Test footage: colour grading

Here’s last week’s test footage that we shot in Treadwell’s bookshop in London.

Our aim here was to sympathetically light a character’s simple movement through a book-lined space. The composition and content is nothing special, and we have some intern called Ludovico Einaudi temping for the great Owen Hewson, but what’s really important here is the colour and light.

To get an impression of how much grading Adam’s applied to this footage, have a butcher’s at this side-by-side ‘before and after’…

As you can see, the shadows have been darkened, making the background more mysterious; a vignette has been applied; the subject’s face has been isolated throughout and given a greater contrast of light and dark; the colours have been altered; and other changes (such as the removal of the plastic chair in the background at 00.06) have been made. Adam’s done a spiffing job.

However, we perhaps didn’t. The majority of Adam’s time was spent correcting for mistakes made either in dressing, lighting or filming the space on the day. Among the things we’ve now learnt is how very important it is to pay attention to lighting faces; and also how important it is to consider what you DON’T light as much as what you do. The above footage also hammers home what happens if the camera doesn’t receive quite enough light into its electronic innards: you get the awful grainy pixellations (particularly evident in the darker areas of the image) which make this footage look more like The Last Bookshop for the Mega Drive.

Those of you who know about this sort of thing may recognise this as being caused by a high ISO setting on the camera. This is rather frustrating, as we happen to be shooting on a Canon 5d Mk II, a camera known for its ability to film in low light conditions (check out this film to see the kind of thing that can be achieved). Also, to add insult to injury, we thought we WERE shooting on a low ISO setting (for those who are interested, we didn’t shoot anything above an ISO value of 1250), but apparently owing to some black magic inside the camera, this just wasn’t true. Techies among you might be interested to read this thread on cinema5D.com, which seems to have identified the problem.

All in all it just goes to show how vital these tests are. It’s far better to be hitting these obstacles now, in pre-production, than to hit them during the actual shoot. Hopefully this way the film can look as good as possible.

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