Shooting video in the dark on a budget
April 18, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Please help me prepare for taking video in the dark next month! I know very little about taking video and I need help preparing for an event where I won't have any second chances for re-shooting.

I am going to an event at the beginning of May. It is an event to which I have been before, where people parade through the dark down a mountain path carrying paper lanterns, while chanting/singing. The scene is, IMHO, breathtaking, and I would like to record it, if at all possible. I have had some (minor) success getting some still shots, but it's video, really, that I most want here, as the bobbing and swaying of the lanterns in the dark, along with the chanting, is really magical.

What can I do to record this event? I don't need to get the whole thing -- if I can get even a 30 second stretch, I'll be very pleased (of course, the more the merrier), and I'm willing to try (the same or different things) over and over during the 20-30 minute event. I can't use any extra light source, as it will ruin the atmosphere for other participants. I will have a tripod, but often won't have time to find a spot to set up, as I'll be trudging through the dark on a sloped, rocky mountain path along with everyone else, but from time to time I can try to move ahead and get set up for when everyone comes past. I know I can use the "nightshot" feature on my video camera, but I'm not happy with the "space-video" look that results. I haven't tried it out yet, but I suspect the infrared mode will have similar odd-looking video, and probably won't carry far enough anyway.

What would a professional filmmaker do? Would they have a "million dollar" camera that would do this (in a way that my consumer model simply can't)? Would they do this mainly in post-production (if so, what kind of things would they do)? What are the important settings on my video camera in this setting: obviously exposure, but white balance? ae shift? wb shift? anything else? The camera is a Sony HDR-HC3. Know any good tutorials for making these kind of adjustments to exposure (etc) settings? Any and all suggestions most welcome! Thanks!
posted by segatakai to Media & Arts (4 answers total)
A camera with a faster sensor is going to work better in the dark. I don't know anything about your camera, though. Likewise, I haven't worked in video in about five years, and so can't recommend anything in particular.

There's not a lot you can do in post-production. You can certainly play with a marginal shot to improve contrast and visibility. But, if the frame is black, you can't recover what doesn't exist.

But, first and foremost, a professional filmmaker would light the scene. I know you said you don't want to. But, a pro would. He'd set up away from other observers to minimize the effects on the atmosphere. I'd probably go with a bigass fill light with a silver defuser/reflector.

That said, if the visual effect is (without a camera) a sea of black with gently bobbing lights, I don't see why you need to do anything special. Your camera will happily record mostly-black-with-point-lights.
posted by Netzapper at 9:05 PM on April 18, 2009

You'll be fine. You're shooting something taking place in the dark, so expose for the lights of the lanterns and you're golden. You don't want to try to compensate for the dark, since you want to preserve the dark spots.

If you can't use a tripod, keep your lens wide and get close to the action-- it'll cut way down on the shakiness. The subject will show up nice and big on the screen.

You can also set up test shots whereby you try to recreate the environment and see what works and what doesn't. If you guess even resonably right, you'll pick up what you need to and avoid having to rely on anything in post.
posted by Rykey at 9:08 PM on April 18, 2009

even reasonably right, that is.
posted by Rykey at 9:09 PM on April 18, 2009

If you're shooting while walking, you can probably get a smoother shot if you make a cradle with your two hands, palms up, fingers intertwined, and hold the camera a bit away from your body. You're using your legs and arms as shock absorbers.

And if you want to try shooting in a night-vision mode some of the time, you can always desaturate all the color out of the video for those portions after the fact. Black and white should feel much less spacey than green, if that's what you're talking about.

But, yeah, as Rykey suggested, why don't you go someplace dark beforehand with a friend and a paper lantern and test out your options?
posted by nobody at 10:45 PM on April 18, 2009

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