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Camera Tests for upcoming short film

Linked here is my test footage using a BMCC RAW and a Tokina ATX AF 16-28mm f/2.8. I'm shooting in low light conditions, and it the film needs to be this dark—but this test footage seems too grainy, not enough clarity, and not much depth of field wide open.

Should I be looking into renting different lenses to achieve this, or should I go ahead and rent a Sony AF100 or a camera known for low light strength?

https://vimeo.com/102539035
 
I'm shooting in low light conditions, and it the film needs to be this dark—but this test footage seems too grainy, not enough clarity, and not much depth of field wide open.

Should I be looking into renting different lenses to achieve this, or should I go ahead and rent a Sony AF100 or a camera known for low light strength?

You need to look into properly lighting your set. It doesn't matter how many K's your camera shoots at, or what lenses you use, or how many ISOs a camera hack can boost; a poorly-lit set will always look terrible.

There are plenty of films which are "dark". They are still lit properly, no matter the illusion that they are not.
 
Steve nails it.

Without proper lighting the scene looks flat and uninteresting. You can take a properly exposed and lit scene and make it look very dark, but you can't take an underexposed and poorly scene and make it look good.
 
I agree with Steve, the set needs to be lit properly in order to get the results you're looking for. To me it looks like you just boosted the ISO way, way high and used the already available light. It looks super grainy, like even more grainy than my 550D at ISO 3200 (which could likely capture the same amount of light gathered here with similar or slightly more grain than your footage). I personally think that for a candlelight/low light scene to "work" you have to light your subject for every shot while making sure not to illuminate anything in the background so it remains very low key in the places it's supposed to be dark, and high key only on places that the viewer is supposed to focus. If all of your lighting resides somewhere in the middle between dark and light (instead of having a dynamic range of low and high key light) it ends up looking boring and yes, grainy.
 
Thanks - sounds like a consensus. We actually lit the scene starting from darkness.

I suppose I was thinking that there are some Vimeo low light tests lately that are achieving the look from available light by simply capturing the low light that is there, esspecially with the GH4, A7S, etc. Here's a test of closeups I did with a GH2 and Zeiss 85mm. https://vimeo.com/100344029 - this is much closer to what I'm after, but I want this look on wide shots as well.
 
I actually don't think it looks poorly lit. I like the look and it does look a bit grainy but it gives it more or less filmic look so..depends on the look you're going for I guess.


Take a shot every time I said look.
 
Some of your test shots are a little flat for my taste, but in the ones that look good you have at least a key light (the candle) providing some depth and focusing the eye on a particular part of the frame. When the whole frame is dark (or when the only lit areas are away from where you want the eye to be) the viewer has no idea where he is supposed to look so nothing grabs his attention. As you note, this is requires a lot more thought and generally a lot more lights, in a wide shot.
 
Didn't spend a ton of time looking for good examples, but found this one right off the bat. A "Dark" scene from Django Unchained.

Django-Unchained.jpg


Note the depth, the gradation of the light, the key on the JF's face.
That bright overhead (which QT loves) is totally unrealistic, but it sure looks good.
 
I don't want to say you didn't light, cause you're clearly using practicals and they do give a nice touch. That being said, like everyone said, there is just not enough light here. Out of curiosity, what ISO are you shooting at? If you did everything like you did, but add a soft diffused on-camera light, I bet it would give you the look. Let your practicals at least justify your highlights after that.
 
Use a light meter! What aperture, ISO etc were you shooting at? No good using lights, if your light's output isn't strong enough to get you the exposure you need.

Your lens looks pretty soft, which doesn't help, though not being wide open would also help that.
 
We shot DNG RAW, but I think it was 1600 by the time it looked usable. Then plenty of grain, too much for me. I assume the camera operator was wide open at 2.8, but I'll ask him.
 
Your practicals are blowing out, which means you've got plenty of room to add ambient light and still achieve the look you're going for. If you can raise the lighting in the shadows up 2-3 stops it should bring them up out of the noise; you can always push the shadows back down as far as you like in the grade, although you may not need to if you bring the exposure down in camera.
 
You did some nice stuff with the candles on the steps and such in the walking test. In the girl reading test there wasn't much definition in the background. Everything in lighting should be to support the scene - the emotional moment and the story being told. Just because it might be cool to shoot under candle light doesn't mean its perfect for the moment. That is something you'll need to decide. So maybe that's what is called for.

What seems to be missing from both tests is what we call the white reference. Usually when lighting a scene that is to be perceived by the viewer as dark, we add a bright white light reference somewhere - either a headlight or a light bulb or a light from inside a window - something over exposed that the viewer will subliminally interpret as being "normal brightness". This gives the illusion to the viewer that their eyes have dilated and they are looking into the dark. This white reference doesn't have to be in every angle or shot, but it usually appears in the beginning of the scene - helping to set the time/place and mood.

Also remember that when we light we think about the three planes of cinematography - foreground, acting area and background. often we light these separately - thus allowing us control over our contrast ratios and making the viewer look where we want them to - selective focus is part of lighting.

I'd say you're almost there. Just make sure the lighting fits each scene's emotional moment and supports the story.

Shameless plug below - I wrote a whole chapter about lighting for night scenes in my new book "Lighting for Cinematography" (available on Amazon), so if lighting is something you are interested in learning more about, check it out.

Good luck with your shoot.
 
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