Nicholson Ren | Cinematographer & Colourist
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What's Left Production Diary

Shot Break down 2 - Silhouettes and Night Shots

Continuing the shot breakdown - these are a couple of my favourite shots and how I set up for them.

Silhouettes are some of my favourite types of shots because they give a sense of intrigue by the shapes that are created. This was a pretty simple set up using the most minimal of lights. The key element of a silhouette would be to have a lit background and a dark foreground. This was achieved here by having an LED (2) in the hallway. LED (1) in hindsight wasn't neccessary - the reason why I decided to include it was to mimic a little moonlight from the window to make some detail in the bag visible.

One personal rule I have when shooting is to fit the camera within the physical boundaries of the scene without manipulating the set. I see the camera as an observer, it has to be within the physical world of the character and capture the action as it happens. The camera moves for the action and not have the action move for the camera. In this instance I broke this rule and the result would most likely be a slight confusion in orientation for the viewer when this shot comes up. This is because the camera is in an impossible position for an observer. It is positioned where a bed should be and within that world nobody can observe this action from that location. I may have gotten carried away knowing that there was an opportunity for a nice shot but didn't consider the effects. Props shouldn't be moved wholly out of the way for an angle, the camera should have found a different position to have captured this shot.

Set extensions where walls and ceiling are removed are in fact necessary for ergonomic purposes when larger equipment are used. As long as the camera; the position of the POV, is within the physical boundaries of the room (if the wall had been there) then the shot will be justified. In my case the bed was not moved because of equipment limitations but because of a creative choice, hence it doesn't work for the story and may bring the viewer out.

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This shot is perhaps one of my best designed shots that I'm proud of. The set up was actually pretty straight forward. I knew that this would be a night shot so I set the white balance to a lower temp (2200K) to get a colder look that is associated to night time. (1) and (2) both had a full CTB with no white diffusion on to give harder shadows. The red head outside was meant to simulate moonlight and I bounced it off the terrace ceiling outside (even though realistically no light would be getting through at that angle) to get the window frame to be sloping downwards and make it look like the source of light was higher up outside the window. (2) was an LED light that once again simulated moonlight from the other corridor. It also gave definition to the actors outside of the room, it was a deep conversation and we had to see some part of their reactions. The actor on the right had to step out; away from the doorway, in order to not be in the shadow of the other actor so that the light could hit his face. From just 2 lights, I was pretty stoked with what I had created. 

You can see from (B) how bright the set actually was, the lights made it seem like it was mid-afternoon and in post the temperature had to be pushed down even furthur in the whites/ highlights to get what we see. The corridor around the corner is not supposed to be part of the set so it could have been a point for experimentation for different lighting setups. An interesting look would maybe had been to light LED (2) with a CTO and have a warmer glow on the foreground before they return to their cold room and back to feeling trapped.

Night shots are very interesting to shoot because there are different ways to portray the shadows. In the corridor shot above I used hard shadows to simulate moonlight and made the look quite stark. For this close up I decided on a soft light approach to make it feel peaceful and thoughtful - hard shadows would suggest discomfort but this is a time of reflection. I only used one LED light hidden behind a lace curtain as a diffuser (B) at a very low intensity and lowered the WB to 3400K. (C) is a reference shot from the movie "Her" which I used as inspiration of what I wanted a soft night CU to look like. I expect that if I were to recreate the exact look I would have needed a larger source of soft light and have been further away. This would make the eye-light not as sharp as what I did and I would've also kept the WB to around a daylight setting so that the blue hue isn't as intense as it is.