Douglas Slocombe: a DP who never used a lightmeter

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Lionel1972, Oct 31, 2011.

  1. Lionel1972

    Lionel1972 Member

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    While watching this interview of Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford done after the 30th anniversary screening of "Raiders of the lost Ark", I got very surprised to hear them talk about how Douglas Slocombe, Director of Photography on the movie, never used any lightmeter but just "guessed" the right exposure. Fascinating and awe inspiring!

    http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011...ideo-george-lucas-star-wars-raiders-lost-ark/
     
  2. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    No guessing required, the sun is a constant source and if he knows his materials the only thing that can change is what is between the sun and the subject.
    Lots of photographers use the sunny 16 rule, or open shade rule

     
  3. moki

    moki Member

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    Guessing exposure is easy, but if I worked on a multi million dollar production, I'd use a meter for safety. I guess most of my exposures too and I'm rarely wrong as long as I'm outside in natural light. Sunny 16 (or more like Sunny 13 around here) is your friend. With inside situations and artifical light (which is often used for filming) on the other hand, I'm off by a stop or two from time to time - enough to ruin slide film anyway.
    This guy has my respect for having the confidence of doing it this way and getting it right every time.
     
  4. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    That is amazing!

    Jeff
     
  5. Mark Crabtree

    Mark Crabtree Member

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    It is amazing what can be done without a meter, but based on experience and judgement.

    Mike Johnston had a nice article about exposing without a meter. I'll try to find and link to it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 31, 2011
  6. Ross Chambers

    Ross Chambers Member

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    Extraordinarily courageous almost to the point of foolhardiness I would think. Perhaps he had a super able lab contact grading his rushes, or maybe his camera operator snuck a quick look at HIS meter. The usual DOP /Lab setup is to establish parameters via tests before shooting, so that rushes are single light graded to achieve quick turnaround (that's why they're 'rushes' in English language vernacular).

    The financial costs of a single day's shooting usually far exceed the DOP's fee.

    If the "sunny 16" rule had anything to do with it those rather large lighting setups usually found on motion picture sets, even on perfectly lit (for stills) days would be unnecessary.

    Films need investors, not gamblers.
     
  7. Ross Chambers

    Ross Chambers Member

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  8. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    I bet that someone else on set had a meter and checked his settings (even if he didn't know about it).


    Steve.
     
  9. squinonescolon

    squinonescolon Member

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    That was done strictly for the benefit of both Spielberg and Ford, the daily cost in a set can be upwards of a million dollars. Right after Douglas said "f5.6", his assistant would be right behind him checking to make sure. If you were Douglas wouldn't you love Spielberg and Ford telling fantastic stories about you. Not to mention the moment a producer would get a whiff of a DP doing something like this(and believe me, they will be told) would inmediately make it to the set and quietly pull him aside.
     
  10. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    If the cost on set can be upwards of a million dollars a day, It's awe inspiring that someone could be so arrogant and stupid not to use a light meter.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 1, 2011
  11. BrianL

    BrianL Member

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    Not really. With a lot of practice and expereince it is easy to estimate the correct exposure using the Sunny 16 rule which will work in any type of lighting, not just sunlight and from that think in the EV scale. I taught it in my beginners photogrpahy classes making the student either leave the meters at home or the batteries out of the cameras if they had mechanical shutters. In a few weeks or trial and error almost all of them were good enough to nail down the narrow latitude of transparency film that I had then shoot for that segment of the course. On a bad day until not too many years ago I'd come within a quarter of a stop of my meters. I do agree, I think I'd backstop my eye with a meter reading just to satisfy the nonbelievers i case something went wrong.
     
  12. MDR

    MDR Member

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    Don't forget Douglas Slocombe was born in 1913 and learned his craft in the pre lightmeter era furthermore most motion picture lightning even outside the studio is heavely controlled so basically once you know the power/brightness output of your lightning setup you know the aperture. It's also possible that the gaffer did the metering for Slocombe.

    Domink
     
  13. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Erwin Hillier was another DoP who eschewed the light meter on occasions. On a movie set which may be a mix of natural and artificial light and cast members walking in and out of each, a cinematographer needs instinct as well as calculation.
     
  14. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Frank Hurley, the famous Australian documentary cinematographer, was reputed to use his assistant as a light meter. By looking at his assistant's eyes and estimating the pupil diameter Frank would figure the ambient light level and set the lens aperture accordingly.
     
  15. samcomet

    samcomet Subscriber

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    Just as an anecdote - I was lucky enough to work for Englishman, Gil Taylor (DP on Dr. Stranglove and others), on a commercial in Australia. I was a gaffer/chief lighting technician. We shot the commercial during the course of a week inside a big semi-circular roofed harbour side shed used to build aircraft during the second world war. It had no internal supports and all lighting was a hung from trusses in the roof. There was no sun. We had dozens of 10k's (10,000 watt tungsten fresnel lamps) rigged in the roof and one on the floor for fill. They were not easily adjustable and Gill would look at the subject and suggest a stop (usually t 5.6 - 11 if memory serves) without the help of a meter. He would adjust the fill by having my team drag the floor 10k closer or further from the action - again by eye. The focus puller and I had meters, just in case. We used to double check his stop without his knowledge and he was always right. He was very old school and knew his stock (very unforgiving slow colour neg), lenses and light levels inside out. Obviously once lit, the set would not change dramatically in levels but from the outset he set all levels by eye (i.e the positioning and intensity of each lamp in the roof). For what it was worth the rushes (prints of the previous days shoot) were all perfection on a stick. Cheers, sam
     
  16. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    Camera assistant and probably had one. They do A LOT of high wattage fill even in daylight for movies. Someone was watchin the ratios it might not have been the head camera guy, but some assistant was.

    The sun is your key, and professionals know how far a 5k or 10k fresnel needs to be from the subject for the desired effect.

    I photographed all weekend without one. (russian leica).
     
  17. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    Now THAT's impressive!

    I know nothing about motion picture lighting althogh I aways study patterns & ratios on closer shots to the point of being excessive.
    It amazes me how much power must be needed to get the depth of field they sometimes use.
     
  18. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Don't forget that unless they are shooting IMAX or 70mm stock, most likely their frame size is probably something like 18mm x 24mm - much better depth of field than even 35mm stills.
     
  19. Ross Chambers

    Ross Chambers Member

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    I can't find the pic of Frank Hurley astride the bowsprit of the Aurora on the Mawson Antarctic Expedition (it was published in the Sydney Morning Herald today) This will have to do--the question being how he might have handled a light meter as well as the camera in such acrobatic situations.

    BTW if you search for Frank Hurley Aurora in Google images you'll find several copies of him lowering his processed film over the rail of the ship and into the sea to wash it. I'm not sure what that would do to the emulsion.

    http://images.rgs.org/imageDetails.aspx?barcode=23764
     
  20. squinonescolon

    squinonescolon Member

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    And he had to make sure his assistant never got drunk or high the night before ;-)
     
  21. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    My brother estimating exposure in low light by checking the dof of his own eyes.
     
  22. yurisrey

    yurisrey Member

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    guess after a forty-year career it just comes to you like that. in film school, our prof always recommended to guess before looking for practice- trains the eye.
     
  23. tomalophicon

    tomalophicon Member

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    I count photons, myself.



    Are film speed and the lens opening the only variables when exposing film in motion picture cameras?
     
  24. couldabin

    couldabin Member

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    I'm guessing it's easier to say you don't use a light meter than it is to correctly guess exposure every time.
     
  25. Markster

    Markster Member

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    Folks are saying "it's a multimillion dollar movie, they'd use a meter!" but from some of the anecdotes from the guys actually making the movie, I get the impression it was more improvised, more of an adventure to make as well as to watch. They'd take the second camera crew and rush off when on location at the last second to get some new idea shot, and so forth.

    It had a lot more of a low budget feel, is what I mean. It's the kind of thing where many shots are on locations or outside, and not on a set. You look at the light you have and you can tell what you need (with practice). That, coupled with just having so many years of experience -- I can totally believe he didn't use a light meter. I hope to be that good some day.