In this quick video independent broadcast and video professional Paul Ream (founder of the Youtube channel extrashot) shares his thoughts and experience about controlling the brightness of windows when shooting.
The problem – overly bright windows
This video is all about finding the best and most cost-effective way of making windows darker for shooting videos (this should probably work well for still although with stills you can always just push the shutter speed way up).
Why would you want to make windows darker? simple, cameras have a limited dynamic range and can only see very bright things like bright sunny days without making the rest of the image extremely dark up to a certain limit (yes, cameras are improving on this front but they are still way behind our eyes which can see about 30 stops although researchers claim only about 10 at a time).
While you can always use ND filters but this will reduce the exposure of the entire frame and this is not necessarily what you might want.
You can do the opposite and light the room with lots of light to match the light coming from the window – but this is not always possible and even if it is, you might push too much light on your subject (Ream mentioned an incident when too much light caused the ear of a subject to become almost transparent due to over lighting).
A while back we published another video covering the same subject by German-American self-help vegan Guro and photographer Markus Rothkranz who had his own ideas on how you can reduce the brightness of windows and he tested several other materials – see here.
So what are your options? Maybe the best overall solution Ream has been using is Scrim 275 by Rosco (there are versions by some other manufacturers as well), it makes no noise and easy to cut, the main issue here is cost – for a 48″ x 25′ Roll you will be paying over $110. It also needs to be out of focus and you can’t double up on it as you will get moiré patterns.
For a relatively small set of windows (maybe installing on some windows in a studio) this might be worth it. But if you have giant windows all-around at a client’s location – cost can spiral out of control quickly and you will start to look for other solutions.
Here are the 4 other options Ream tested in the video (if you have your own ideas or things you tested please let us know in the comments):
- Sharktooth Gauze – very expensive (more than the Scrim 275 per square meter).
- Mesh fabric – very inexpensive but very fine (you will need to double or even triple up on this.
- Insect net – inexpensive but white (unless you can find a black version – we actually have a silver matt version).
- Debris Netting – this is very inexpensive but makes a whole lot of mess when you cut it.
The Sharktooth Gauze is not just expensive but also makes the window look dirty. The mesh fabric works well but you will need to double it up (and it is still not equal to the light reduction a Scrim 275 gives you). The insect net is not good as it was white (again – a black or maybe even silver one might work here).
In the end, the two best solutions Ream found are a double layer of Mesh fabric or a double layer of Debris Netting (if you are O.K. with the dirt it leaves when you cut it to size), both are inexpensive and close to the level of the Scrim 275 although not exactly.
You can watch more HDSLR and video techniques on our dedicated HDSLR channel here on LensVid.