although our eyes can’t perceive it, certain light sources give off a particular color temperature. These varying degrees of color are represented on the Kelvin scale. Tungsten bulbs burn at about 3200 degrees Kelvin, while sunlight burns at about 5600 degrees Kelvin. However, the color temperature of the sun doesn’t stay constant. It’s constantly changing as morning turns to afternoon and as afternoon turns to dusk. Our eyes can automatically compensate for this change in color temperature, but video cameras cannot. So, they need to be calibrated every time the light source changes. Otherwise, the footage can come out with an orange tint, blue tint, or even a green tint.

Calibrating a video camera to ensure correct color representation is called white balancing. Many cameras come with preset white balance settings for diffewhite-balancerent shooting situations – indoor, daylight, cloudy, etc. However, conducting a manual white balance on your camera is the best way to ensure that all colors within your scene are represented correctly. There’s a great tutorial on color temperature and white balancing here. You can also read my production tip for shooting under fluorescent lights, which pose a different set of challenges.

To white balance, turn your camera’s white balance setting to manual. Then, hold a plain, white sheet of paper in front of the camera and zoom in until the paper fills the screen (make sure you hold the paper under the light source under which you will be filming). Then (this is true of most cameras with manual white balance), press and hold your white balance button until your camera confirms that a proper white balance has been set. Then, you’re ready to shoot. Just remember to re-white balance every time you change locations and lighting setups. Read this post for tips on how to adjust your white balance to a warmer or cooler tone.

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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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