Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jay P. Morgan: Turning Sunlight into Moonlight

In this LiteBlog post, which is a slightly condensed version to the YouTube video version above, I wanted to demonstrate how to change sunlight into moonlight for stills or video.  This is not a post process, it's an in camera technique using two different color temperatures in the same image.  People ask me all the time, "Why worry about color in the camera when you can shoot raw and fix it when you process?"  That can work to some extent, but it's important to keep in mind that color balance can become another tool you can use to create mood and interest in your images.  Here, I'll demonstrate a creative way to shift the color balance of sunlight and create a blue background that looks like moonlight.

I wanted a nighttime look for this 1920's "speakeasy" scene.  Shooting at night was not an option. The technique I used - creating a nighttime look to sunlight streaming through the window - can be applied to all types of photography.  I once saw a wedding photographer use this technique.  He attached a warm gel to his strobe, which allowed him to let the background behind the bride and groom go slightly blue.  This can add depth and interest.  I've also used it in corporate portraiture to create a cool background out of what was a boring scene.  The blue becomes a unifying layer that pulls a background together into one element.

We shot in a well-lit room in the afternoon.  The sun was streaming into the room through the window and had little-to-no mood.  I wanted this image to look like night, which meant that we needed to cool the sunlight in the room to make it look more like moonlight.

From an overhead vantage point, you can see the lighting setup we had.

Even though the scene was daylight with an approximate color temperature of 5500 degrees Kelvin, I dialed the white balance on the camera from Daylight to Tungsten (3200 degrees Kelvin).  As you can see, this color shift to deep blue made the background look like night, and a lot more interesting.  The sun became the first light source in this setup.

Next, we needed to light our talent.  Strobe lights are daylight balanced, which under this white balance setting, would render our model with very blue light unless we color corrected the strobes.  The first light we added was a Medium Photoflex LiteDome soft box from camera right to rim-light her body.  We panned the box slightly away from the background so it would allow just the right amount of light on the man at the window. This gave us a nice rim light on her and did not over-light him.

Because Strobes are balanced at around 6000 degrees Kelvin, we needed to add a Full CTO (Color Temperature Orange) to the strobe lights for balanced color. Without the gel, our model would be rendered very blue.

Next, we set the key light on her face from a low angle.  This light consisted of a strobe with a Small Photoflex OctoDome (also gelled with a full CTO) attached on a low light stand to camera left.  I attached a set of Grids to the face of the OctoDome to keep the light contained, which prevented it from over-lighting the background.

Placing the light low gave us a more interesting key light on her face that was consistent with this "speakeasy" scene.  I panned the light away from the man in the background to maintain his silhouette.

This is what the shot would have looked like if I had shot it at 5500 degrees Kelvin or "Daylight".  Very warm on her face with the full CTO, and neutral on the background, doing away with the nighttime feel.

Let's now look at the post process.  I wanted the image to look a bit more gritty than what the camera gave me, so I used Nik Software color effects 4 pro to enhance it.

Using a recipe called "Super Cross Pop", I opened up the shadows and reduced the contrast.  The effect on her face was a little too heavy, and so I removed about 60% of the effect there and then dialed the whole effect back about 20%.  This became my final image.

This lighting style is easy to use when shooting video as well.  If you're using a Tungsten light, like a Photoflex StarLite, set the color temperature on the camera to Tungsten you're ready to shoot. Tungsten lights are balanced at 3200 degrees Kelvin and sunlight is 5500 degrees Kelvin, so no gel is needed to achieve the effect.  Tungsten light is naturally warm so when you warm the camera, the sunlight goes blue. 

It's important to think beyond my examples here and visualize the application in your own work.   Keep those cameras rolling and keep on clickin'!

To see more of Jay P. Morgan's work, visit  jaypmorgan.com

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