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Filter for night-shoots to prevent bright lights
  • Howdie comrades,

    (long time reader, first time joiner/poster)

    So I came back from London with 4 hours worth of lens-test footage - mostly night-shoots. This was my first shoot with my Gh1 re-born as a Gh13 after I applied the LPowell 100mbps hack.

    First thing that is immediately annoying about my footage as well as so many Gh1/13 night-time footages that you see on Vimeo and YouTube, is just how BRIGHT and glaring the lights look from passing cars' front-lights, street lights etc... That's just not how it looks like in films. So I'm guessing they probably use some kind of filters. The question is, which filters work best for night time shoots to keep those occasional light from passing cars etc from spoiling the rest of the picture?

    Sorry for the newbie-ness. I'm only beginning to get into matte-boxes etc. I got myself a tiny compact Cromatek ProShade, so that it does not attract too much attention and be compact and mobile at the same time.
  • 23 Replies sorted by
  • Try minimizing contrast (in picture profiles) / underexposing (as much as possible).. As for use of filters - check out this fantastic video for some hints:

  • @RRRR thank a bunch for the response and the video. Great informative video, I went ahead and watched both parts of it.
    But that video is talking about the filters in daytime situations. My question is about night-shoots in a street, and then suddenly a car drives buy and it's headlights appear so bright that they spoil the whole image.
    Take a look at this
    - a great lens (Voightlander 25mm 0.95) but almost every shot in that video is ruined because of the imability to contain sudden bright light in a night-time environment. So I'm guessing there must be some sort of filter that people in professional cinematography are using for that. Can anyone offer their 2 cents?

    My contrast is minimised (-2), in fact I shoot in Nostalgic and Smooth and all my settings there are set to "-2". But I don't understand what you mean by "underexposing"?

    Thanks ;)
  • kronstadt: what they didn't cover so much in the video is the use of diffusion filters, which is what you should look for IMO. Mind, what you are talking about is extremely hard to contain, because of the really great contrasts.. and unexpected / often unpredictable change of lighting. With the right kind of diffusion filter it is possible to create a flatter image / tone down contrast. But there's a lot of different types to choose from! (types and strengths) I can't recommend anything in particular - but maybe someone else can? (diffusion filters can help to improve gradients and light falloff aswell). But some of the filters covered in the video can help also during the night..
  • @Kronstadt If you are refering to a filter that you can put in front of your lense and automatically take down bright lights but not take down the illumination of the rest of the picture, such a thing does not exist to my knowledge - or at least is not widely used. Of course, you can have a filter like a grad filter, which takes down the illumination on part of the frame, often used for skies in panoramas, etc.

    Getting the right balance between lights for the right lighting contrast is isually the single biggest task of lighting for film and video.

    What pro film sets would do is to either "fill" the ambience, i.e. add more light to the overall picture in order to minimize the relative brightness of the lights, or simply add ND gels (black/grey filters) to the brightest light sources to take them down.

    You'll find this post helpful to understand how it works:

    If you don't plan to manipulate your environment in any way, the best way to do this is to shoot when it's fairly dark but there is still some ambience light from the sun, giving you less lighting contrast.
  • maybe a soft contrast or ultra constrast from tiffen?

    hahah or perhaps a circular polarizer, (i haven´t tried this filter at night though hhaha), but it should work only for the static lights
  • You didn't say how you thought the bright lights ruined those shots, but I think what you are seeing is plain old lens flare. If you can't shade your lens from the light source (e.g. because the light source is in the field of view), it really comes down to your choice of lens and the aperture setting. Some lenses have less flare than others. Reducing the lens's aperture setting usually reduces flare. In a lot of lenses, you only need to stop down one or two increments to significantly reduce the flare.

    The other problem with the bright lights, of course, is that they are overexposed. I doubt you could fix that without underexposing most of the rest of the image, but if you wanted to try, reduce the exposure, and use the lowest ISO setting that you can, which maximizes the dynamic range. Lowering the contrast setting will also increase the dynamic range and bring up the shadows.

    Personally, I don't think the bright lights ruined any of those shots. Lens flare happens with all lenses to some degree, even with our own eyes. So it's a natural thing that we are used to.
  • @kronstadt

    I think you are asking for a non-linear ND filter. Such a thing is in theorie possible, but has not been manufactured jet.

    For your videos...I think your shots look very nice, nothing wrong with it at all. The highlights do flare a bit, but it looks quite nice and natural. I would be happy to get shots with such controlled highlights. Or simply wait till there are no cars anymore on the street.
  • Update, nope the circular polarizer doesn´t work a bit on direct light

    but the soft contrast or the ultra contrast from tiffen, perhaps works (i don´t have one with me to try though)
    this filters are expensive though

    btw, about the tiffen´s:

    Low Contrast filters create a small amount of "localized" flare near highlight areas within the image. This reduces contrast by lightening nearby shadow areas, leaving highlights almost unchanged.

    Soft Contrast filters include a light absorbing element in the filter which, without exposure compensation, will reduce contrast by also darkening highlights. Use this latter filter when lighter shadows are not desired. In both cases, the mild flare produced from bright highlights is sometimes used as a lighting effect.

    Ultra Contrast Filter
    Tiffen was recognized with a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for the innovative design of this popular Motion Picture and TV filter.
    It uses the surrounding ambient light, not just light in the image area, to evenly lighten shadows throughout. Use it where contrast control is needed without any other effect on sharpness or highlight flare being apparent.

    * Works with surrounding ambient light
    * Captures details lost in shadows
    * Lowers contrast evenly throughout image
    * No flare or halation
    * Lets you "see" more

  • update, the ultra contrast should probably work
    as the filter lifts the shadows, you can then lower the iso or lift the SS, so the highlight will be less expose, to wich degree this works, i dont know, i couldnt find a test performed at night

    but look at this, at the color of the sky, when the filter is on and the exposure is corrected

    btw this is the ultra contrast 3, and there are 5 values, and i think it is still overexposed, so the effect should be more pronounce, when performed correctly

    but i´m still not sure about what happens to the direct light

    this ones is other vid

  • Hi All,
    Thanks for the input!!! Great pointers and suggestions. I'm taking all thing on board and reading, so if you have any more pointers/links, please post.

    What I was interested in is some sort of "guerilla" spontaneous night-shoot: say, a bunch of guys walking in night-time urban environment discussing something. So, imagine, there are many bright shops, street-lights and cars in the background. If nothing is done to "contain" all those unplanned lights in the background, especially from cars, then those lights appear as giant WHITE smudges with PINK outlines, which (@balazer) is how I thought that those Voightlander shots (above) were ruined. Those big smudge lights really hijack the audience attention, from the dramatic scene. This is not how such urban lights appears to a human eye, and this is not how such lights appear in professionally made films (which are, of course, often made withing highly controlled environments).

    So I'm thinking of getting a pair of a lot faster lenses(my fastest lenses are Minolta 50mm 1.7 and a Chinese made Fujian 35mm 1.7, which is surprisingly great, and I'm dreaming about getting a Voightlander 20mm 0.95 and Noktor 12mm 1.1), so that I can have the lowest possible ISO (correct me if I'm wrong, I guess that's what you guys/gals mean by "underexposing") and also stop down the aperture a couple of notches, while adding an ultra-contrast filter, circular polarizer filter, while (if possible) also casting just a little bit of my own projector light onto the talent (attached to the top of the camera). Do you think such a setup would work?

    @lolo thanks for that pointer. Circular Polariser seems as a very interesting solution for containing street lights and car headlights.

    On eBay I see those circular polarisers ranging from £2 to £330. I've got no clue which one to get.

    Okey, so I'm a total newbie to the filter and matte-box world. I want to make films, so... dialogues, portrait-shots, urban environment etc. I want to keep my post-production minimalist and "purist" - just montage, and *maybe* just a little bit of color correction. For now it's just short films so that I learn as I go along. Which filters (brand and particular model) would you advise I should get for my starter kit??? Budget is an issue. For my matte box, I've got a Cromatek ProShade - it's a filter-holder (takes at least 3 filters), but I'm using it as a substitute for matte-box to block out light from the sides (works great, but no filter rotating, and I still need to figure out how to mount it on the rails). I'm not sure, but I think it takes 4x4 square filters.

    once again, any input greatly appreciated!
  • @kronstadt,

    What you describe as "lights appear as giant WHITE smudges with PINK outlines" is a combination of lens flare and overexposure. Actually I don't see any pink outlines in that video. If there were pink outlines, I think it would be particular to the camera, and perhaps unavoidable where there is overexposure.

    Forget the overexposure. I don't think you will find a low-priced camera with enough dynamic range to show headlights and nighttime street scenes at the same time with correct exposure.

    I think your best bet is to reduce flare by looking at different lenses and aperture settings. As a general rule, modern lenses with good multicoating have less flare, and simple lenses with fewer elements have less flare. I only have a few lenses, but I can tell you that the Lumix 20/1.7 has a lot less flare than the Nikon Ai 50/1.4. The Nikon has much worse flare at 1.4 than at 2.0, and improves a bit more at 2.8. Stopping down the Lumix helps a bit, but less than stopping down the Nikon helps.

    You might be inclined to use a wide aperture for nighttime shooting, but consider using a smaller aperture and a higher ISO setting. The noise on the GH1 is barely noticeable and perfectly acceptable up to ISO 800, in my opinion. The GH2 produces, in my opinion, very nice, natural looking noise even up to ISO 1600 or 2000, which is preserved without visible compression noise thanks to high bit rate patch settings from Driftwood, et al. It might be worth using a stop less aperture and a stop more sensitivity to reduce flare from headlights. I purchased the GH2 for nighttime shooting, and as an upgrade over the GH1 it's worth every penny.

    As for filters, I think they'll do little to help this problem. Note that in that YouTube video, the guy put polarizing filters in front of the camera and on the truck's headlights. He explains in the comments. Most car's headlights don't have polarizing filters, so this idea doesn't work in the general case.

    And if you have any filters now, take them off. They are likely to cause flare and reflections, if they're not high-end multicoated filters.
  • Don't stand in front of incoming cars. Shoot from the sideline to avoid direct headlights.
  • That's you to judje the new nano surface coating are blocking a little part of light just add ND 2
    for more realistic shoots... But a new x lenses are coming, only 2 came.
    750 x 858 - 388K
  • On a studio film, they have cameras with greater dynamic range to reduce overexposure. They also control all the lights in the scene. To do this with a GH2 and a stolen location, you'll need to carefully frame out bright lights shining toward your lens or else learn to love lens flare. An ultra contrast filter will raise up your black level so you can expose a little brighter and therefore blow out your highlights less (a very little probably <1 stop) but bear in mind that most filters will increase flare. My Ultra Cons are not multi-coated and definitely increase flare.
  • To expect "pro" quality from guerilla style shooting at night with any camera is stupid. Work arounds like no lighting or shooting from different angles, etc… only go so far. You really need to spend the time to GEL EACH HEADLIGHT that comes towards the camera. There is no way to "fix your problem" with ghastly ghostly blurs of white blah by using filters or camera settings. Headlights are very bright for a very good reason
  • Coming from that world, I can attest that movies and commercials are using much much much more light than you might think to light that background and they're shooting at a deeper stop than you'd think, so therefore bright objects are less bright relatively speaking. And an Alexa can handle much more dynamic range than our GH2vks. Plus they're using fantastic pro lenses with excellent anti-halation coatings that noe of us can afford. Sorry to be so little help. Also, often enough, those headlights you see have been gelled with ND or hosed down with streaks and tips (messy! watch out!) The big guys have resources that we don't, and therefore follow the advice of the other posters who are offering simple tips like "frame out those bright sources". ... Actually, if you are using a small number of friendly cars, ND gel and streaks and tips are within the realm of possibility. If you're using streaks and tips, get comfortable with the output of the spraycan on an unimportant object. Don't hold the can too close to the glass. Press the valve with the can pointed AWAY from the glass and SWEEP the stream smoothly over the target. Mask off the surrounding car parts if you're going to see it at all well. You can wipe it off afterwards also, but that's messier. Do repeated LIGHT passes until the glass is dark enough. USe your spotmeter (if you have one) but don't point it right at the brightest part of the light; that'll always be blown out. Enjoy. .02 from the grip department

  • you can also try to correct a little on post masking and tracking!

  • davhar has the right answer to this question.

    You haze the lights, you dont' do anything to the camera. That's pretty much how it's done.

  • So, has anyone here shot with Ultra con filters on the GH2? I am more interested in daylight exteriors (under trees/dark shadows etc) It seems that a little bit more DR could be pulled if they were used with the GH2. I'm interested in buying a couple and to be honest, Tiffen's info is not as good as I would have hoped. I've worked with them back innaday (35mm film and some super 16), but I have no idea of their limitations with dslr video.

    As to the original post, my only suggestion is to try to light the actors a bit and shoot with a faster ISO.

  • I use Ultra Contrast filters regularly to lift the blacks just a little. It doesn't add a lot of DR but it does seem to take the very darkest material above the noise floor. You can crush the black back down to kill the noise and still retain the shadow detail. (This is becoming less necessary with the latest hacks.) I often use a UCC3 in a high contrast situation. The 5 is good for preserving some shadow detail in uncontrolled bright sunlight. A 1 or 1/2 can be helpful on a controlled set to squeeze a little more from the image.

    I see a difference in the quality of the graded footage, but it is subtle. But it can make the difference between no shadow detail or having a lot of noise in your blacks.

  • anyone tried the Formatt lowcon filters? Better or worse then the Tiffens?

  • Just as @airboxlights says, lights on studio movies and tv have a buttload of gel on them. I'm a precision driver in LA and the grip department comes by and uses reg ND or sometimes a yellow gel to take down our lights and you can stand right in front of them and stare at them with hurting your eyes. They take down the level that much. Pretty much every other light that is in the background or away from the action is the same. BTW, the first video looked pretty damn good to me in regards to lens flare.