Thread: Why the obsession with highlight detail?

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  1. #1 Why the obsession with highlight detail? 
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    This is just an observation, and not looking to start an argument, but it seems like since cameras hane been getting higher dynamic range and higher native iso there has been an obsession with preserving highlights and making sure windows don't blow out, and I wonder why? I get it if you want to draw attention to something outside, but if the focus is the actors in the scene the exposure should be set for the skin tone and let everything else fall where it may, if it's out of range so be it, it's probably not important. There may be more time and attention to detail on high budget features, but nearly every tv show that I watch that has adopted a natural light aesthetic let the windows blow, they may control a bit with blinds, but whatever light comes is blown. Same for edge and hair lights, they are typically overexposed to white, that's part of the look. Now granted clipping to white is not quite as graceful in digital as film, but I don't think most in the audience notice the difference. This will be brought down to safe levels in post, but while cant go beyond white and there is no reason to try to get it back.
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    With full DR unclipped raw footage, you have full creative control over how highlights are displayed within the DR limits of your display colorspace. If you want to blow them out in the grade you can, but it won't have the harsh look of sensor saturated clipping.
    Typically exposing for the middle skin tones will still leave a couple of stops of recoverable highlight values that you won't get with a video codec.
    There is a difference between exposing to get maximum usable DR vs how you treat it in post grading.
    Last edited by razz16mm; 10-06-2018 at 11:09 AM.
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  3. #3  
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    yes absolutely, but sometimes or actually often when working on a small budget you don't have the tools to control everything. There is this idea that you must control clipping at the expense of all others, but to me that shouldn't be at the expense of skin tones if there is a choice.
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    Senior Member LochnessDigital's Avatar
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    I think deciding to show detail outside the window or not is just another tool in the cinematography toolbox. I'd rather the camera not make that decision for me.

    These:







    Have a very different feeling to these:



    Aaron Lochert
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  5. #5  
    Senior Member DPStewart's Avatar
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    Better highlight retention - if not intentionally blown out - looks more like what our eyes see (I hesitated to say it looks "better") so it's a more accurate capture of what was in front of the camera.

    Highlights are not so far off from skin tones. So if you are *reasonably* defending your highlights and not drastically underexposing, then your skin tones will generally all be in a relatively decent space anyway.
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  6. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by dop16mm View Post
    This is just an observation, and not looking to start an argument, but it seems like since cameras hane been getting higher dynamic range and higher native iso there has been an obsession with preserving highlights and making sure windows don't blow out, and I wonder why? I get it if you want to draw attention to something outside, but if the focus is the actors in the scene the exposure should be set for the skin tone and let everything else fall where it may, if it's out of range so be it, it's probably not important. There may be more time and attention to detail on high budget features, but nearly every tv show that I watch that has adopted a natural light aesthetic let the windows blow, they may control a bit with blinds, but whatever light comes is blown. Same for edge and hair lights, they are typically overexposed to white, that's part of the look. Now granted clipping to white is not quite as graceful in digital as film, but I don't think most in the audience notice the difference. This will be brought down to safe levels in post, but while cant go beyond white and there is no reason to try to get it back.

    I think it's because we want "cinematic" images.

    Cinematic to me and I think many others means high dynamic range. (to me it's actually one of many attributes but let's leave it there for now)

    Now for the last few years there's a been a notion that digital has surpassed film in terms of dynamic range.

    In many ways that can be true, but I think a lot lof us feel differently, no matter what the specs and the white papers say.

    Many digital cameras tend to favour underexposure rather than overexposure. For me, last time I shot RED, it felt like I had about two stops of over exposure from my mid point before the highlights looked not very good or useable. But it had about 5-6 stops below that same point.

    And that's the way it seems to be with many digital cameras. At a notional ISO setting, way more underexposure latitude than over exposure.

    Now you can trick this and trade some underexposure in for over exposure to improve the amount of highlight retention, but often codecs (compression) and bit depth (lack of) get in the way of doing this successfully.

    Creatively, higher dynamic range means you have a choice as the DP. You can choose to use it (to see out a window for example) or not.

    Choice is good.

    JB
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  7. #7  
    Quote Originally Posted by John Brawley View Post
    Creatively, higher dynamic range means you have a choice as the DP. You can choose to use it (to see out a window for example) or not.

    Choice is good.

    JB
    I definitely agree with this. The ideal camera would capture all of the light of a scene from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights in every frame. It would also let you refocus and choose dof in post as well as many other things. Having too many options can make it more difficult to come to a decision though, so there is more of a responsibility on post-production.

    An editor is given the responsibility to leave behind most of the footage in order to make the best possible edit. I think a good colorist needs to also sometimes leave detail on the "cutting room floor." Choice is good, but not always easy. It's more important than ever to have talented people occupying the post production positions where choices are more often being made. I like hearing about DP's who will "bake" a look into the original footage. It's a bold move for sure.
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  8. #8  
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    I think, for one, it's nice to have as a sort of "insurance" to recover detail in adverse shooting conditions. It obviously shouldn't be a crutch, but that is nice to know.

    I also think that "preserves highlights" is nice but maybe just as important to some DPs is the highlight rolloff. A blown highlight might be fine as long as the transition doesn't suddenly step into a blobby white mess.

    Beyond that, I agree, it's not always necessary nor desirable to preserve highlights. With windows specifically, Lochness posted some of Deakins work. Years ago, before Deakins site changed/upgraded, I recall a post where he said he's thinks he's had blown windows in almost every movie he's shot. Not that ALL windows were blown through the entire film, but certainly in certain scenes.

    The same goes for underexposure/crushed blacks and shadows. In one of the Cooke Optics videos, Bradford Young talks about the scene in Selma where MLK Jr. is in jail. It's a very contrasty scene, with much of the frame, and actors, in shadow, lit mostly by a small window in the prison. When the DIT or editor got ahold of the dailies, they kinda pushed back and thought they were underexposed and needed to be reshot, but Bradford and Ava Duvernay said they looked exactly the way they needed to look.

    Bradford Young has a somewhat similar look to Deakins at times and their philosophies align in some ways.
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  9. #9  
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    We're all working from within that technological cage, and in the early days of digital that cage would be tiny and we'd bump into the walls constantly; Whether it was the exposure latitude, resolution, color or compression.
    A bigger cage really just means more room to move and breathe - You don't have to struggle as much to keep everything within this tiny dynamic range, and if you discover something else works better in post there's room to tweak it without ruining the footage.
    We don't Need all that highlight information all the time; But we definitely miss it when we do.

    Tobias N - Gaffer / Cinematographer
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  10. #10  
    Senior Member Frank Glencairn's Avatar
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    Actually it's more a stylistic thing than a technical one.

    Nothing wrong with blowing out car lights, or windows as a artistic choice,
    or some look you want to create, but it needs to be rooted in the scene to really work - i.e. it should support the story in some way.

    Also if you do that, you need to blow the shit out of them windows (like in super white levels)- when you try to bring them down in post,
    you end up with an ugly gray plane, without any texture, which is a no.go.

    Bad enough if that happens to a window or car light, but if it happens on sand, snow,
    tarmac, pavement, wall etc, or - god forbid - on a forehead, than you have a problem.

    On the upside, with BM cameras and raw you don't run into this very often.
    When you shoot Prores, you have to be more careful though.
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