How to Make Blown-out Highlights Look Intentional
I very common client request is, “Can you make my blown-out highlights look better?”
Unfortunately, if our highlight detail has been clipped at the sensor while recording… there literally is no detail in those highlights for us to save. And this bums our clients out, because clipped highlights have a very video’y feel to them. And when you’re working a project that’s going for a cinematic feel—you need to have a solution or two… that doesn’t involve sending your client to a VFX artist for three weeks of rotoscoping and sky replacement.
I’ve got two solutions for dealing with blown-out highlights and in this Insight I’ll break down a recent project of mine to show it to you in action.
The Lens Flare: Make Blown-out Highlights Look Intentional
My best tip for dealing with blown-out highlight detail is to make it look intentional! Make it look like the scene was shot that way, on purpose.
And one of the easiest ways to do that? Put the sun in the scene through the use of a lens flare!
If the sun is directly in the shot, no one expects to the camera to see what our eyes can’t see… and then the blown highlights have an explanation and feel much less video’y.
The Job: Sunbelt Express
On a recent indie film I color graded, Sunbelt Express, I put this technique to good use. It was shot in the interior of a car speeding down a desert highway. The camera was hand-held and squeezed between 5 people in a car that comfortably seats 3. They were unable to rig the Alexa to get the shots they wanted so they went with a smaller B- camera that had very little dynamic range… and they knew this at the time.
I want to give a HUGE shout-out to one of the Producers, Arun Kumar, and Director Evan Buxbaum for giving MixingLight permission to use their footage here on MixingLight for educational purposes! Here are some links:
• Sunbelt Express IMdB Page – It was a ton of fun grading a film with so many recognizable faces including Tate Donovan, Rachael Harris, Stephen Lang and Miguel Sandoval.
• Sunbelt Express in ‘IndieWire’ – This film officially went into pre-production in 2012 and had a Kickstarter campaign. This link is to an blog post back then, announcing the upcoming film.
The Plug-in: Sapphire S_LensFlare
For this job, I used the OpenFX plug-in Sapphire from GenArts. I keyframes intensity and positioning to help integrate ‘the sun’ into the image and make blown highlights look intentional.