May 31, 2013

Know Light. Colour temperature. What it is and how to use it.

Why do my photos sometimes have an horrible blue or orange cast? What does that K stand for on my digital camera? If you are asking  these questions you probably should want to know about Colour Temperature. So let's get to it!

Light is an electro-magnetic radiation which carries energy; one of it characteristic is frequency which is translated by our brain in colour. Different frequencies produce different colours. The higher the frequency is, the higher the energy and bluer the colour. Colour temperature is the scale on which this energy is measured and unit measure is the Kelvin degree (K). The colour temperature depends on the heating temperature of a metallic incandescent light, from red, which needs the lowest temperature, through the orange, white and up to blue (highest temperature).

Normal daylight has a temperature of 5500K and we associate it with white light; a lower temperature energy measures, for example, 2000K so the light will be red; on the other hand if the temperature of the energy goes higher than 5500K, the light will turn blue. 
This is what you need to remember in spite of the confusion common terminology may cause by referring to red or orange light as warm and to blue light as cold (because it is not related to the temperature but to the psychological effect of the colours).

Why should you know this? to avoid a colour cast when taking picture in certain conditions. If you are using a daylight balance film or the sunny setting in a digital camera you will be correctly shooting  coloured images at 5500K, typical of a midday sunlight or a flash. If the colour temperature rises (or lowers) and you not balance accordingly, your images will have a blue cast (or a orange one): when taking pictures during an overcast day, for instance, your images will turn out with a bluish tone; when taking pictures inside a house or a restaurant they will be reddish. 

To avoid this you need to white balance your camera, if you are shooting digital, by changing the setting accordingly (from the sunny setting to the cloud one, for example), or manually choosing the colour temperature in kelvin degrees, or as well doing a personalized white balance photographing a white paper or using an expo-disc. If you are a film camera user using a daylight balanced film, you can remove the colour cast by using filters: 81 and 85 series will remove blue tones, 82 and 85 series will remove orange tones.

But you do not always want to remove a colour tone. One of the function of the light, and in my opinion the most important, is to create a mood to enhance the message of the image: would you correct the orange and red tones in a picture of a sunset ? Therefore you can create a warm and familiar feeling by adding orange tones, while blue cast is related to feelings of cold and distance. The use of psychological effects of the colours is another very interesting theme which we will discuss in next posts. stay tuned!

May 29, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann

This week I've seen The Great Gatsby, a film by Baz Luhrmann, the director of Mouline Rouge!, Australia and Romeo + Juliet. It was the opening of last Cannes Film Festival, screening that divided critics and audience.

The Plot. An(other) adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel where a wannabe writer is attracted from the life of his mysterious rich neighbour, Jay Gatsby, finding himself helping him out with his obsessions and discovering the reasons of his eccentricity.

Cinematography: Simon Duggan
Camera: Red Epic
Lenses: Zeiss Ultra Prime
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: Redcode RAW
Film Stock: -

Simon Duggan is a New Zealander cinematographer known for Knowing, I Robot, Live Free or Die Hard and Underworld: Evolution, so I wasn't expecting at all a realistic light work. Along with the Red Epic, he chose Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses to shoot the film, not because of their wide aperture (ƒ1.9, which he didn't quite use apart for a pair of shots) but because of the excellent quality image they can record having thus a very low weight, characteristics very suitable for 3D rigs.
Definitely, Baz Luhrmann had Mouline Rouge! in mind while shooting The Great Gatsby: it is visually a "circus" as the first one was and the two films have in commons lots of shot types. Duggan's cinematography goes along with it helping the director's vision.  Camera never stands still in the first half of the movie: dollys, pans, cranes... the camera is moved in every direction with all the possible means, employed for creating a vertiginous sense of rhythm rather than highlighting the agitation of the characters in frame.

Duggan uses a quite theatrical light, especially during the first half: it is never justified, most of the time coming from above and with a very strong rim light even in interiors with a sunlit window in frame. But this may be a bit excessive and only is understandable when we are introduced into Gatsby's castle, the heart of the circus.

Another trick Duggan employed to achieve the wanted theatrical effect is how he illuminated the characters compared to the background: the main actors just pop out from the scene as they had a spot light following them everywhere, even outdoor and in night shots (in which we always feel the presence of strong artificial HMI light), so that characters are bright while everything else of the scene falls into darkness. This is sometimes emphasized by the dress style: main actors in colourful dresses among a multitude wearing greyish and dark clothes. Colours play an important part in the theatrical vision as well as in cinematography itself (Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses are the perfect choice for their colour reproduction): we experiment a kaleidoscopic carnival of colours throughout the film, right till  its denouement, where they disappear along with Gatsby's dreams.

Another interesting use of light Duggan made is how he illuminated the character of Daisy. ‹‹Doesn't she seem to illuminate it all?›› says Gatsby and so is the impression the spectator has, since her very first appearance. She is lit with a soft light like everybody else, but she is far luminous. There's no shadow in her face nor the 1:2 contrast normally employed for other actors and she is always at least a stop brighter then everyone else, in the way Hollywood industry used to light its stars, like Greta Garbo, to make them stand out.
All of the above aspects, though, are softened in the last quarter of the film, accordingly to to the development of events and characters, who leave the theatrical-style-of-life for more intimate situations.

Some continuity errors, the use of diffusion filters when Gatsby remembers his past (diffusion filters were the only way to shoot remembrances till some years ago, I guess Duggan employed them because the story is set in the 20ies, but the whole movie has a little to do with those years) and some close up shots that are too hard (because of the extreme sharpness of the Zeiss lenses)  are the negative aspects of his cinematography that serves really well a film that doesn't  offer much more than 2:30 hours of fair entertainment.

May 27, 2013

How I did it. Shooting a music video with "lens whacking" effect

Are You familiar with the technique of lens whacking? Here's a music video shot few months ago where I used this effect:

Dies de Pluja (Official) - No Tinc Nòvia

Whacking lens technique is an effect that allows you to get light leaks and different focal planes by which only a small area of the frame is focused.  The way to achieve this effect is not attaching the lens to the camera. Normally the light reaches the sensor, or the film, trough the lens which leads it and distributes it all over the sensible surface. When the lens is not attached some light will enter through the open spaces between the camera and the lens causing light leaks. The bigger they are, the more light will enter. 

Also the light leak will move across the frame if the lens is rotated and moved back and forward. If you tilt the lens then you'll add another effect, typical of tilt-shift lenses: the focal plane changes so it is not the same of the sensor or the film but swerved of some degrees; this means that only one part of the image will be in focus.

Light leak. Frame from the video
The lens whacking effect creates very interesting, cool and different images, adding a natural retro look and allows you to connect with the camera and be very creative. It works perfectly well to edit together two different shots if you play with the amount of light hitting the sensor. You have to bear in mind that light leaks produce low saturated images and flatten the contrast and, if you really concerned about the sensor and its cleanness, don't even think about using this technique, because it will get loads of dirt!
I used the lens whacking technique in this low budget music video for a simple reason: the lyrics deal with the great effort you need in life to carry on trough adversities, so the atmosphere the words recall is quite sad and melancholic; the title says it all: "dies de pluja" is Catalan for raining days. But the authors wanted this video to be positive and give an optimistic message. I decided to do this with light: light is life and it should have been everywhere throughout the video, becoming one more character of it. So I constantly looked for flares, trough the lens whacking technique and by not flagging lights in the scene allowing light spills into the lens. I also used the soft orange tone to achieve this purpose and add a sense of calm and serenity to the whole video.

May 24, 2013

Knowing Light. Natural light. How to use it in photography

Natural light is the most powerful and highest quality light we have to photograph yet it is the less controllable. It is normally divided into good light and bad light; this division is normally made by bad or inexpert photographers. There`s no such thing as bad light: light is always good, it's up to you to make the best use of it. Light has two functions: making possible the chemical or electronic process of recording an image on a film or a digital sensor and, which is most important, creating a mood to communicate something. So we should talk about adequate or not adequate light (for example, don't shoot a very romantic scene at noon in summer).

As the sun moves throughout the day the light changes its characteristics as its qualities depends on more factors: the quality of the air, the presence of clouds, the pollution and the soil. The early morning offers a very good bright light because the air is neat and clear, there`s lot of contrast and pronounced shadows. The afternoon light is similar but the air is not that clean so light isn't as bright as it is in the morning. As the sunset is approaching the light will turn in a very short period of time from white to pinky end then to a varieties of orange and red tones. This is the golden light

First minutes of sunset (Kodak Portra)
On the other side of the sun the sky will be deep blue and when the sun disappear the blue tone of the light will take over. You have to bear this in mind if you are a film camera user or you are photographing a subject lit from the orange tones of the dusking sun on one side and the blue cast of the sky from the opposite. 

Last minutes of sunset (KodalPortra)
At midday the sun is at its highest point: the colours are more saturated, the skin tone is brighter and shadows are very visible and defined (think about the ugly shadow below the nose or the eyes). Solutions? The sun will be always positioned in the south (in the northern hemisphere) so it is as easy as changing the relative positions with it, for example having the model with the back at the sun if you are doing portraits. Of course you could fill the shadows with artificial light like a flash, or bouncing the light into the subject with a reflector. Another solution would be finding some shadows and positioning there the model thus the image will result flat and less dramatic. 
Same subject at sunrise (KodakPortra)

It is the same situation of an overcast day: the clouds are like a huge soft-box, diffusing  light, lowering contrast, flatting  colours but eliminating shadows and enhancing details. But natural light is not the one which comes directly from the sun, it can be reflected from the sky for example. This is what they call the north light (or the south light, depending on in which part of the globe you are reading this blog), a soft and delicate shadow free light.   

Land can work as a reflector too: think of the snow in a mountain or the wet sand of a beach in low tide.   
Other things to remember when shooting with natural light are haze and rain. The first one  makes lines and forms fade out; you need a skyline filter or polarize to get rid of it or, if you are shooting on black and white, a yellow filter. The rain will help with the saturation: it clears the atmosphere so, after raining, colours will look brighter.

You now have all what you need to master natural light so go out there and start practising!

May 22, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the Cinematography of Tomboy by Céline Sciamma

This week I've seen Tomboy, a film written and directed by Céline Sciamma, which finally arrives to cinemas two years after the première in France. It's a little gem of the independent film industry shot in only 20 days with a crew of 14 people (!!!).

The plot. A 10 year old girl moves with her family to a new neighbourhood. Because of her look she is mistaken for a boy and she goes along with it. But the lie can't last forever. The film focus on the transgender identity problem following the main character experiences and difficulties in the relationship with her new friends.

Cinematography: Crystel Fournier
Camera: Canon Eos 7D
Lenses: Zeiss
Aspect ratio:1.85:1
Format: mov
Film Stock: -

Crystel Fournier chose a Canon Eos 7D to shoot Tomboy. I'm not sure if that choice was made for aesthetic reasons  rather than for budget ones. We have to remember that the movie was shot in a very short period of time and with a super reduced crew, the one you normally employ for the making of a music video. Furthermore the 7D was announced less than one year before the shooting and Black Swan had just been partly shot with this camera. Anyway, Fournier tried to make the best use of it.

The first thing we notice is that the image is not that hard as a DSLR camera normally records it: he added some kind of diffusion, probably using the old trick of the stockings in front of the lenses. The look Fournier created works well with the story: a warm tone creates a sense of proximity between the character and the viewer, the style he moves the camera with reminds the one of a docu film, the camera is always placed at the children height, helping with the connections with the characters, lights always illuminate from the top, a set-up that adds realism to the film, even if in some scenes the rim lighting (which endows volume to subjects separating them from the background) is not as subtle as it should be, breaking the atmosphere of reality.

The low budget is strongly noticed with the light employed. The luminance of indoor scenes, where fluorescent light banks have been used, is very low, forcing Fournier to shoot with very big apertures which create a deep of field too much shallow, an aesthetic that became very fashionable after the first video recording DSLRs  were launched, but it definitely does not always help cinematography. In Tomboy it ruins the sense of realism declared by the chosen style. It is more evident in the external locations where Fournier keeps the aperture wide open and rarely closes it even with harsh light. The shallow depth of field also caused some focus problems to the focus puller. 
The lack of  latitude of the 7D is well compensated by Fournier who always diffused the sun light to reduce the contrast and taking the most from the Eos sensor ( in these scenes we find the best looking images of the film) even though when he had to shoot in full sunlight the sensor shows its limitations and some areas of the frame are blown,  which not always goes with the mood of the scene.
Fournier doesn't give up side dolly movements in his cinematography, causing rolling shutter problem, typical of a DSLR CMOS sensor; but, for once, the wide open aperture helped him: the blurred backgrounds made the rolling shutter less noticeable.

Tomboy is a well directed and impressive film, its cinematography could have been better but surely low budget problems didn't help. Considered this and the fact it was shot in solely 20 days and with children (which is not easy), it is a film worth watching and enjoying.

May 20, 2013

How I did it. Artistic nude colour portrait. A light diagram

When I made this portrait I had in mind some Flemish paintings in which the light is just on the subject, leaving the surroundings in almost complete darkness creating a strong sense of mystery. I had no doubts on how to position lights, but the problem was that I wanted this portrait to look like a painting. With a digital camera I would have add some kind of texture in the editing. but how could I do it with a film camera?

Kodak Portra 400 f4 t1/250

The picture was taken on Kodak Portra 400 with a medium Format camera which was positioned in front of the model at her height. I chose a 80mm lens because I wanted the proportions to be as natural as possible. I used just a key light on the right side of the camera, almost at one side of the model and slightly tilted down. By this I would have manage to recreate the atmosphere I was looking for and, by using just one light, I also achieved the "sfumato" I was after.

I also added a background light: it's on the left side and pointing far away from the framed background so that just the fall-off would enter the picture. By that I added depth to the image, thus maintaining my sfumato. I corrected the background light with a blue filter  to add contrast with the orange tones of the model's skin.

To create the painting look I knew that using a shallow depth of field would have helped me. Shooting at f2.8 would have been a bit too much, so I set the aperture at f4. The 500w flash was at 1/4 of its power  and the shutter speed was at t1/250 but the exposure metering was not the one I wanted. 
I could have changed the shutter speed at t1/500 (I can do that with my camera without flash sync problems) but I would have only gained one stop: I needed more. So I used a 0,6 ND, a neutral density filter which stops down 2 diaphragms.

To add e sense of ethereal and help with the sfumato I left the model slightly out of focus (soft focus). But I need a certain texture and this time grains would not have been sufficient. I decided to do this with the development of the film. I used C-41 colour processing and I under developed the negative which made the blacks softer, added a particular grain structure which works really well as texture but also added some colour shift in the blacks which, after all, also helps to the purpose, don't you think so?

May 17, 2013

Knowing light. Types of light. An introduction

Almost all of the literature about light starts explaining what light is.
Honestly, as a photographer, I don't really care if light is made of an emission of particles or an emission of waves. What I do care of is the quality of light and its intensity. By the quality of light we can achieve better looking images, a suitable colour rendering index (CRI) and colour appearance (colour temperature) for the mood; playing with its intensity we can achieve the correct exposure (I mean for correct the exposure we want).

Light can be either natural (the sun) or man-made (light generator) provided directly from its source or indirectly (bounced).

Natural light, the golden hour
Artificial light can be divided into incandescent lamps (mercury vapour lamps, Tungsten, PAR 64), discharge lamps (fluorescent lamps, metal halide lamps HMI) and LEDs. Natural light can also be divided into categories, not only in harsh and soft light but also in north light, morning light and afternoon light, golden hour and blue hour...

Each and every one of these types of light produces different results in the emulsion or in the digital pixels. During the next posts we will analyze all these types of light one by one to see those differences and how to use them for our benefit.
So stay tuned!

May 15, 2013

World press photo: the debate about the manipulation of Paul Hansen´s winning photo. A thought

The last hours we have read lots of comments and opinions about the Worl Press Photo 2012 winner photography, accused to have been manipulated by increasing the dynamic Range with more photos, bracketing and fusing them together. Finally just few hours ago, The WPP communicated that, after studying the RAW file,  the photo didn't "break the rules" so it is confirmed as the winner.
© Paul Hansen
This episode brings to light, once again, the eternal debate about manipulating photos in Photoshop and its limits (if it has to have some).
Of course Paul Hansen's photo has been edited: the colour is not that natural, and all the shadows on the left, opposite to the direction of the light have been lifted up as the light was reflected from a reflector or a white wall. For the Worl Press Photo Commission these kinds of retouching is allowed.

But where is the limit of manipulating a photo? Who decides it?
A photo must be edited within the same limits a film negative can be edited in the old way, most people say; probably they are unaware that since the beginning of photography the negative was manually painted to add features not present at the moment of the shot. Even in the moving image industry it was quite common drawing elements frame by frame.

Nowadays we can do almost everything with the powerful editing software we have: it would be a nonsense not to take advantage of it, as photographers or cinematographers we have to keep up the pace with technology or, soon or later, we are out. But we should not abuse of it.

The limits of the editing cannot be rigid: they cannot be the same for a photo journalistic contest like World Press Photo where a single pixel cannot be moved and a fantasy photo competition. But in every case, I reckon that the edition has to serve the image, has to help and enhance the message the photo wants to communicate, and never, never, never ostentatiously, for the sake of appearance, to impress, to fill the emptiness left by an absent message.

This controversy doesn't concern only photography, but even cinematography, however, while in photography contests they tend to prefer basic manipulated photos, in cinematography the trend appears to be different.

© TwentiethCenturyFox
Last Oscar winner for cinematography was Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi, whose light and mood were entirely made in post production; of course Miranda made a good job to light the scenes in a flat way and make the editing possible; but doesn't this pervert and pauperize  a cinematographer and director of Photography's job? Oddly enough, the year before, another Mexican was among the nominees for best cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezky for The Tree of Life who made a magnificent work using just natural light throughout the film. But that was not sufficient for the jury who voted the great Robert Richardson as best cinematographer for Hugo (yes, 3D again).

And you? what do you think?what is the boundary of editing and manipulating an image?

May 14, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Stoker by Chan-wook Park

This week I've seen Stoker, a movie by Chan-wook Park, the director of Old Boy,  Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Thirst. I was intrigued to see if Hollywood changed the creative vision of the awarded south Korean director.

The plot. When her father dies, India, a 18 year old introspective and apparently passive girl finds herself to deal with the presence of her uncle whose existence she was not aware. The relationship of hate and infatuation with this mysterious charming man will help her to discover who she really is.

Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Camera: Arricam ST, Arriflex 435
Lenses: Zeiss Master Prime, Angenioux Optimo
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: Super 35mm (3-perf)
Film Stock: Kodak 5207 250D; Kodak 5219 500T

Once again, as he did for the vengeance trilogy and Thirst, Chan-wook Park relies on Chung-hoon Chung who chooses the combination of  Kodak stock film and Zeiss Master Prime to shoot this mysterious thriller. This decision results in a very clean, precise and very high quality image (very typical of the Zeiss lenses) with a superb colour reproduction. Chung pays attention to every detail, liking better extreme close ups, cut-ins and longer lenses than wide angles and very wide shots and always with a great use of the depth of field achieving a neat and powerful aesthetic in every frame.

Since the beginning of the movie we notice that the image is brighter than it used to be in the last movies (the price to pay for shooting with Hollywood?), however Chung's work is outstanding. Light is always natural and justified: windows, doors and set lights are used as source in such a good way that you don't even think the scene it's been lighted. Almost throughout the movie, light is soft and  diffused  and shadows are rare but  well employed, creating an elegant and calm atmosphere, in contrast with the characters of the story. 

The camera is always steady, apart for two situations: when, during the first scenes, India is whirling inside the camera becomes quite shaking not only when it assumes her point of view but also when she is in front but close to the camera, which is rather interesting; and when her mother  loses for the first time her state of calmness and composure. Camera movements are also well employed to serve the fresh and creative vision of the director, especially in the piano duet scene.  

If a I have to mention a negative point of Chung's cinematography it would be the shot of the conversation between India and her uncle where they are framed with their head in the middle of the screen, with half frame empty above them: different and rule-breaking but in my opinion a bit forced and without much sense.

Chung-hoon Chung proved again to be a finest cinematographer yet without the recognition he should deserve, capable of creating a great aesthetic to a film which is not among Chan-wook Park's best works.

May 13, 2013

How I did it. Black and white artistic nude photography. A light diagram

Artistic nude photography is one of my favourite kind of photography and something I really enjoy taking on black and white film. Here is a picture I made some time ago and the diagram of lights I used.

TMax400 - f8 - t1/125

This picture was taken on a Kodak TMax 400 with a Medium Format camera. The model was quite small as well as the space. in order to enhance her height I used a 50mm lens (which is an angular lens in MF) and positioned the camera really close to her right knee and played with perspective. The position of the legs and the right arm helped to my purpose, conferring to the whole image a certain dynamism.

As you can see in the diagram below, I used a three point light setting. The Key Light was a 1000w flash with square softbox on camera right, slightly tilted down at 1/2 power. I flagged it to avoid light spells on the background.

On the left of the camera I put a 500w flash also with softbox, the Fill light, at 1/4 of the power and more distant from the model than the Key light in order to fill up the shadows on the legs but at the same time to achieve the contrast I wanted. It was also flagged to prevent the light to fall on the background and more areas of the body other than the legs.

I placed the Background light behind the model, at 1/2 the power and with a snoot, which created   the circle of light at her back.
I used a yellow filter Y8 to get a brighter skin tone and shot at f8 and t1/125.
I like film grain very much and normally I want them to gain presence in the print, so control it with agitation during the development of the negative.

The image was then scanned and went trough Photoshop only to place the watermark and to reduce it to web size.

Hope you enjoyed this post, now it's time to practise!

May 12, 2013

A brand new blog about light, photography and cinematography is born

Fiat Lux!

Hi everyone and welcome to my blog!

I'm Donatello, a professional photographer and cinematographer actually living in Barcelona.

This blog will focus on light in all its forms and use in photography, as well as in cinematography, and will go through different light techniques because mastering light is important in visual art: light is what shapes objects, gives them form or texture, makes them three-dimensional, and endows them with feelings and moods. I don't shoot subjects, I shoot light.

A Lux (which means light in Latin) is the unit of illuminance, a way of measuring light and its intensity: it measures the quantity of the energy passing through a surface or hitting it. One thousand lux is the average illuminance of a surface illuminated by an overcast day or a typical Tv studio light setting.

My aim with this blog is to share with you my knowledge about light and photography: I'll explain photos through its light setting, how to light different subjects, how to use the power of natural light, how exposure works but also I will be writing about film developing and RAW processing techniques, tips for photography and video, I will analyze movies focusing only on the cinematography aspect and lots of more stuff.
So keep reading!

Bye for now, May the good light be with you!