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July 27, 2013

Lighting a Scene Against a Window? A Butterfly Frame Can Help Overexposure Issues

Lighting Interview Against WindowWhen I first started learning about lighting various scenes, almost every book I read advised not to shoot your subject in front of a window (unless you want to create a silhouette, of course.) That's good advice for beginners or people who don't have access to sufficient equipment, but -- what if you want to use a window as a backdrop? A tutorial by NextWaveDV shows us how to get an even exposure by using a butterfly frame as a soft key light. Hit the jump for the video.

There are a couple of reasons why windows can be problematic in a scene. For one, sunlight gives off different color temperatures depending on what time of day it is, which may not mix well with the other kinds of lights you're using.

Another issue, and one they talk about in the tutorial is overexposure. Shooting your subject against a window puts them in silhouette. If that's not what you're looking for, you're going to want to adjust your camera settings to get a proper exposure on your subject. Doing this, however, drastically overexposes the background.

To counteract this, NextWaveDV suggests pumping enough juice into a butterfly frame to provide enough light to get an even exposure on both your subject and window together. Check out the tutorial below:

For those of us who don't have access to the lights and equipment these guys use in the tutorial, are we doomed to avoid windows all together? Maybe not. If I know anything about indie filmmakers it's that they're inventive and can jimmy rig just about anything. I've used white sheets and the high beams on my car more times than I'd like to admit, but -- you do what you gotta do. However, I've never tried the DIY version of this technique. Have you?

What lighting techniques, DIY or otherwise, have you've used to light a scene against a window? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Film Scene: Shooting a Video Interview Against a Window -- NextWaveDV

Your Comment

80 Comments

try using ND gels on the windows. They also don t need any power. Just gaffer tape !

July 27, 2013

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This^^

July 27, 2013

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Game over :) got lots of nds just for this

July 27, 2013

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Robert Duncan

That's what I do. Nd + cto if I'm lighting with tungsten.

July 27, 2013

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Brynn

Exactly.

July 29, 2013

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Been there, done that +1

July 27, 2013

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This seems cool.

Personally think I would've exposed for the window and then lit the subject separately. I've actually done that recently and all I had to use was two LED panels, a reflector, and some NDs. Different ways to do things, so many options.

I like what they did here, I just try my best to use minimal equipment when I can.

July 27, 2013

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Well the idea is there but I don't think they succeeded in the execution..

July 27, 2013

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Hubert

Totally agree. I wanted to see how long it would take for someone to call them out on it. I thought it looked..uh. not good.

July 28, 2013

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Skeptic

This is a what not to do post right?
I don't get this post...

July 27, 2013

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Jer

What do you not get, Jer?

July 27, 2013

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avatar
V Renée
Managing Editor
Writer/Director
206

He doesn't get how to click play on the video.

July 27, 2013

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Devap you smart ass I watched the video.

I didn't get why this was a useful post. The end results for everything they setup didn't appear worth the trouble or the time.

The posts you usually make I find something of value - this one felt like I was being taught how to do something the wrong way.

July 27, 2013

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Jer

yeap! final result looks like shit!

July 27, 2013

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EPA

I'm not sure what you mean. They put 4 lights behind a diffuser, added fill and rim lights. I'm not sure what is so troublesome.

July 27, 2013

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Tyler

A lot of people don't realize you can use windows as a background, it's treated like taboo.
And that's all this video *attempted* to show (the concept is valid although the example lacking). It's pretty obvious when you watch...hence why your comment looks like you read the title, skipped the video, and then complained. Don't focus on the end result, the value is when you think about how you can do it. Imagine shooting a scene in a city with a backdrop of cars rolling down a street. Or in an airport with a plane taking off

July 28, 2013

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well, most people here agree that there are way better, faster and easier ways to do it, so yeah, I don't get this 'tutorial' either.

July 28, 2013

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hansd

I agree. This post is not good practice. This is not something that I would using as a teaching or learning demonstration for DIY filmmakers or anyone for that matter.

Putting a 2K on a 100ft run of cheap home depot extension cord :(
Cables crossing and sloppy all over the place.. (dangerous/unprofessional)

The mixing of color temperatures does not look good in this application.
Half of his face is tungsten lit and the other side is day lit.
Not sure I would use such a profound hair-light on a bald man.
There is no "Eye-light" so he looks like a zombie with black eyes.
The "background" is still overexposed, the only exposure you worked for is inside that walkway?
Nothing looks good about that ? The brick wall ? through the doors ? The vent on the wall ?

The shot is not dynamic as he stated.

I guess all the post following this video is a good way to break down what "not to do"

July 29, 2013

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kyle

Or you can put a white sheet up in front of window - BAM, instant soft box.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O3mYkdAj6c

July 27, 2013

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Hah. That plus some reflectors and ND gel might have bounced enough light to get the same effect for about 10x less money and 10x less setup time.

July 27, 2013

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Bry

this was a pretty odd tutorial, they used a whole bunch of expensive equipment and time to achieve a boring, generic look. they may aswell have shot it next to a fern.

Options, expose for the window, light up the interior. or as others have said, diffuse the window (and light up the interior, just less, or don't shoot in front of the window as it added not much to shoot.

July 27, 2013

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Stew

I really like Tony so I don't want to sound disrespectful, but the entire video felt like product placements/spots in order for manufactures to fund the videos. There was an abundance of equipment that I felt was unnecessary.

July 27, 2013

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When I watched it I didn't feel any product placement.

July 27, 2013

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Tyler

Meh just the feeling I had, not saying I'm correct.

July 27, 2013

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Agree.

July 28, 2013

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maghoxfr

COMPLETELY agree.... holy shi*t what a mess.....

July 28, 2013

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Skeptic

If the budget allows for it, I'll use a big ole HMI to match the sun's intensity. If not, then I'll use ND on the window and move the key real close to the subject.

July 27, 2013

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Gavin

Are you serious? Just give me two Kino Flo's and a 650 Arri, and I will show you a much better production, by myself. No crew needed.

In fact, just find another location to do the interview... the backdrop does nothing for the visual.

July 27, 2013

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once again I completely agree 100%

July 28, 2013

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Skeptic

Word.

July 29, 2013

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I think this is a tutorial on how to look a pro on a 1,500 dollar job. Only thing missing is a huge cage and matte box.

July 27, 2013

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Jason

hahaha...soooo true! Best comment yet

July 28, 2013

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Skeptic

Ha yes, "Hey everyone, watch this video and appreciate all the gear I have"

July 29, 2013

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Peter Kelly

you guys need to relax

July 27, 2013

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ryan

I'm sorry, i'm with the majority here. That's um, one way to do it. A difficult, fussy, costly way, but sure, one way.
There are far simpler ways.

July 27, 2013

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marklondon

A 8x8 or 12x12 double work well (outside of window). I've also used Roscoe Roscoscrim (2 stops) on the inside of the window.

I've yet to use a K5600 1600 HMI (plugs into a 15 amp circuit) http://www.k5600.com/1600/index.html If it is as good as their Joker 400, it will be a great light. I've used a K5600 Joker 400 HMI with a MOLA Euro 33.5 inch w/sock for fill indoors (with no ND on the windows) BTW it produces a good looking round highlight http://mola-light.com/mola-softlights/mola-euro-33-5-inch/

July 27, 2013

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c.d.embrey

Oh yeah, now we're talking. A Joker 400/800 would do this nicely.

July 27, 2013

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marklondon

I don't want to run down the work that they have done here, but I have to agree that the execution didn't seem very effective. For anyone intimidated by all the gear they had in this video, all you need to know is the inverse square rule. Their key light was way far away from the talent. Their shot wasn't that wide. They probably could have gotten the foreground and background about a stop closer to each other with less equipment by simply bringing it in closer to the talent. If you find yourself in a similar situation with less equipment, just frame a little tighter and squeeze some inexpensive softboxes in nice and close to your subject. You can do that even if you are a one man crew.

July 27, 2013

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par 64's and a mole 2k ? thats insane for that setup. moving the frame up 5-8 ft would easily of brought that up considerably even just as a simple bounce source. a 575 behind it and you probably would be done. I've done that plenty of times. or a 4X4 reflector board would of also of worked very nicely thru the silk using no power and perfect color temp match. once you CTB's that tungsten to 5600K thats a 1 2/3 stop light loss turning that 2K into... 500W. I also didn't like the door frames being behind the talent the way it was. it said nothing about the location and could of been anywhere.

July 27, 2013

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I've never seen a tutorial by these people that I actually found useful or that I didn't think looked terrible. I just shot an interview against a window last week using only an Arri 650 and a 300. Just slapped an ND1.2 in front of the lens to bring the outside exposure down to where we needed it. then walked the lights up till they gave us the exposure we needed on the subject. And I had both units running through full ctb and opal...still got the inside and outside exposed properly.

July 27, 2013

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Jerome (also..b...

Exactly. I'm sure these guys mean well, however, they clearly had no clue what they were doing on this job. The background and exposure is horrendous, and the subject is clearly not lit properly.

July 28, 2013

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Robert

...or how to justify the budget to a client.
Lightmeter? Just trying to look like a pro. It doesn t even have a battery inside!

July 28, 2013

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HA! I starting laughing so hard when I read this....holy sh*t

July 28, 2013

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Skeptic

LOL

July 28, 2013

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hansd

Not sure why you thought it didn't have a battery. Why would I use a light meter without a battery?

July 29, 2013

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Umm, I'll just stick to ND rolls and tape. But I would do this if the budget was big enough to hire peopl AND I wanted to attact lots of local public attention to my company. This kind of make-work foolishness always draws a crowd.

The background was horribly blown out. Would have looked far far more pro by slapping some ND film on just the windows behind the subject.

But hey, I'll bet the account loved being in Hollywood for a little while and were convinced of two things: Thats how the pros there must do it. And that blown out backgrounds must therefore be an inescapable consequence of shooting against windows. And I agree with another poster re product placement.

In South Florida I love shooting against glass to get palm fronds gently swaying outside CEO offices and lobbies. But we like to actually see the outside -- unlike in this example.

Slap on some ND film directly behind subject', use some Diva lights and a lav mic and get a better result people! I could do that with no assistance and have it all over and done with a small fraction of the time. Cut me a break before I die laughing!

July 28, 2013

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WSmith

Wouldn't it have been more useful to demonstrate the method of getting ND gel to fit perfectly and cling to glass, no tape required, no visible seams?

July 28, 2013

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Helen B

To add some clarity...
We were shooting during the winter but the video wasn't seasonal so I wanted the window to be blown out, but I didn't want it to bloom over and affect the subject. I lit the scene to bring the window's exposure just low enough to accomplish this. Since the shot was very wide to allow for the dolly move, I needed to have a large source. I've lit smaller scenes with less lighting but this scene required a larger setup. Par64s are a great option for those on a budget.

July 28, 2013

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to be completely honest I thought it looked awful

July 29, 2013

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Peter Kelly

Understood but actually, you could see snow outside. If possible, may shooting with a brick wall on one side and just a few windows on the other side would have looked better and made the background more seasonally evergreen.

August 1, 2013

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