Why Protecting Your Highlights is Killing Your Footage

Sometimes you should just let the highlights go.


More so than anything else that I do day to day, color grading has helped to improve my understanding and approach to cinematography immensely – and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years is that you shouldn’t always protect your highlights.

Essentially what I’m referring to is the practice of exposing your image for the highlights (or hotspots) in the frame to ensure nothing clips. In a scenario where you have an actor standing in front of a bright window, exposing for the highlights would mean that you bring your exposure down low enough that the window isn’t blown out at all. This technique has become extremely popular amongst filmmakers (especially those from a DSLR background), simply because blown highlights on certain cameras can look absolutely awful, and underexposing is one of the simplest ways to get around it. The only problem is that this approach can often yield results that are just as bad, if not worse than letting those hot spots clip.

In an ideal world, you want every shot that you capture to be perfectly exposed. You don’t want to crush your shadows too much (otherwise you will lose shadow detail), but at the same time you don’t want your highlights to clip unnecessarily either. Unfortunately though, unless you are shooting in an ultra flat lighting situation – chances are either the highlights or the shadows are going to clip. And more often than not (at least for daytime work) it’s the highlights.

Practically any daytime interior or exterior shot that you capture is going to have some bright highlights that may become overexposed. This may be a window, a reflection, a white wall or any other number objects or sources. Even night time shots will have hotspots, usually in the form of bright light sources such as lamps or street lights that are prone to clipping. These types of shots can be a challenge to work around, but there are certainly ways to deal with them and still achieve a nice image… That said, your best bet usually doesn’t involve underexposing your entire shot.

Noam Kroll | Read the Full Article

Christopher Nolan on His Gradual Ascent: Young Filmmakers, Stop Rushing

Christopher Nolan reflects on the steps of his career and how he moved from a small no budget film to increasingly big productions.


As an interview subject, Christopher Nolan is an expert diplomat: He’s great at sounding forthright while not saying anything particularly revealing. But, holding forth on his career in an hour-long conversation with Foxcatcher director Bennett Miller at the Tribeca Film Festival last night, the Dark Knight and Inception director did open up at a couple of points. Maybe it was the fact that he was talking shop with a fellow filmmaker, but Nolan seemed refreshingly reflective, particularly as he discussed some of the opportunities he’d been given in his career.

“If there’s one thing that I’ve been fortunate in, in my development as a filmmaker, it’s that I’ve always worked at a comfortable scale,” Nolan said. “I started very very small [with the no-budget feature Following]. Then, after I had done Following … I was able to show people the script for Memento, and it had a similarly nonlinear structure. It was a difficult script to read on the page, but Following was a clear illustration of how it might work onscreen.” Making the $3.5 million Memento, Nolan said, “was a huge leap. That was the moment in which you had to just turn up for work and see all these trucks, and all these people hanging around and this huge machine, and go, ‘Okay, I’m just diving in now.’” The success of that film then provided Nolan with his entrée into studio filmmaking, but at a more modest scale — with the moody crime drama Insomnia, which “was a very comfortable first step up — as a first studio film, my first time working with huge stars like Robin Williams, Hilary Swank … Doing my first studio film in that way was a key part of gaining the confidence to ignore the huge machinery, and not feel the weight of that every time you told somebody where to put the camera.”

Vulture | Read the Full Article

Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Life Advice For the Struggling Artist

In “Getting There: A Book of Mentors”, the lauded creator candidly revewals his years of struggle and his eventual path to success.


I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on “Kubla Khan” for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

Fast Co | Read the Full Article

How to Mix Audio Levels for Films & Movies – Introduction to Cinema Sound for Indie Films

This video contains the following steps for setting up your speakers for mixing your soundtrack:

1. Use Pink Noise (link address in video) set to -20dBFS (digital scale on timeline – use free Orban Loudness Meter to check and render it to -20dBFS if needed).
2. Adjust speaker level to about 85dBSPL (measure with an SPL meter or a calibrated phone app).
3. EQ speakers and make them as flat (even frequency response) as possible.
4. Play back dialogue and set to just over 60dB (A-weighted) – I said 60 in the video, but trust me for now.
5. Set Loudest FX to under -2dBFS (try -5, even, it depends on how loug the FX will last)
6. Mix music, Foley, ambiences, etc to taste, but don’t change the speaker level!


Tarantino: The Driving Shots

Though better known for his famous “trunk shots”, Quentin Tarantino takes a fun and unique approach to filming his characters traveling. Using a variety of interesting angles, Tarantino keeps us visually in tune as some of his most crucial narrative moments unfold. Here is a look at some of Tarantino’s best shots on the road.



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