Once again, hats off to principal cinematographer and colleague Cynthia Pushek, ASC. She did an amazing job on this show and I was privileged to have contributed some additional photography to the effort.
This simple bit of business illustrates the solving of a technical problem that really used to bug me as a young cinematographer – until I figured out the solution. It goes back to one of the basic tenets of lighting: the Inverse Square Law. In short, this states that the closer an object is to a source, the brighter it will be – and vice versa.
In this case, the apartment door opens to reveal two visitors; the scene plays out right at the threshold. For the key light, I used a Mole Richardson 650W Tweenie through some Lee 250 Diffusion. But here stood the challenge. In addition to being closer to the lamp than the actors, the door was painted a highly reflective shade of white and was closed at the top of the action. If I exposed it properly, the guests in the hall would appear too dark when the door is opened to them (as they were several feet further away from the lamp).
I had several options. We were moving too fast for the art department to repaint with a darker color. Opening the lens iris was out of the question; the change in exposure would have to take place quickly and was impossible to hide. I could also have put a grip on a ladder so as to move some nets around in front of the Tweenie, but we didn’t have time for that, either.
Ultimately, I used a simple hand dimmer to effect the exposure change. Fortunately, the warm color tone of the room matched the low-color temperature setting of the Tweenie at the head of the shot. As star Genevieve Angelson opens the door, the light level was remotely boosted to maintain the key at normal color temp. The shift is buried in the combined movement of the actor and door.
Believe me, this’s not a magically inspired solution. However, it’s something that I’m questioned about by students all the time. Dimmers are an incredible tool – as long as you can deal with the inevitable Kelvin shift when you go up or down on the dial.
If you look closely at the clip you might actually see a tiny hint of the light change, but I signed off on it at the time, so it must be spot-on perfect!