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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Filming in the dark or filming in the light

Some scripts call for things that happen at night. Sometimes I film them in the dark, and sometimes I don’t film them in the dark, but instead make the images darker in editing. So what’s better? Let’s check out my little experiments.

In Episode 12 – Daylight Saving, I experimented with filming in the dark for the power outage scene in the beginning. This is the outcome.

And in Obscure Facts about UCLA You Didn’t Know, we filmed the tunnel scene which takes place at night, but we filmed it in broad day light because we were there in the morning. So I had to take a bright and light picture and make it dark in editing. This is the result.

Now, which one is better? I’d say they each has their own pros and cons.

Pros for filming in the dark
In the first picture, the darkness is authentic because it was indeed filmed in the dark. When we are in the dark, we don’t see colors as well as we do in daylight. This is because we have two kinds of photoreceptors in our eyes, rods and cones. Cones are the ones in charge of gathering color information but cones don’t work well in darkness. Rods are the ones that work better in low light situations but they don’t gather color information. So in the dark, we see shapes and movements, but not so much colors. When this translates to video, it means you’d want to get a dark picture without so much color information. What the camera captured was similar to what our eyes saw in this case.

Pros for filming in the light
In the second picture, this image is done by taking a video in broad daylight and then digitally decreasing the brightness level in a video editor. Since it’s not filmed in the dark, there are more richness in the colors. Now, the richness in colors is good for a better contrast of the foreground characters and the background. This is good if you want to see more clearly what the characters are doing, and it makes the foreground characters stand out more. Sometimes, having some light in the foreground can be used as a trick to emphasize how dark the background (and hence the overall picture) is. This shot below is also filmed in daylight but darkened in the editor. You can see a pretty cool contrast between the foreground and background.

Cons for filming in the dark
If you watch the Daylight Saving video that the first picture is from, you might have noticed that Bottle Monster seems to come in and out of focus a lot. This is because I was filming in the dark and I manually dialed the exposure setting on the camera all the way down to get an even darker picture. This gave the camera’s auto focus mechanism a hard time to focus on Bottle Monster, because his color is similar to the dark background. This doesn’t happen to Mac and Cheese as much because he is yellow and bounces off more light. This problem can probably be solved by using the manual focus setting on the camera, but really, when you are filming in the dark, you simply don’t have as much control over the image because the camera has a harder time sensing lights, and you have a harder time looking at the camera’s LCD screen for what’s being filmed as well.

Cons for filming in the light
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s good for contrast between the foreground and background. However, if you don’t want that much contrast and color, and instead just want everything dark, then filming in the light isn’t a good idea. Also, any shots that’s manipulated in the video editor might come out having an artificial feel. It might not look as natural as a shot that’s actually filmed in the dark.

So which one would be a better choice?
This probably depends on what kind of shot we want, but in general, I’m not going to go for either extremes. In the future, I’m going to film something in dimmed lights where the brightness level is higher than that dark picture and lower than the daylight. This will give me a more natural feel to the final product while also giving me some control in terms of brightness and contrast with colors. Since that’s probably enough lights for the camera’s auto focus mechanism, I’m probably not going to use the manual focus. I’m probably not going to be adjusting the exposure either, but instead I’ll adjust the light level as best as I can. Filming in the dark can certainly be tricky, but the ones done well are certainly interesting to look at. :-)

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