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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

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  3. Basic Lighting Lesson: Understanding Hard Light and Soft Light

COMMENT POLICY

We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • This guy is such a joke…

    • Bill kinzie on 08.2.13 @ 2:50PM

      Pardon the pun but this way too over blown-not helpful to the majority of people trying to make a go over this business. But I love no film school.

  • The background is still way blown out. I want my 5 minutes back. You can do all of this or put a reflector on a c-stand. Your choice.

  • If I REALLY wanted or needed to shoot against windows or glass doors, like they did, I’d gel the glass with ND. That takes time but in the end the outside would look a lot better.

  • After all that time to explain that using a hot enough key to balance a window can keep it from blowing out, I sort of expected it to be, you know, not blown out…

  • I would have used HMIs for this. I understand working under budget constraints, but even with adding a genny and an M18 or two, it probably would have been easier to setup, look better and at a reasonable cost.

    • That’s what I think. Either get the right tools for a certain shot, or don’t do the shot!
      When there’s no budget for powerful HMIs, then just don’t shoot against a window!

      People often want me to shoot stuff like this and then I explain to them how this shot would work in a Hollywood movie and what would be required to do it. Then I tell them that my equipment right now is two LED battery lights and a 80cm reflector and that we need to look for shots that we can do with what I have right now (which is what is in the budget)

  • I, for one thought this was and is a good idea, take that idea and scope it down to your shoot, it’s up to you to learn and use what you know in your setting and application, which you may find that this fits your concept… take what you need, or improve with what you know, this is how we learn, so share ideas. No one has the right answer for all your needs. we are all trying to improve our craft

  • Was it just me or was the tracking camera not bubbled…?

  • When I saw the setup I was really sceptical, I could have told him from the beginning that four 1Ks would not be enough.

    Then I saw the result and was like yeah, that is exactly what I expected: it doesn’t look that good! The windows are still blown out, the color temp of the key light is too orange for my taste, and you can hardly see any hair light or kicker.

    So, lots and lots of work for a shot that looks “meh” …

  • David Alvarado on 08.4.13 @ 2:28PM

    Yeah, this is a total waste of time and equipment. And the end product sucks… who would thing this is a good example of anything?

  • Matheus Oliveira on 08.8.13 @ 2:14PM

    A blackmagic cinema camera with this light setup would be a great option.

  • The simplest, cheapest, and most effective way to shoot a scene against a window would be to find a screen-like or translucent material to place over the windows. and knock down some of the light coming from outside. That way you don’t have to use your entire light kit just for one light source. They also make something called window grip which is amazing, but slightly costly. Below is a link to the window grip home page. Home Depot or Lowe’s might also have like a static cling window tint solution you could use.

    http://www.gamonline.com/catalog/window/

  • I’m way late on commenting on this but rolls of ND on the glass behind him would have been cheaper and more efficient. Ok, it’s a lot of glass but the shot never really seems far above his head. ND9 or ND6 and the lighting suddenly becomes much, much smaller and controllable. End result would have been better too.

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