PRAISE OF NATURAL LIGHT
Almendros (1930-1992) is one of the most respected cinematographers
in film history, ms, use of mirrors, reflexive lighting, wide apertures
and sensitive film stock, which grew out of the necessity of low
budget constraints, he retained even in his bigger budget work later
in his career.
His autobiography, Man With a Camera, chronicles his love for the
beauty of natural light, and his innovations in capturing it stand
as a tribute to the results that can be achieved with a small electric
kit. We excerpt here some of his comments on manipulating natural
light, for even though his motivations were aesthetic, Almendros’
was a low impact cinematographer in the truest sense.
In the quotes that follow, we see Almendros' personal philosophy
of tight, which also reflects the philosophy of the Neo-realists
of the 40's who answered Hollywood's cinema of artifice and excess
with naturalism and spontaneity. While filmmakers today can borrow
from each philosophy, it is refreshing in bur age of cine-vid-tech
explosion to celebrate the techniques of simplicity.
"We had no artificial lighting because it was expensive to
take a crew of electricians with us. We thought up the idea of using
mirrors, capturing the sunlight from outside, reflecting it through
the windows and directing it to the ceiling, from where it bounced
and lit the whole place. Because the huts were rather dark and the
walls dull-colored, we had to cover them with white paper to reflect
as much light as possible."
"I purposely worked with raw elements. I was challenging the
myth that an image can never be good without artificial light. I
had realized that what counted was that there was enough light,
and natural light was not only sufficient but much more beautiful."
"Remembering the methods I had used in the shorts I made in
Cuba, I introduced illumination by mirrors into French, filmmaking.
My innovation was to combine this system with Coutard's. Coutard
projected photofloods against the ceiling so that the light-bounced
back with no pronounced shadows."
"Instead of having the luminous beam of the mirrors shine onto
the actors, I directed it onto the ceiling or a white wall; a soft
light was reflected back and created a realistic effect."
"Lighting with mirrors has an extra benefit that is by no means
insignificant: It produces less heat than electric lighting, so
that actors—and technicians—are not uncomfortable and
working conditions are more comfortable."
"...when I am working in the countryside, I use mirrors whenever
I can. Of course, it is sometimes an inconvenient technique, because
as the sun moves constantly, the spot of sunlight reflected shifts.
Therefore, someone has to watch the mirrors and adjust them to keep
the light bouncing properly and at the right angle. All gaffers
complain, because they find it much easier to plug in a piece of
equipment that stays the same once the illumination has been decided
upon, but nothing can compare with the beauty of sunlight."
"To sum up, most of the techniques I' used in later movies
I used in LA COLLECTIONNEUSE: taking advantage of natural light,
leaving things as they are without too much touching up, trying
to introduce variety into each sequence, differentiating day, dusk,
and night by changing color tones."
"When super productions have scenes with huge fires, they often
make the mistake of spoiling the effect by overlighting, because
the director of photography feels obliged to justify his salary
and his presence by a spectacular display of his electrical paraphernalia."
Almendros' films include:
• PARIS VU PAR
• MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S
• CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON
• THE STORY OFADELE H.
• DAYS OF HEAVEN
• THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN
• MADAME ROSA
• GOIN' SOUTH
• KRAMER VS. KRAMER
• BLUE LAGOON
• THE LAST METRO
• STILL OF THE NIGHT
• SOPHIES' CHOICE
• BILLY BATHGA TE *