Recently while working as a grip on a couple of features I've [seen] one DP using only a spot meter (Gale Tattersall, "Thirteen Ghosts") and another using only footcandle measurement (Fred Elmes, "24 Hours"). I'm used to an incident meter, but I was wondering if you could comment on these other approaches, and how you meter.
Michael Cox

Hello Michael,
This is quite a topic that could take up a book or two.  Traditionally, Cinematographers use Incident Meters (the most famous is the Spectra): lately some Cinematographers, often who have a background in still photography, use Spot Meters (Minolta, Pentax etc).
Incident meters measure the light that falls on the subject, spot meters measure the light that reflects off the subject (usually a 1 degree angle). In theory the reflected light off a “Grey Card” will give the same reading as an incident meter, though in practice this is rare!
Footcandle measurement used to be the norm when Cinematographers used Incident meters.  This is an “absolute” measurement, like distance or speed. It is based on 1 foot candle being the amount of light a candle will give 1 foot from the candle - (I think!).  So a cameraman could say to a gaffer: I need 64 footcandles over there from that light and the gaffer would be able to provide that amount of light.  Today a cinematographer may say: I need a 2.8 over there, meaning T2.8 at whatever ASA (film speed) he is using; or he may say, put a 5K (light) over there and not refer to the amount of light that will come from it.  In practice every Cinematographer has their own way of working (including not using a meter atall!), so there’s no “right” way.
Personally I only use a spot meter as I learned the Ansel Adams Zone System from his excellent books.  This divides the reflected light into “zones” from the deepest black to the whitest white: once you’ve decided how many “zones” the particular film and print stock combination you’ve chosen is going to see, you can work out what lighting range will give you the desired result.  An extreme version of this is visible in Robert Altmans “Kansas City”, where I used a very strong bleach-bypass process on the print from a very “soft” negative (achieved by using Kodaks 32OT “flashed” in the camera): this meant the lighting ratio had to very soft - it looked terrible to the eye on set as it was so flat.  In stills terms, it would be like using a “pulled” (incomplete development) negative and a hard paper.
So long as the Printer Light numbers that come back from the Lab are what you are after, it doesn’t matter how you judge the exposure.

When lighting a traditional night time interior on a stock with pretty good latitude, what is your favorite contrast ratio between the highlights and shadows?  For example, let's say that moonlight spilling in through an open window is the main light source.

- Nat

The honest answer is that I don’t know!  Some DP’s are very technical and light in the way you describe: I tend to light by eye and measure the exposure almost as an afterthought.
But knowing the stock is the key as (for instance) in Shipping News the ratio would be maybe 3:1 because of the bleach by-pass print, whereas in a “normal” movie it might be 7:1.  The most important process for me is in testing where I decide on the lens/stock/printstock combination and then tune the lighting to that combination.  For instance right now I am using the new Kodak 500asa 5218 which has an extreme latitude so windows can go 3 stops overexposed and you still see detail.  This stock allows lighting to be “by eye” in a way that say the Vision 200 stock would not.  On the downside, if the lighting is too flat the image looks “muddy”.


I am young 23 year old with a huge aspiration for both film and television. I soon will be behind the DP chair once again and I wanted to achieve a gritty yet colorful look. So I was thinking that I shoot everything with a polarizer, including indoors. My question is.. If I use a polarizer indoors and not adjust the camera for exposure, will it give me the look that I am going for?

Interesting idea, but I wouldn't want to shoot with a polarizer indoors without adjusting the exposure since there is a 2 stop loss with most polarizer?s so you are talking about quite severe underexposure. You are right that under-exposure of this kind will make the film more grainy, but the problem is that it will make the color less saturated which goes against your idea of gritty-yet-colorful.

Take the polarizer idea on its own. Whilst it is true that outside a Polar will tend to saturate color by removing some reflected light, (blue sky is the obvious example), you need to compensate the exposure otherwise your underexposure will de-saturate the colour. So lets say you use the Polariser outside and compensate the stop but then OVEREXPOSE the film to increase the colour saturation (some people disagree with this but it works for me!) Now you have the problem of not "gritty" so you have to decide how to achieve this. Super 8mm? 16mm? If it's MiniDV it?s a bigger problem as fake grain is not great. Otherwise if its 35mm then a 500ASA stop should be essential for a slightly grainy feel. You'd have to push process it to get any real feeling of grain.

So what to do indoors? The polar won't make much difference here - look through it and you'll see - unless you are around a lot of water or reflective material. The color is largely a function of sets and costumes, along with stock and exposure choices. Remember that you can increase color saturation considerably by lighting colors with their own color.. the "gritty" element is under the same control as it was outdoors? I never got around to trying pola gel in front of lights with colour and then a pola on the camera. I thought about it a couple of times but maybe you can make some sense of it!

I've been trying a few different methods of metering (I use an incident meter). When pushing a stock, I always take the reading directly from the light so that I may dial the aperture in at exactly what the meter says; this way I'm pushing the highlights so I can expose for the shadows. It just seems more accurate this way. But when I'm not pushing the stock, I've been told to point the meter at the camera and then split the difference of the key and fill; this seems too arbitrary, and it goes against my intuition, however, it does make sense that I'm taking into account the shadows at a higher exposure.
Should I always push the stock, even if I agree with the default EI?(br>Brian

I can't see much point in pushing a stock unless you are struggling for an exposure level, or you wish to increase the visibility of the grain. You have phrased your question in such a way as to make me completely unsure of what you are saying! Why you would read any differently for when a stock is pushed (if that is what you do) I don't know. Pushing a stock increases its EI by whatever you decide: you then just alter the EI on your meter and carry on using whatever metering method you like.

Personally I only use a spotmeter so can't really comment on your metering method. However, you can only really work out where your exposure is going by getting light numbers from the Lab when printing which is of course becoming increasingly rare. However, when you are testing, ask the lab to give you the light number that you would have printed at and then at least you can get an idea of where the exposure is on the neg.

The generally accepted way to use an incident meter is to point it at the camera and use the reading as the shape of the cone is designed to split the key/fill difference for you: with the exception that most people seem to shade off the toplight. As I learned exposure via the Ansel Adams Zone system, Incident light has always struck me as rather irrelevant. There's a good summary of the system on this web page: http://www4.hmc.edu:8001/humanities/beckman/artclasses/Assign11.htm

I am filming a movie at the moment and last week a filmed part of a scene. The weather was cloudy and somewhat dark even though it was in the middle of the day. What I want to do now is film the other half now that I have all the actors back from their various trips. The problem is the weather forecast is sunny. How can I make the two part of the scene look the same. Is it possible or will I just have to wait for an other cloudy day.?

I was asked by a Director once if I could use a "sun filter" to make a cloudy day look sunny: I thought she was joking but she wasn't! If you have already shot pieces that need other pieces within the same scene then yes you will have to wait for cloudy conditions. If you are moving on to the next part of the same scene you might get away with a change in the lighting conditions. You might have to make a small adjustment to the script or the way the scene is edited to account for the change. In the old days we would shoot the sun going behind a cloud as people were more afraid of continuity mistakes then but you won't see a shot like that in a modern film. A lighting change will just propel the narrative forward a few minutes.

In "One from the Heart" Storaro deliberately lit a scene at a table with Sun one side and Cloud (or was it Night?) at the other. Unsurprisingly no-one remarked on it as they were involved with the story. David Watkin once said: I don't care what it looks like as long at is backlit? So much for reality!

When doing moody night interiors, especially faces, do you expose normally and print down, or deliberately under-expose? If so, how much is it "safe" to under-light?

This is an "old chesnut" as they say. The answer depends rather on the situation but in broad strokes it goes something like this: Underexposure will initially make the image less grainy (technically) but risks not getting a full black which always looks ugly in moody lighting. The accepted wisdom in creating dark scenes is to have a small patch of bright somewhere (candle, window etc) because what happens when the whole screen is dark is that the audiences eyes adapt to the light level and the black starts to look grey even if it is the same black as another scene. So printing down will mean you have a "safe" negative and the black will look good. However, it does not always suit the film's "look" and also is subject to the whims of the Director or Producer who might decide they don't want it that dark and brighten it up afterwards. If you don't want this to happen you can't go for the "print down" technique. In my own work, Prick Up Your Ears was a film that was underexposed consistently; I got the idea from reading about what Vilmos Zsigmond did on The Deer Hunter. Labs will panic so you should only do this when you have the confidence of the Director and Producer! Whatever you do with exposure (2 stops under is about as far as you want to go), the crucial thing is still about the lighting and how it is controlled.

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