To me there’s four explicit things that differentiate professional films from their student/amateur counterparts (other than marketing budgets, ha)…
- Sophisticated lighting
- Extensive foley
- A lack of white-walled interiors
- A lack of white wardrobe
Numbers 1 & 2 usually cost some mucho money. But 3 & 4 don’t, so you should totally jump all up on those for your projects.
Go to the Apple trailers page and watch a bunch of ’em. Count how many times you see white-walled interiors versus color ones. Usually the more fantastic & stylish the film, the darker the color of the walls… and even with “realistic” films, the walls that “feel” like they’re white are actually light gray or beige or light blue. That’s because professionals know to avoid putting white on-camera, because it limits your lighting options since you’d have to walk on proverbial eggshells in order to not have it blow out overexposed. And that’s working with film and its 13-14 stops of dynamic range, as opposed to your (assumed) DSLR/DSLM/video camera’s 7-10 usable stops. Which means you should be extra concerned about avoiding white walls.
So you can either choose locations with that in mind, or you can score extra go-getter points by painting your location’s walls. House paint is pretty cheap, especially considering the visual difference it makes for your film. If just hearing the concept of spending a day laboring away to make your bedroom’s walls mauve or pistachio sounds like absolute insanity to you, then –REALTALK– you may not be cut out to be a filmmaker. No-budget filmmaking is 60% moving heavy objects. Wait, unless you have a big trust fund… then just hire someone else to do it and soldier on.
Yeah so anyways, get those white walls out of your film and it’ll not only look better, it’ll convey the mood/tone better (omg the scary room’s walls are bLoOoOood rEd), and will give you more lighting options without fear of blowing out the walls to yucky clipped white. The lighting thing is especially true if you have limited light modifying gear, which is probably your case. Unless the aforementioned trust fund thing applies.
And needless to say, that stuff applies, like, tenfold to white wardrobe. Because limiting how contrasty or varied you can light your actors is like shooting yourself in the foot. This is something that I’ve seen occur in a lot of student and amateur films. What’s most hand-to-forehead inducing about it is how easily avoidable it is. So don’t put your actors in white clothes in like direct sunlight, unless they’re supposed to be visiting from the afterlife. As with walls, “white” wardrobe in professional films are usually actually a little darker. Often a preexisting piece of white wardrobe will be lightly dyed, though I have no direct experience in that, so I can’t offer any advice or suggestions on doing it yourself.
Checkity these details from the last of the above framegrabs. Note that the towel on Sally Field’s shoulder is blown out white, with the same RGB values as the blown out practical light units.
That means a white dish towel will blow out on a $230 million superhero studio film shot on Red Epic… so a white dress shirt will likely do the same on your project shot on a DSLR. I assume that since it was a minor prop, they didn’t bother to dye it, or maybe they didn’t realize it was going to sit on her shoulder or whatevs. But there’s no way they’d have a piece of wardrobe doing that.
Also worth noting is that some folks feel the same way about using pure black wardrobe, which can appear on-camera as pure formless black in some lighting situations. Though this is less perceptually disrupting than a blown-out white shirt, in my opinion.
I’ve shot projects where white walls and shirts were beyond my decision-making control, and I had to work around them. All of those projects would’ve turned out better-looking had the white been replaced with something else.