Janusz Kaminski: Exterior Lighting, Negative Fill & Smoke

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August '98)

"For the most part, we really didn’t light much on the invasion. When the actors were in the Higgins boats, we did add some light with white and silver bounce cards to up-light the actors a little so we could see their eyes under their helmets. The ’lighting’ was more about how the negative was being exposed, the lenses and the use of the ENR. The great thing about war movies is that almost everything is drab, dark and dirty, so we weren’t fighting those elements. In fact, the actors’ eyes become [comparatively] bright because their faces are so dark and dirtied."

- David Devlin, Gaffer on Saving Private Ryan.

Kaminski determined that with constant overcast light, he could suitably control the film’s look with the aid of the Panaflasher and the ENR process. Additionally, he incorporated the heavy use of smoke which obviously was a key component in selling the "war" visually as an essential ingredient in his photography. Dense black smoke also offered the added benefit of blocking out any unwanted sunlight that might have sneaked through the cloud cover.

"One of the most amazing and awful things I’ve ever seen were these big drums of diesel fuel that the special effects guys were burning to create huge clouds of black smoke. They also designed a system for making white smoke that was mounted in the bed of a pickup, which was attached to a trailer with a 200-gallon tank of diesel fuel. They had about six of these pickup trucks that could drive up and down the beach as a self-contained unit. The lighting for that whole sequence was more about taking the light away, and when they turned those smoke machines on, it would cut down three or four stops of exposure."

"For closer shots, we’d sometimes bring in a bounce card or solid for negative fill. One of the things I’ve learned over the years while working outside is that if the cinematographer wants to control the sunlight — and the production can afford it — you should have a crane and a large frame standing by. That way you can cover a large area and get the lines [of the overhead’s coverage] out of the shot. Because we used a 30’ by 30’ silk and smoke on Private Ryan, the smoke would cover any of the lines made by the silk. Between those two elements, the ’lighting’ was consistent and it worked great."

-Key grip Jim Kwiatkowski

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