And you were drawn to the second way?
Even though the first way looks real, it will make audiences feel strange, since it is so different from their cultural references. If this “reality” is different from the image in their mind, it feels fake to people. That’s why I prefer the second way; it lets the audience see how history was recorded at the time.
However, we were not able to use analog film, so how should we do it? The first key is grain, but digital doesn’t have that texture, and although you can add grain in post, it isn’t really good enough. When I shot “Under The Light” I set the ISO [EI] to 2000 or even 3200. When the ISO reached 3000 or more, the grain became more obvious in the midtones, but not in the shadows. Unlike grain added in post, this grain feels real because it is related to overexposure or high ISO, which is what I wanted.
So, I decided to achieve the look of reversal film by using a LUT and shooting at a high ISO. But if we wanted to focus on the characters, then we couldn’t just shoot regular documentary style. The photographers back then all shot with deep depth of field. There was no time for them to use ND filters on a battlefield, and the typical aperture of f/8 ensured that they could take pictures without having to adjust the focus. But for me, that’s not a good way to tell stories and develop character, so I proposed that we combined our reversal LUT and high ISO with shallower depth of field.
How did you create your LUTs?
Making a LUT is a very subtle process that involves both technical and artistic aspects. It is difficult to describe in words. I pulled out all the LUTs I had used in the past, and the colorist found other LUTs online, which we compared to historical photos. After some experimentation we made four LUTs and tested them at Dandong in different scenarios, including sunlit daytime, overcast daytime, magic hour, and night-time. Eventually I chose two LUTs for daytime, two for magic hour, and one for night-time. By then it was August 3rd and we started shooting five days later.