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Properly Lighting Black Faces – Cinamatographer Ava Berkofsky

September 13, 2017 by Jack Dziamba. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday.

Selma

Ava DuVernay’s ‘Selma’ influenced the look of ‘Insecure.’ Source: Atsushi Nishijima/IMDb

The Problem

“When I was in film school, no one ever talked about lighting nonwhite people.” — Ava Berkofsky

As written by mic.com,  September 8, 2017:  “Any brown person who’s taken a selfie in the club can tell you cameras aren’t made for us. Yet in Insecure’s club scenes, dark-skinned protagonists like Yvonne Orji’s Molly continue to impress. You can thank Ava Berkofsky, the show’s director of photography, for that. Berkofsky was brought on for the show’s second season (currently airing on HBO) to give the show a more movie-like look, which includes making black faces not only legible, but striking.” (All quotes: mic.com)

The Conventional Way – IRE Units

‘“The conventional way of doing things was that if you put the skin tones around 70 IRE, it’s going to look right,”’ Berkofsky said.

“IRE, a unit used in the measurement of composite video signals (named for the initials of the Institute of Radio Engineers), ranges from 0 to 100. “If you’ve got black skin, [dialing it] up to 50 or 70 is just going to make the rest of the image look weird.” The resulting image looks very bright, Berkofsky noted, similar to what you’d see in traditional sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

New Media Tools

“When the Arri Alexa came out, it really changed how people were shooting digital and what kind of results we could get.”

alexa

“Berkofsky said all of Insecure’s actors take light differently, but rather than putting light directly on them, she uses reflection instead. Similar to Dickerson’s use of moisturizer on the She’s Gotta Have It cast, this adds a bit of shine. ‘“Rather than pound someone’s face with light, [I] have the light reflect off them,”’ she said. ‘“I always use a white or [canvas-like] muslin, so instead of adding more light, the skin can reflect it.”’

bar sceneBar scenes, night and day, are well-lit in ‘Insecure.’ Source: HBO/Medium

 

 

LiteMat-4

LiteMat-4-Front-Back

“Instead of a simple whiteboard, the Insecure crew makes use of whiteboards with little LED lights inside, called S2 LiteMat 4s. For one shoot “a 1-foot-by-3-foot LiteMat at low intensity was put near [Isa] Rae’s face”‘. According to the cinematographer, “it’s reflecting on her skin rather than ‘lighting’ it.”’

“Berkofsky, in an email to Mic, also discussed the value of a filter, a polarizer: ‘“People use them when shooting glass, or cars, or any surface that intensely reflects light. The filter affects how much reflection a window, or any surface has. The same principal works with skin, and this can be a highly effective way to shape the reflected light on an actors face.”’

For You

The tech Berkofsky uses for …  proper lighting is expensive, but she has a tip dark-skinned folks can use to improve their club selfies using just their phones.

“Stand close to a soft light source and turn three quarters to the light, so that it’s not filling in everything the same way. Kind of like a Rembrandt painting.”

H/T Laura Hauschild

 

 

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