dealing with low-lighting constraints in indoor settings?

Discussion in 'Professional Video Production' started by idiotprogrammer, Jul 12, 2005.

  1. I'm a new videomaker who will probably be buying a Panasonic PV-GS400
    ($1200)fairly soon for a documentary. The documentary will mostly be
    shot indoors, and for my next project (a more artistic short video), it
    will also use mainly indoor shots. Alternately, I'm thinking of the
    next grade of camera, either Canon GL2 or Sony DCR-VX2100 (both in the
    $2100-2200 price range). Cost is an important factor, though not the
    only one. Frankly, I could use a part of the $1000 I saved to buy
    better lighting and audio equipment to last when the prices of
    HD/HDV/1080p camcorders become affordable.

    Although I've seen raves about the 400's features and color, everyone
    seems to acknowledge that low-lighting is an issue (not solely with
    this camera but with all 3CCD cameras in this category with lower lens
    sizes). That concerns me, although oddly it did not seem to worry the
    person who reviewed the 400 for
    last year terribly much.

    I'm going to be doing a lot of indoor/interior shooting, and I want to
    have an idea of what to expect and what kind of shots to avoid or
    techniques to avoid.

    Does it just mean I'm going to have to live with lower depth of field
    and more artificial lighting on my sets?

    What kind of workarounds can people do to juice up in image? (Can
    NLE's take care of any of that?)

    What kind of indoor situations do you try to avoid because of these
    constraints? What kind of shots are just going to suck regardless of
    what I try?

    Does it simply mean that you need to spend more time and attention to
    getting the lighting right? (i.e., no impromptu shots). Can I assume
    that I would save a lot of time in lighting prep if I upgraded to a
    different grade of camcorder (gl2, vx2100, etc).

    Would a wide angle lens compensate for this deficiency?

    Finally, what kind of changes can you make to settings (aperture, etc)
    to try to compensate for the low-light limitations?

    Robert Nagle,
    idiotprogrammer, Jul 12, 2005
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  2. idiotprogrammer

    Ven Hawkins Guest

    The vx2100 does a wonderful job in low light situations. I've actually
    gotten great results in scenes that were lit only with candle light.

    Ven Hawkins
    Ven Hawkins, Jul 12, 2005
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  3. idiotprogrammer

    Steve King Guest

    I've cut out some of your questions, because the answers would constitute a
    basic course in film/video production. Whatever camera you use to shoot
    interiors, from megabuck film cameras to pocket MiniDV cams, lighting is
    where its at. Yes, occasionally one might find a shot using ambient
    lighting that will be pleasing. Turn the camera 30 degrees to another
    subject and the odds are that the image will be really unpleasant. If you
    are doing a gritty documentary, where looking raw and ugly is what you're
    going for, forget my advice. Otherwise, read all you can about lighting.
    Experiment. Cameras like the DCR VX2100 are amazing performers with lower
    light levels; however, no camera can compensate for lighting that is
    unflattering to the subject. The result will simply be brighter images with
    greater color intensity but ugly never the less.

    I can't think of a camera that would be suitable for interiors without a
    wide-angle lens.

    Steve King
    Steve King, Jul 12, 2005
  4. Thanks for your input. Yes, you're right, a lot of my questions go to
    basic issues. I just need to have a better sense of what I can
    compensate for, and what I can't.

    .....I can't think of a camera that would be suitable for interiors
    without a
    wide-angle lens.

    I'm not sure what this sentence means. Are you saying that (arrrgh!)
    buying an additional wideangle lens is pretty mandatory regardless of
    camera for indoor shots.
    Why? (I'm not sure I can bump up my budget that much, especially
    because I need to provide for my own light equipment, which I also need
    to buy).

    idiotprogrammer, Jul 12, 2005
  5. Depends on what you are shooting. If it is just sit-down solo
    interviews ("History Channel-style"), then you can likely get
    away without wide-angle.

    OTOH, if you are shooting anything dramatic or actual
    (instructional, documentary, "reality", etc.) then you may find
    you are out of room before you can get your camera located
    in the right spot for the optimal framing.

    I shoot some instructional/documentary video in the cleanroom
    "fabs" where Pentium(TM) Microprocessors, etc. are made.
    In those close quarters it would be very difficult to get some of
    the shots I need without a wide-angle lens attachment
    Depends on what you are shooting and your circumstances.

    Production always involves tradeoffs. If you can "cheat" the
    camera locations/framing, etc. you may be better off starting
    with getting the lighting covered before worrying about wide-
    angle. And especially if you need to bring your own lighting,
    you may not have enough to adequately light wide-angle shots
    Richard Crowley, Jul 12, 2005
  6. idiotprogrammer

    Steve King Guest

    I'm saying that in a typical room in a home, in a typical office, most
    anywhere you are likely to shoot often a standard lens will not go wide
    enough to show enough of the room to provide an environment for your tighter
    shots. Want a group of people in a living room? Forget it. Want a
    two-shot in a small breakfast room? Forget it. Sure, you could get along
    without it, but it would severely restrict your shot choices.

    Steve King
    Steve King, Jul 12, 2005
  7. idiotprogrammer

    marks542004 Guest

    A lot is going to depend on 'exactly' what you are trying to shoot and

    I have found that shooting indoor in an 8 x 10 room (typical of houses
    in my area) you may wind up about 4 feet from your subject.

    You may get away with changing a few lightbulbs from 60 to 100 watts
    and adding a few fill lights to get a reasonable quality.

    Do not plan on fixing anything in post production (video editor). It
    can be done to some extent but is hugely time consuming.

    I suggest you grab some photography books from your library and read up
    on lighting setups.

    You do not need very expensive lights. There are some very reasonably
    priced gear available, just be cautious about the type of bulb used to
    get the right color range.
    marks542004, Jul 13, 2005
  8. You have all given me food for thought. Clearly, I need to do more
    research and really need to rethink the scenes I'll be shooting and
    what things I can live with. I also need to look more closely at my
    financial resources and the accessories I need.

    Interestingly, what may turn out to be the determining factor in my
    purchase decision may be that the cheaper panasonic GS400 has a built
    in 16x9 mode, whereas the vx2100 does not.

    Robert Nagle
    idiotprogrammer, Jul 13, 2005
  9. idiotprogrammer

    Seattle Eric Guest

    If you are indoors, and have control of the set, there's no need to
    have low light conditions.

    If you need it to LOOK low light, you light it in such a way that it
    appears so, with sufficient footcandles for the emulsion/camera.
    Seattle Eric, Jul 13, 2005
  10. idiotprogrammer

    Bill Van Dyk Guest

    I believe both of those camcorders have "faux" 16x9. The Canon XL2,
    apparently, is the only camera in this general category that has "real"

    After researching this issue somewhat, I've come to the conclusion that
    I will be using an anamorphic lense. I'd be curious if anyone has a
    better solution, given that price range and resources.
    Bill Van Dyk, Jul 13, 2005
  11. idiotprogrammer

    Steve Guidry Guest

    Spend your money on the lighting and sound gear. You can always rent a

    Steve Guidry, Jul 14, 2005
  12. idiotprogrammer

    Toby Guest

    I agree with the others here who have said that you really need to consider
    what you are going for when thinking about lighting. Lighting can really be
    a black hole that will suck you down to the bottom if you are not ready for
    what it entails.

    The first thing to consider is that all lights have stands--or at least
    fixtures--that would not otherwise appear in your shots. So as soon as you
    have any sort of lighting apparatus other than ambient light fixtures you
    are limiting yourself in terms of movement, or at best you need to factor in
    a lot of time to reset lights to get reverse angles, etc. so that they don't
    appear in the shots. If you have control of the environment and fairly loose
    time constraints this can be doable, but there is another problem: as soon
    as you introduce lights you automatically reduce your working space, since
    you need somewhere to put them, and often that somewhere should not be too
    close to the action. So *most* lighting options impose severe constraints on
    you in any non-studio situation.

    There are a few "quick fix" options that can be useful: bounce light (if you
    have a light colored ceiling and/or walls) can often serve as fill light to
    soften the edge with hard light sources like incandescent bulbs at a
    distance. But if you are planning on "lighting" scenes in the true sense of
    the word--controlling the amount, angle, color and nature of the light that
    falls in different areas of your set or frame you need to give some
    consideration as to just what it is that you are trying to achieve and think
    about how you are going to go about doing it.

    It is probably worthwhile to experiment with various "household" solutions
    such as clip on spot or flood lights and see if you are satisfied with what
    you can get. The next step is "real" lights with various control mechanisms
    such as diffusers, filters and barndoors, and it just goes out from there to

    Sometimes you can find a way to incorporate a light into the scene itself--a
    desk lamp on a desk, a light with a shade in the living room--lighting
    instruments cleverly disguised as standard household light--which they
    are--can get light to the places you need while blending seamlessly into the
    decor. Just some things to think about...

    Toby, Jul 15, 2005
  13. idiotprogrammer

    2000lux Guest

    Basicly video is a "garbage in garbage out" system. You can only
    sweeten it so much in post. The better the footage you put in, the
    better you'll get out. If you can't afford a Sony 2100, or a PD-170,
    etc, at least look for a camera that has a very low lux rating. With
    cameras more than any thing else, you get what you pay for.

    What kind of lighting do you need to do? If you have an idea of what
    you need, check e-bay. I bought all my lights there and was never
    dissapointed. If you really want to go cheap. Check out some of the
    suggestions on the USING THE TRV900 web site here:

    I have no idea what kind of look you're going for or what the toopic
    is. When I shot news I got very good at just using the available light.
    It's all about where you position people. Flourescents are actually
    your friends (as long as you white balance and don't use the shutter).
    2000lux, Jul 22, 2005
  14. Reducing depth of focus is a GOOD thing for your documentary, lets you
    focus the audience's attention selectively. When everything in the fram
    is always in focus, the eye keeps wandering more.

    There are ways to eliminate light stands. I used to use a Bogen
    auto-pole all the time at my old job: it's a telescoping rod that can
    worrk vertically, from floor to cieling, or across the cieling
    wall-to-wall, and it can hold up a surprising number of lightsn and
    their cables out of the shot, leaving the entire 360 degree area below
    clear for shooting.

    Anyhow, unless you are shooting in some wacky style, sit-down
    interviews of people indoors can be lit with one or two quality
    instruments and look very "normal", but of broadcast quality. I favor
    the Lowel Rifa softlight for the main key, it particularly makes women
    look good, and I have sometimes gotten away with using JUST this one
    instrument. Though usually, I would add some fill and perhaps a
    backlight, it's all situational. Where you have practical sources for
    fill or bounce-fill, you can innovate and incorporate.

    If what I wrote sounds like gibberish, it's a clue you have more study
    and practice to do before you start this project.
    nobody special, Jul 25, 2005
  15. Not to be picky, but "depth of focus" is the range of focus you have
    around your imager (that's after the lens). What you mean is called
    "depth of field".


    Martin Heffels, Jul 26, 2005
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