Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Photographing Practicals & Bare Bulbs

Published : 5th September 2003

>I am still trying to find the optimal way to photograph practicals and bare bulbs prominent in the frame. I tried many things :Covering the bulb in practicals with ND or scrim, spraying the hot spot with dulling etc. Normally, if I want a practical to do part of the lighting, they read much too hot,if I dim them down, I loose the amount of light needed for the exposure and they turn reddish. I once tried so called "Softtone"-bulbs in yellow, but it was too yellow. And how did Tak Fuijmoto the bare bulb at the beginning of "The Sixth Sense"?

>Thanks for your answers !

>Markus Fraunholz

>Have you tried black barbecue paint? Once the bulb is in place, make a couple of very small marks on the bulb to tell which half of the bulb will face the lens. Then take the bulb to a well-ventilated place away from the set and spray the lens-side of the bulb to a tone of grey that is to your tast. The bulb will not look so bright to the lens, yet it will illuminate the scene more brightly with the 'blind' side of the bulb, which is not painted. And barbecue paint does not burn much at all.

>It's a common problem, and I would be interested to hear how the rest of you have dealt with it.

>Robbie Anderson, DoP

>I loose the amount of light needed for the exposure and they turn >reddish. I once tried so called "Softtone"-bulbs in yellow, but it was too >yellow.

>On my first feature, last year, I had many 1930s interiors. We wanted them to all appear to be lit from the pracical lamps on the set.

>I put household incadescents (40 and 60watts) on dimmers. I used the dimmers as far as I could take them, without them going to orange.

>Then I would have the art department give us cans of "Streaks N Tips" (colored hair spray) and would spray-down the entire bulb. Heavy. You'd look at it, before turning it on, and say to yourself, this will never look right. But it did. We used black and brown Streaks N Tips".

>I based the exposure by eye if it was only a bare bulb. If it had a shade, or other type of fixture covering, I just used my spot meter. Worked out great. Very realistic looking.

Jim Dollarhide

Director of Photography

>I've often used 15 W and 7 1/2 W bulbs. You can boost voltage on a low wattage bulb to cool the CT a bit (but they won't last too long)

>Marvy marker dims them without the streaks n tips smell but I don't think that wd look realistic on a bare bulb, I've found it ok thru shades etc.


>Markus Fraunholz writes :

>>I am still trying to find the optimal way to photograph practicals and bare >bulbs prominent in the frame.

>Your best three tools are a spot meter, rheostat and low wattage bulb. However, if you're actually using the practical for lighting - you're in a catch-22 battle.

>One little beautiful trick that I stole from John Seale only works if the shot is a lock-off and the blocking allows for it... But... In one particular shot of a woman sitting at a desk, I used the desk lamp as both an in-shot practical and her key source - but that made it far too hot in the frame. So I took a clipping of ND.6 gel from a large Lee Cinematographer's swatchbook and mounted that on a c-stand in front of the lens. Looking through the viewfinder I cut the ND gel to the shape of the lampshade and that solved the problem. You could do the same thing with a bit on ND on an optical flat - or even a bit of marker on a flat (depending on your focus)... But if the actor moves into the ND area or the camera moves at all the gig is up.

>If you're telecining - you could use a power window to bring down the exposure on the practical... Or - use the low wattage bulb dimmed down and augment that source with your own off camera lighting.

>Back in Vegas on a video I gaffed a while back the director wanted to see the filaments in the thousands of bulbs on Fremont Street. We took a spot meter reading of the filaments themselves and lit the ambient levels to match that. Worked nicely.


>All the best,

Jay Holben

Director of Photography

Los Angeles, CA


>This is a life long journey, practical illumination. Unless you are using the lamp to expose the scene the best approach is to place a smaller bulb in the fixture and adjust the intensity via a dimmer. Another approach that I have used effectively on car headlights and bright bulbs is to place a dot of black tape on the bulb approximately the same size as the filament on the side facing the camera. The overexposed light will wrap around the tape dot, concealing it from view.

>I must warn you that tests should be made with the lenses that you are using to determine their ability to accept flares. Many lenses will allow bright bulbs without affecting the scene. The black tape will allow a brighter bulb to be used without drawing attention to the lamp. Another approach that I have used often is to have your Gaffer construct a male screw in socket with three sets of leads jury rigged from that socket to screw in female bases. The center socket will hold the least wattage bulb which will illuminate the lamp shade. The other two fixtures will point down and use brighter lamps to bounce off of the table or platform that the lamp rests on.

>I generally use reflector bulbs for the down lights so that no additional side light reflects back upon the shade. This can melt standard lamp fixtures in practicals. It is best to replace the plastic fixture with a ceramic and the smaller gauged electrical cord with the appropriate gauged wire. The ceramic will hold the heat better I hope that I have not further confused this discussion.

>I am writing this quickly and wanted to respond.


Roy H. Wagner ASC

Director of Photography

>There is one thing that I have always wanted to test, but I have never had the opportunity to do. That is, to take a "Clear" bulb (not frosted) and, similar to one of Mr. Wagner's suggestions, tape out the filament with white paper tape and then see what happens. I think to get the illusion of a frosted bulb, then perhaps all that would be needed is a slightly dusty bulb to catch the light and show the outline of the bulb withought going completely "nuclear winter white" as would happen with a frosted bulb. Or, you could try "lightly" dusting the bulb, and I'm guessing ever so slightly, with that spray-on frost stuff that you can buy at Home Depot for frosted glass effects. Again, *just enough* to catch the light being emmited from the bulb so you can see the outline. It seems to me that it would then be possible to use a higher-wattage bulb.. say 25 or even 40 watts... and that would give you a workable stop, while still being able to see the bare bulb in frame without it completely blowing out.

Toby Birney Gaffer,

Los Angeles

Caution :

>I recently took in frame practicals down too much. they were on a dimmer (several suspended blue glass sconces over a cocktail bar with edisons inside). I was shooting color stock, 98, that would be desaturated in post to b&w except for these cobalt blue sconces which would be isolated to hold color. i had 40, 60 and 100 watt standing by. cant remember which we used. (but recall deciding - on the basis that a decision was needed.)

>I took them down to 2.5 over key. well that was a tad conservative. (couldnt test). it worked but the blue cobalt was duller than i had expected (TK'd on spirit) - I had wanted a little blossom and bloom and didnt get it. If I were to redo it id leave them up around 4.0 over.

>By the way, someone once suggested scotch tape on this list to taek down an element on the camera side - if I recall right it was re: low wattage bulbs- or am Iout to lunch?

>Caleb Crosby

>With the method that I use I can use 150 watt bulbs and they don't become "nuclear". When using the gag light I generally will put a 40 watt bulb to light the shade (based upon the density of the material) and 100 watt spot par reflectors in the down lights. I'm not sure what the non frosted globe gives you, Toby, over the frosted bulb, and yet as I said this has been a long journey of trial and error for me. The biggest discovery was being able to black dot headlights and not seeing that on film. Of course if the headlights are pointing directly into camera I'm not so sure that it is necessary to dot the lamps. Lenses are very good at displacing flares. I have used the headlight gag on anamorphic features as well.

Roy H. Wagner ASC

Director of Photography

>A favorite trick when photographing lamp shades is to line the inside of the shade with silver/black Roscoscrim, silver side toward the bulb. The perforated scrim will take some of the intensity away from the shade and reflect it down and out, where it can help light the set.

>If the camera angle will allow, cut a hole in the backside of the shade, line with frost diffusion, and swivel it to throw light on the subject. Order duplicate shades and one can have different variations ready to go.

>Alan Jacobsen - NYC

>Caleb Crosby wrote :

>>caution: Irecently took in frame practicals down too much.

>Yes, I've always found that if I just rely on the spotmeter it tends to take them down too much. I always read it with the spot but make the final judgement by eye.

>Jim Sofranko NY/DP

>Markus Fraunholz   wrote :

>>I am still trying to find the optimal way to photograph practicals and bare >bulbs prominent in the frame

>I think getting a bulb of the optimum wattage is the first step. Then dimmers. Then Streaks&Tips.

>I don't think you can ever really reconcile the overly bright source that will be used for illumination as an in shot element. There are work-arounds, though.

>I recently shot on a stage that had several "bare bulb" practicals on the walls. These were surface mounted, industrial, fixtures and we used 60-watt clear bulbs that had a silvered half opposite the screw-in base. These worked really well since the hot spot was hidden from the lens but a good deal of heat was applied to the set and adjacent wall area. They looked like what they were, which was the intended effect.

>Typically, though, you might think about taking the practical down and using hidden fixtures to illuminate accordingly. Roy is quite right when he says it's a life long quest. An interesting paradigm for our work in general.

>David Perrault

>Toby Birney

>>,,,,,tape out the filament with white paper tape and then see what >happens.,,,,,

>This works really well with cars at night as long - as they don't have to turn off the headlights in shot.

>David Perrault

>Carefully saw the bottom of the frosted bulb off and remove the filament and bottom contact, leaving the glass bulb with its threading intact and an open bottom.

>Modify your socket similarly, removing the bottom and keeping the threads intact.

>Fit a small double contact bayonet socket (as found in a Mole Midget) within the original socket housing.

>Cut a piece of metal pipe (1/2 inch?) to about 1 3/4" in length. Cut it lengthwise removing between 1/4 and 1/2 of the diameter. Paint it with heat proof black paint. This will be a sleeve to mask the bulb, be sure that it is large enough to not contact the hot glass.

>Put the FEV (200w, 3200K) / ETD (100w, 2850K) / ESS (250w, 2950K) bulb into its socket and affix the sleeve with the opening to your subject and away from the camera lens.

>Screw on the frosted prop bulb (gently).

>You now have a somewhat controllable bulb with enough color temperature to dim down a bit, that wont flare the lense and burn out, but gives you some footcandles where you need them. But it's a secret so don't tell anyone.


>Anders Uhl


>I was doing a little showtime promo in NYC and one of the Grips on the job showed me a new product he has invented. It's called *Gel Tape* and I'm not clear if that is the actual name or a working title so to speak. He has essentially taken Lee gels and applied an adhesive- I don't have exact dimensions but around 5 inches or so wide (enough to go around a fluorescent) and packaged in rolls about twice the diameter of lee reg gels. I rec'd two samples one ND and one opal which I have not tried. He told me some house in LA bought out all the ND stuff immediately, so this may be old news to some of you. He told me it (ND) was great for car headlights, practical bulbs, etc.

>The Grips name is Johnny *Rockets* Cupina and if anyone is interested i could make some calls and provide contact info.

John Roche 

Liberty Lighting Limited

Gaffers w/ Lighting + Grip Trucks for Film and Video Production


>caution: i recently took in frame practicals down too much.

>Jim Sofranko wrote:

>>Yes, I've always found that if I just rely on the spotmeter it tends to take >them down too much. I always read it with the spot but make the final >judgement by eye.

>The spot meter works fine if you'll set the hot spot 2-1/2 to 3 stops above exposure, or whatever your taste dictates. (This is for lamps that have been Streaked and Tipped, where the filament itself isn't visible.)

Wade K. Ramsey, DP

Dept. of Cinema & Video Production

Bob Jones University Greenville, SC 29614