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How Do You Control Window Brightness When Shooting Video?

Published: 10/08/2018
By: larry

I wanted to do a follow-up post that addressed Hamish Beeston's (one of the PFRE video jurors) comments on Jared Saulnier's winning video.

For those who didn't see Hamish's comment on the video, here it is:

"Wow. A film that oozes quality from the start with those amazing rich aerial shots. And adding the waves sound fx as well. Never heard that before in a coastal film but it works so well (and is kind of obvious too - why don't we all do it?). Great music track too and pacing. Good mix of CU details and wide shots. Careful, smooth gimbal shots. Things to improve? Well for me it is a little too long. I'd be interested in seeing a 3-4 mins version and think I would get the point in that (or maybe even less time). The other big issue this film raises is the old PFRE video favorite of how to shoot rooms with views on video. It's so hard to balance the bright light outside with the dark interiors. How to get around this? Is it OK to add some stills of key rooms with their views properly balanced? I see the logic of this but for me, it does bump me as a viewer out of the moment. This is a beautiful house in a beautiful location, beautifully shot, and then to bump in a still can kind of break the magic. It's obvious that some filmmakers manage this issue way better than others. Is it equipment? Time of day of shooting? Not sure of the answer."

Hamish raises a great question. I think it is interesting that in Jared's winning video, he uses several of the techniques (1, 3, & 4 stated below) for controlling window brightness. Here is my take on Hamish's question:

  1. I agree with Hamish; I don't like the approach of embedding still images into a video to get the windows exposed correctly. I'd rather just have bright windows than stills.
  2. Shooting late or early in the day is one great way to control window brightness but the logistics don't always allow this.
  3. Going with a dark interior to keep the windows correctly exposed is one technique commonly used and I think this is better than using stills.
  4. Today's modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have so much dynamic range that if you are using a newer camera, it isn't the problem it used to be. Most of the newer cameras have just under 15 stops of dynamic range, as does the 5D MKIV that Jared is using.

How do you keep windows from going too bright in your video?

8 comments on “How Do You Control Window Brightness When Shooting Video?”

  1. I also photograph large dark cavernous homes with large windows here in Santa Fe, Brown walls, Brown floors and furniture and have started using an Osmo for video and it just can't handle the windows as being discussed in this thread. From the members that have the knowledge and an opinion about the exposure latitude would it be better to ditch the Osmo as the main camera for a A6300 or maybe the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K camera that is about to be released.

  2. To keep the windows from blowing out, here are a few choices.

    1. Expose for windows.
    2. Expose for windows and light up the room.
    3. Add items 1 or 2 and fix in post by bringing up shadows. Fixing in post is made easier if using top notch cameras shooting in S-log or Cini profiles. More expensive videos camera can shoot raw.
    4. Spend money and tint windows to lower light from the windows. That's how they do it in big films, but this is obviously labor intensive and uses lots of materials. I have worked on film shoots where the crew spent hours tinting windows. They use a removable tint film. This tint does not look great up close, but the camera can not see small details.

  3. "Today’s modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have so much dynamic range that if you are using a newer camera, it isn’t the problem it used to be. Most of the newer cameras have just under 15 stops of dynamic range, as does the 5D MKIV that Jared is using."

    While a large DR certainly helps, isn't the real issue getting a pleasing contrast range for final film that would then force one to choose what highlights to preserve or lose? Or are people using local processing as one can supposedly do in DaVinci Resolve?

  4. We do a 180 degree pan from the inside to the outside on auto exposure. Show enough of the inside and then speed ramp to the outside view shot. You've then shown that there is a view to be had from that room.

  5. Here is a link to a video I did recently of a huge timber frame home with very dark interior spaces and large windows that surprisingly didn't let a lot of light in...just added more challenges. I shoot video with the Sony A7S II and use Slog 2 for interior. I'm still not happy with the exterior footage as compared to what the 5D III can provide except for better dynamic range but I find the colours get strange hues compared. Anyways in this video if you skip to the 1:43 mark you'll see the first time I do this effect. I shoot the scene twice being careful to make movements at similar speeds. The first I expose for inside and second I expose for exterior. I find the match up point on the timeline then add a dissolve transition and voila. It's not perfect but in cases of extreme importance to view, I think it's much better than adding a still into the video or underexposing the interior only...

  6. Thanks for following this topic up Larry and all interesting points guys.

    @Marshall, I haven't used an Osmo for interiors but experience tells me that all these tiny sensor cameras like GoPros / Osmos etc are great for exteriors with loads of bright light but can really struggle in low light / contrast. I've not tried the A6300 or Blackmagic you mention but as others have said, a flat profile is the key thing technically so that you have as large a dynamic range as possible. Having said that, some flat profiles are better than others. I've never had much luck with Sony's Slog2 or Slog 3 on the 8-bit A7s / A7s2 but on my main camera the 10-bit Fs7 the Slog3 is fantastic. The Fs7 is however more expensive than a DSLR so that needs to be factored in. I've yet to try RAW video but it sounds promising for this kind of thing.

    @Lee, good suggestions but I've never had much luck lighting rooms for video. Occasionally I will add a light or two in a really dark, say basement, room but otherwise I find it hard to make it look real and also very time-consuming. Likewise adding two differently exposed video layers would be OK if the shot was static - like @Matt's HDR example but very hard to do on a moving shot I imagine. Re tinting windows, again I've considered this but never used it for an RE shoot - it would just take too long.

    @Colin's and @Matt's techniques to somehow intercut or mix through from correctly exposed interior with blown windows to dark interior with exposed windows is I think the best option technically if your camera cannot handle the contrast. It honestly admits to the limitations of video and I think if done stylishly (like @Matt's example) that's fine. I think I would be tempted to change shot size so have a wide interior with blown windows and then cut to a tighter view shot so the dark interior surround is kept to a minimum. Allan Mackenzie from this forum and I have been discussing this recently and this is the technique he uses to great effect.

    Camera dynamic range aside, if you have the luxury of time to shoot problem rooms at different times of day, I've found a few scenarios which can help which can work with pretty much any camera.

    In the UK, with the sun in the south, the worst case scenario is a north facing room with a view and the sun due south. The room is dark and the view is brightly illuminated. I had one such apartment to shoot recently and really struggled. The client already had great stills with perfect park views and bright interiors but I just could not compete. The result was a rather mushy sequence of wides with the Fs7's 14 stops pushed well beyond authenticity and some closer view shots. I think I matted in a couple of correctly-exposed views on some static wides too to get me out of trouble.

    Much better is to wait until the sun is coming into the room and then the interior ambient is much brighter so you can stop down and hopefully the view will be better exposed. Even better in this situation, if the sun is shining into the room, by definition it can't be shining on the view (if that makes sense) and so the view is dark, again making blow-out less likely. Of course this presupposes the room only has one wall of windows. Windows on more than one side can complicate things.

    The downside of shooting a room into the sun of course is that this itself can cause silhouetting and glare issues. The way round this to try to shoot at an angle to the sun. If the windows are at 12 o'clock (on an imaginary dial) and the sun comes from 11 o'clock, try to shoot from 7 o'clock across the light. As opposed to 5 o'clock where you would be looking straight into the light.

    My perfect scenario is for the sun to be coming pretty much directly into a room and for me to be shooting pretty much at right angles to it. The room is bright, you get fantastic light rays across the floor / furniture etc and any glimpses of views are nice and dark.

  7. My "videos" typically consist of a lot of still images (sort of Ken Burns style) blended with short video clips, so the problem is the same as mentioned above. That is, the photos are exposed for the view through the window and I have used a flash to compensate, where the video capture must use a totally different approach if the continuity "or sameness" is to be well done. Both photos and video clips have to look "the same," as stated above. After years of struggling with this, I found a solution that works quite well...

    Davinci Resolve 15 (brand new free version) has a wonderful shadows and highlights adjustment feature which operates almost identically to the shadows and highlights adjustments in camera raw/ LR and PS. Thus, my videos now typically appear like my stills in color and lighting...finally. No doubt, the more popular video editors like Final Cut and Premier have very good shadow/highlight tools as well; I admit not having those.

    Is this a good solution for real estate? It is for me, after a bit of experimentation and practice with the video editor. Now, the stills exposed for window views pretty much match the video clips...or, at least appear like the same home is being presented in the tour.

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