Robert Surtees: Black & White Filtration

From American Cinematographer, Photography for The Last Picture Show interview by Herb A. Lightman (Jan. 1972)

Your exteriors had a dark, brooding quality and very rich skies, which indicates that you must have made extensive use of filtration. Isn't that so?

"Yes. I went back to the old black-and-white Western style of photography, which isn't done anymore, where you have 20 or 30 filters for different types of scenes, as called for. To say how and where you use each filter would be misleading, because you could give the same set of filters to a different cameraman and he would get a different result. In using filters, you sometimes under-expose of overexpose on purpose to get a particular effect. You might use heavy contrast filters-- even as high as a 25 red or a 21 orange-- in your long shots to make the sky darker, but this also corrects everything else in the scene. The whites become whiter; the darks become darker. When you move in for the close-ups, it's a good idea to change to something like the old Aero-2 filter, which gives you more control. Or, if you still have to use the heavy contrast red or orange filter, you balance the lighting by eye through the camera. When you look up, it doesn't look like you have any light on the subject at all, but you're photographing what you see through the filter. If you're stuck using a red filter on a close-up, the face will go chalky where the sun hits it, so, by artificially lighting it, you work it over so the skin doesn't look chalky. You first knock down the sunlight by putting a net up to shade the face, and you then balance your light while looking through the camera. I think that one of the reasons why I was asked to photograph this picture is that not many fellows are shooting in black-and-white anymore, and I'm one of the few left over from the old black-and-white days. You know, what they need now are 21 year old cameramen who have 60 years of experience."

-Robert Surtees, ASC

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