Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

HD on the rise

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Once a set has been designed, built, and decorated, and actors are in position, it’s time, as the old lyric goes, to hit the lights. Enter the Director of Photography. Being the cinematographer for an HD show offers advantages and challenges whether coming from film or standard definition (SD) video.
Bryan Hays has worked almost exclusively in multi-camera videotape sitcoms. His first DP experience was on The Jeffersons and is currently DP for UPN’s Half and Half and WB’s Reba, which is where he first experienced HD three years ago.
“On the whole, HD has made my job a lot easier,” says Hays. “The biggest difference I see is in the color. HD cameras see, capture, and reproduce more tones of color than we’ve worked with before.” Hays compared HD and SD cameras, both of which use chip technology rather than the much older tube technology. “With the older SD video chip cameras, if there was greenery in the background, you would see a green leaf. With the HD cameras, you see a green leaf that has dark textures and a light vine, as well as other shades.”
The greater tonal range in HD cameras brings opportunities for greater contrast in lighting. “You have to retrain your eye to know how much contrast you can build into the set. It’s a little bit different than SD cameras because HD cameras are more light-sensitive and you don’t need as much fill.” Because of this, Hays has become much more selective about what part of the set he calls out. “Rather than putting a soft light or fill in the back to light the entire area, I try to highlight the background. I’ll pick up a corner or pick up a plant and let the rest go.”
Greater contrast also applies to faces. “The angles used to light faces haven’t changed since the MGM star days of Marlene Dietrich,” says Hays, although he has made adjustments because of HD. “I was used to seeing a certain amount of contrast in the face and saying, that’s fine. Now the same amount of contrast isn’t enough with these HD cameras. So you can go ahead and make the front light a little bit darker and still have pretty images without the dark side of the face looking too dark.”
Both Reba and Half and Half use the Sony HD F900 cameras. Reba uses the Fujinon 20:1 lenses and Half and Half uses Panavision lenses, 11:1 on the wing cameras and 9:1 on the center two cameras. But Hays does not like to work with the f-stop wide open on the cameras. “Working wide open does not give me enough latitude. These lenses are maybe a 1.6 or 1.8 f-stop. I like to work between 2.4 and 2.8.” This is equivalent to around 30-35 footcandles which would rate the cameras at 320 ASA. “Working in this area gives me a half stop I can open up in case I get into a little trouble, like when my actors walk into a different area. If the cameras are not wide open, then I can adjust with a little bit of iris.”
Hays repeats the often used HD adage: “The good thing about HD cameras is that they see everything so sharply. But the bad thing about HD cameras is that they see everything so sharply. You don’t want to see every pore and imperfection.” To soften the look for his shows, Hays adds a Tiffen one-half Soft/FX filter to the HD lens. The filter effect is very subtle, but without it, Hays feels the image would be way too sharp. “I think shooting these cameras without a filter is a big mistake unless you’re shooting a teen show or Saturday morning show.”
According to Hays, taking HD cameras outside is a whole different ballgame. “My preference when we go outside is to put my cast in the shade. If they can’t be in the shade, I try to put them under a silk, otherwise there’s miles too much contrast between the sunny side of the face and the dark side of the face, and you only have a couple of stops of latitude.”
Transitioning to HD is a mixed bag for cinematographers. When lighting for film, they can miss someone by a half stop and color correct or adjust it in post. When lighting for video, if they miss a person by a half stop, the image looks dark. Adds Hays, “I think the transition for me was easier than someone from film because I’m used to working within a much narrower latitude.”

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