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Cinematography Tip: One Take, Two Environments

Noam Kroll

One of the most challenging shots for a DP is a ‘continuous take’ that moves inside and outside within the same shot. These cinematography tips will show you how to do it right.

Top Image: Michael Keaton in Birdman

In recent years the one-take shot has significantly increased in popularity, with more filmmakers than ever attempting to pull off full scenes in this fashion. While the success of films such as Birdman may be at least partly responsible for igniting this trend in the indie filmmaking world, that doesn’t mean you require a Hollywood-level budget to pull it off.

The two biggest challenges with one-take shots (and specifically those that transition between interior and exterior) are color temperature and exposure. Of course other elements such as needing to work with a smaller crew, blocking hurdles, focus challenges, etc. are tricky too… But dealing with color temperature and exposure are often the biggest problems filmmakers are faced with.

That said, there are a number of ways you can handle both scenarios. These cinematography tips offer solutions for each of these issues:

Color Temperature

How To Capture Continuous Takes That Move Between Interiors and Exteriors: True Detective
Image: Still from the famous “one take raid” from True Detective 

Let’s assume your shot starts outside in the middle of the day, and follows your character as he walks inside a house. Obviously at the start of the shot you’re going to be dealing with a daylight color temperature (5600K or so). As you walk into the home, that temperature will change. There are likely tungsten bulbs (3200K) inside, mixed with window light. This mix will inevitably make it difficult to get a proper white balance in camera.

While you may be thinking that you can simply shoot RAW and adjust the white balance in post, it simply doesn’t work that way. Sure, you can keyframe the color temperature as the actor walks inside (to adjust for the tungsten light), but then the daylight coming in through the windows will look neon-blue.

The solution in this case is simple: use daylight bulbs inside. Whether you’re using strictly practical lights, or are using proper film lights — if you use daylight-balanced bulbs, then your color temperature issues will vanish. You can even replace household lights with daylight balanced bulbs. HMIs or daylight-balanced LED panels are great options too.

Exposure

How To Capture Continuous Takes That Move Between Interiors and Exteriors: Goodfellas
Image: Still from the single-shot “Copa Scene” from Goodfellas.

So we’ve solved the color temperature issue, but what about exposure? As you enter the house from outside, the exposure is going to drop significantly and your image will either be really blown out outside or really underexposed inside.

There are two ways you can address this, the first of which is by rolling the iris. A good 1st AC/focus puller will be able to do a clean iris pull for you when entering an interior location. This means that much like pulling focus, they’ll literally pull the iris as they enter the new environment with you to open it up.

birdman interior
Image: Michael Keaton and Edward Norton filming Birdman

While this should work every time (as long as you have a good 1st AC on board), you also don’t want to rely on the iris-pull technique entirely. If this was your only means of exposing the image properly, you’d likely wind up with an image that’s far too stopped down outside (F22) and shallow inside.

To compensate for this, I’d always recommend bringing up the base light levels in the house you’re shooting in. This will mean you won’t have to roll the iris nearly as much, which means you’ll be able to retain the right amount of depth of field that serves your creative vision.

Got any tips for shooting long takes?  Got any cinematography techniques that could help in a single-shot situation? Let us know in the comments below!

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