Creating Soft Moonlight



I am shooting a student short and want to create soft moonlight in a room. In past the night scenes I have had to do allowed me to have a bit harsher of moonlight (2k w/250 and 1/2 CTB 1/4 Plus Green). But I want a much softer feel with this but still keep areas dark. Would a kino or diva work well? Of course I would have to cut the spill. Or would it be better to use again a 2k but go with stronger diffusion like 216? I also had the idea of playing with a 1k chimera but that is a hard light to control when you have limited flags, nets, etc.

On the subject of moonlight, do many cinematographer underexpose on big night EXT.? I was reading in AC about wolfman and they were explaining the lighting set up for the forest and I was curious if the key light is usually underexposed since you outside at night and don't have highlights in the woods at that time.
Chimeras actually take less grip equipment since the diffusion frame and side flagging is built-in. You can use soft eggcrate grids on the front to reduce the spill further. Kinos also work well for soft moonlight.

Basically soft lights need larger flags to cut them. It also helps to avoid white-walled rooms.

Underexposure is a tricky thing -- you need some for night work but you have to think carefully about how much. For example, sometimes in a backlit situation where the backlight is supposed to be the moon, I meter the backlight as if it were a frontlight and expose at key, so it's not underexposed but since it's a backlight, the face is still dark and I have to add another soft key to see into the shadows. At that point, you then have to decide how much more underexposed that is than the backlight. You may find that two-stops under for the backlit face looks about right. Just depends.

The thing to keep in mind is that if you want "open" shadows, not black shadows, and you are playing your keys on the underexposed side, the lighting has to be a bit flatter because if -- for example -- your key is 1.5-stops underexposed and things go near black at 3-stops underexposed, your shadows can't be more than 1.5-stops darker than that key which is 1.5-stops under. So the key-to-fill ratio might seem on the flat or low-contrast side. But as you make the image darker, especially in post, you keep some detail in the shadows. The basic idea is to somewhat overlight and then darken way down in post until things are falling-off into blackness.

Which brings up the other issue, is that you should underexpose halfway there and finish darkening in post rather than do all your underexposing in-camera. So be conservative in your underexposing because it's easy to keep darkening it later but hard to save something that is too underexposed.

But if you want black shadows, then don't add light there. In that case, high-contrast lighting works well, but then you may want the lit highlights to not be too dim compared to the black shadows.

It's the difference between a hard, contrasty look versus a soft, dim look for night.


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Moonlight Grid

Moonlight Grid

Joel from Rosco here.

If you'd like to experiment with our new Moonlight Grid filter, let me know and I can arrange for a sample piece. It's our Silent Lt. Grid Cloth that's been dyed a cyan color (think your CTB & Plusgreen mixture). It was developed for The Mummy 3.

FYI - we also have CTB and Straw Dyed Grids too.

Best of luck with your shoot.

Joel Svendsen