Daniel Fapp: Incident Light Metering, Reflectors & Snow

From Filming "All the Young Men" by Herb A. Lightman, American Cinematographer September 1960.

In photographing the snow scenes for "All The Young Men", Director of Photography Fapp violated a theory of exposure long held by most photographers and even some film manufacturers: namely, that when shooting in snow you should always decrease exposure at least one stop from the normal incident light meter reading in order that the reflected glare from the snow will not burn up the scene. Fapp did exactly the opposite.

"The greatest danger in shooting snow scenes in under-exposure," he explains. "It is hard to get an accurate reading in snow because o the reflected light, even when you are using an incident light meter. One must rely on a great deal on his general knowledge and experience. In such cases I use my Norwood meter and then open up one stop above the indicated exposure. Where there are people in the scene and you expose exactly according to the meter reading, you run the risk of losing the detail in faces completely. You can't possibly read an overall snow composition with a reflected light meter and get any sort of accuracy. Here is the best bet is to use a gray-scale card a couple of feet square, having a tonal value similar to average flesh tone, and take a reflected light reading very close to the card. Some cameramen prefer to take a reading from the sky, disregarding the scene itself."

Whatever Fapp's theory of exposure determination, the result speaks for itself. The snow as he photographed it, has texture and form and a gravure quality that is almost third-dimensional. This is due mainly to the infinite care given the lighting. He avoided shooting any sow scenes with front light, because this would have flattened the character of the snow, making it look like a sheet of white paper. instead, he endeavored to shoot from an angle in which the sun functioned as a cross-light or back-light, and used arc booster lights as the key source. In this way Fapp also had firmer control of the lighting, since it was not always possible to count on the sun being where he wanted it.

... He disdains use of sunlight reflectors. "I'm not a reflector man," Fapp maintains. "I don't like the 'shiny boards.' It takes about three of them to light a full figure, and if an actor moves a foot off his mark he's out of the light. Following him with a reflector is cumbersome and often looks unnatural. In a wind they are always flopping around. If the sun goes behind a cloud you're left with nothing to reflect. Many cameramen do use them, but I prefer booster lights."

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