If you were an alien on another planet and had access to nothing but all the latest camera demo or “film-maker” reels on YouTube or Vimeo you would quite possibly believe that much of planet Earth is in perpetual darkness.
All you see is clips shot at night or in blacked out studios. Often with very little dynamic range, often incredibly (excessively?) dark. I keep having to check that the brightness on my monitor is set correctly. Even daytime interiors always seem to be in rooms that are 90% dark with just a tiny, low contrast pool of daylight from a window filling one corner and even the light coming through the window is dim and dull.
I recently viewed a clip that was supposed to show the benefits of raw that contained nothing but low dynamic range shots where 70% of each frame was nothing but black. Sadly there were no deep shadow details, just blackness, some very dark faces and where there were highlights they were clipped. It was impossible to tell anything about the format being used.
The default showreel or demo shot is now a very dark space with a 3/4 profile person, very dimly lit, low key, by a large soft source. Throw in a shiny car with some specular highlights or a few dim practical lights into the background for extra brownie points.
Let me let you in to a little secret – it’s really, really easy to make black frames. Want a little pool of light – add a light to your mostly black frame. It’s really easy to shoot under exposed and then as a result not have any issues with dynamic range. It’s really easy to shoot a face so that it’s so dark you can barely see the persons eyes and then not have a problem with shiny skin.
But try shooting someone at a desk in a bright office and make that look really great. Try shooting a proper daytime living room scene and making that look flawless. A summer picnic on a beach with brilliant blue sky perhaps. These are all challenging to do very well for both the DoP and the camera.
We have these wonderful cameras with huge dynamic ranges that work really well in daylight too. But we seem to be losing the ability to shoot anything other than shots that have very low average brightness levels and low dynamic range. They depend on often coloured or tinted lighting to provide some interest in what would otherwise be a very, very boring images. Where are all the challenging shots in difficult lighting? Where are the bright, vibrant shots where we can see the dynamic range, resolution and natural colour palettes that separate a good camera from a great camera?
Dark is getting very boring.