Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Achieving The High Contrast Look


15th February 2004


I'm a student at he Munich film school.

The film I'm going to shoot is playing in the summer, mostly outside. To visualize the heat, the director and I came to the conclusion that a warm filter would be suitable for the look of the story. I shot several tests with a Kodak 250 daylight stock and different filters. (chocolate, tobacco,yellow,85 and 81ef). I'd probably choose the 81ef, that looked best.

I was therefore disappointed about the contrast of the film. We would like to have a very high contrast (very dark shadows and highlights ), so I decided to shoot with a less sensitive stock. I'm thinking of using the 64d from Fuji. I shot the same test again with the same filters. I'll have to wait a couple of days to see the result. I don’t think the contrast will be strong enough though.

My question is : how can I influence the contrast of a film without using digital methods?(we cant afford a scan!)

My first idea was to shoot with a positive stock but Kodak Germany has to order it from the US, which would take too long(we're shooting next week).

Does a bleach bypass help? What else can I do to get a very high contrast look?

Thank you

Namche Okon

Bleach-bypass, either to the negative or the print (or both) will increase the contrast. Reversal films will give you more contrast and cross-processing them will make it even more high-contrast.

Push-processing color negative will give you a little more contrast but not as much as you'd like I suspect. Printing onto a more contrasty print stock like Premier will help too.

David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles


Besides filtration, you could shoot in the harshest possible light (direct sunlight with negative fill), push your development, and over- or under-expose to kill as much detail as you can get away with, then print accordingly

Hitting your exposure just right will be tricky, so if at all possible, either run exposure tests in advance (through a test print if possible), or do several takes to bracket your exposures.

Or expose correctly, and do your contrast manipulation in the lab -- printing these scenes through an interpositive and internegative. Consult with your lab about the options.

And good luck!

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

F64 is a lower contrast daylight stock.

Go Kodak slow daylight for contrast.

A few heavily overexposed areas within shot are good for giving an impression of heat.

Shoot everything backlit and expose for the shadows, don't use fill, and the overexposure will make it look hot.

Portable camping gas stove held under the lens, well under and in front, will give you a heat haze to shoot through.

All the above is easier with longer lenses.


Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based

Isn't it a bit to risky to bleach bypass the neg?
What would the result look like, besides of the desaturation?

Yes, I was thinking of shooting with highlights a negative fills.

I'll will also check the lab.

Namche Okon

> isn’t it a bit to risky to bleach bypass the neg?

Not really if you have tested the process and know what the results will be, and in a pinch, you could later run it through the bleach step and remove the silver, but if you had underexposed to compensate for the bleach-bypass, then you'd have a thin negative as a result.

A bleach-bypass process to the negative results in excess density, as if you had overexposed by a stop and a half. Most people rate the stock one stop faster to compensate unless they like the burned-out look to the highlights.

You get more graininess than with a bleach-bypass print because the silver grains are larger (faster) in camera negative stock than in lab stocks, which are extremely slow in speed. Instead of getting blacker blacks and darker shadows as with a bleach-bypass print, you get hotter whites and less overexposure detail, so the increase in contrast is mostly seen in the bright areas not the shadows.

David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles


Under exposing (say 2 stops) and correcting in printing, gives a higher contrast look (along with other artefacts). Letting the sun cross light the subject and using lots of negative fill helps.

Try this before bleach bypass.
Paul Hicks

>Under exposing (say 2 stops) and correcting in printing, gives a higher >contrast look (along with other artefacts).

Artefacts including an -extremely- thin negative...

Actually, I'd think that this would yield a much lower contrast (and grainier) look because your highlights are considerably closer to D-MIN.

That would have to be a REALLY good film stock to allow for a 2 stop underexposure correction...

Art Adams, DP [film|hdtv|sdtv]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"

>Under exposing (say 2 stops) and correcting in printing, gives a higher >contrast look

I tend to think the opposite -- sure, there is a loss of shadow detail but you get such milky blacks that the image might look lower in contrast, plus you're exposing the image along the toe of the stock, which is naturally less contrasty than the steeper straight-line portion.

Underexposing and push-processing so that the printer lights are normal would give you more contrast than underexposing and printing at low printer light numbers.

David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles

>Under exposing (say 2 stops) and correcting in printing, gives a higher >contrast look

I don't think so. Underexposing will push more of the image onto the toe of the characteristic curve, reducing the density range of the negative.

Result: lower contrast, not higher.

There's not much you can do in processing to alter contrast without introducing crossed colours. But I'd recommend normal exposure (to keep off the toe region) and pushing one stop in the process, resulting in a denser negative with slightly raised contrast.

Pushing any more tends to build up graininess.

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia

Oopps…I forgot to add that, of course, you have to push process back to compensate for the underexposure to get your high contrast negative.

Maybe a better way of describing it is to overrate your neg by a factor of 2 and push process the same amount.

Paul Hicks

How about shooting on '85 and printing back to neg?

Steven Gladstone
New York Based D.P.
East Coast CML List administrator

>Maybe a better way of describing it is to overrate your neg by a factor of >2 and push process the same amount.

How about rating the stock normally, pushing one and then printing down...?

Art Adams, DP [film|hdtv|sdtv]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"

I agree with Dominic: Avoid underexposure and consider a push-1 ECN-2 process to boost overall contrast a bit:


John Pytlak
Eastman Kodak Company

Thanks a lot!!!

Namche Okon

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