I told a friend of mine that I was going to flood my brain with information about filmmaking and that I’d already learned a ton. She asked me if she could hang out with me so I could teach her as I learn. So, I’ve decided to share it here.
ON LIGHTING: COLOR
My friend bought a plasma TV. I tried to explain to him that the darkest black the TV could ever produce was the darkest black he could see on the screen with the TV off.
The function of lighting a set isn’t to make blacks darker, but to increase the range of the visible spectrum. And, that’s not for human eyes either. It’s for the camera.
You see, when we look at something, our brains figure out what it’s supposed to be and then that’s the way we think about it. For instance, if it’s late at night, and all the lights are off and you’re lying in bed, if you’ve got white walls, you’ll look at your walls and you’ll think, “Hey, there are my white walls.” However, you’re not actually seeing white walls. Instead, you’re seeing a dark shade of blueish gray.
The camera doesn’t make that compensation. It sees what’s there. Normally this doesn’t make much of a difference, but when we prefer to look at more brilliant pictures. What I mean is, we like to look at things that have a huge range in the color spectrum: bright whites and absolute blacks, vibrant reds and deep blues, etc.
When I light something on a set, it’s to increase that, leave the blacks black, but take the whites and make them white instead of that dark shade of blueish gray (assuming a daylight shot).
This is a delicate balance because it’s easy to make one of three mistakes: 1) Use so much light that the sensor in the camera peaks (this means that more things are that pure white than should be); 2) Not enough light; 3) Lighting the set without thinking about how it actually should look.
That last one is the most common mistake among indie filmmakers. You’ll see one side of a guys face clearly lit while the other side is almost completely black. It’s great for an effect, but if it’s not on purpose (and it’s usually not), then it takes away the value of having lighting there at all.
I hope that helps. If you’ve got other insights on the above subject, please let me know.