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How to Film a Lost Character in Darkness on a Black Sea

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effectively depicting darkness or night in a video story, requires some artistic depiction. On the one hand, you want to show that it's really really dark, and on the other hand you can't just have your audience stare at a black screen for long; you wan

So your video calls for a scene in which you have somebody lost or marooned at night... perhaps their ship had sunk and now they're drifting along in total darkness on the ocean with only the moon providing enough light for them to realize they're alive...

Of course as you may or may not know, effectively depicting darkness or night in a video story, requires some artistic depiction.  On the one hand, you want to show that it's really really dark, and on the other hand you can't just have your audience stare at a black screen for long;  you want people to see enough so they can follow the story. 

This may cause a problem for the novice moviemaker, because you cannot solve this by using very low light, as your camera will not film an acceptable picture in low light.  You will end up with noise or snow on your video. 

One way to solve this would be to shoot with low exposure in sunlight, also called "day into night".  But of course now the sun and its position dictates the lighting, so you don't have much control over it. 

To get some idea of possible methods on how to do this successfully with more control over every element, here is a method:

What was needed first is a body of water, in this case a big swimming pool;  electricity (for the lighting);  and of course nighttime to provide darkness. 

Whenever you add lighting to a scene, there has to be some motivation for it to provide a sense of realism in this completely fabricated world of videofilms.  For a nighttime scene, the most obvious foremost element would be the moon, causing "moonlight" shining on the characters. 

This moonlight can be completely exaggerated by a bleakish, pale, even blueish light shining from the supposed direction of the moon (or roughly therefrom) on your characters. 

Use the "exposure" function on your camera to bring the brightness of the picture down before filming it, if it's now too light.  When causing a darker picture by means of bringing down the Exposure of a brightly lit scene, you can create a darker picture that will not have snowyness and noise on it, as opposed to when you're using actual low lighting and turning up your exposure setting to make it acceptably brighter.   

For this scene, it was important not to light up the bottom of the pool, as this would be a dead giveaway that the body of water is just a swimming pool.  The floor of the pool must not be seen.  However, splashing of water is desirable to show that it's dark water, so the surface should be lit. 

So the lighting was set up as follows:

The light shines on the characters and surface of the water, but doesn't light up the bottom.  This leaves the water dark on the resulting video, while movements on the surface and splashes show that the characters are indeed in water. 

Fog is added by means of a smoke machine or fogger.

Afterwards in post production, the color temperature of the video is turned slightly cooler, to give a sense of night with a pale moonlight.  Digitally, elements can be combined, for example a full moon can be added into the scene in wide shots. 

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Posted on Mar 27, 2011

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