Although I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of lighting
for film, I've been in the business for twelve years now,
the overwhelming majority of my gaffing experience has been
with video. Now I have a big opportunity to light a major
black female celebrity being shot on 35 and I must admit,
I'm nervous (excited ) about it. More details will become
available but here is what I know.
This woman will be in a sea of candles, maybe several hundred,
in a ballroom type setting. They want her to appear to be
lit only by these candles. The set will have many shafts of
light cutting down through smoke. Although she is a big name
the shoot is small in scale(and budget). Here are my thoughts.
The candles provide the ambience While a Barger Baglight w/flicker
generator creates a key and a bounce card on hand for fill.
Par cans can create the down shafts and can be used for a
hard edge in the MCU when they want her silhouetted. The issue
is that I don't have a clue as to whether the candles will
give enough level to achieve this.
Unfortunately, the DP isn't to sure either. He wants to use
200 speed film to keep the grain low but I'm worried that
we need something faster. I'm told that 5218 would be a good
Any thoughts are appreciated.
Rather than a single source such as one Barger Bag Light I
would think it would be nice to have multiple soft lights
on flicker generators or even simple dimmers. With so many
candles it would look more like these are illuminating her
if there are multiple sources. Also by having this many sources
you can keep their individual levels low so that they appear
less directional and any shadows are minimized, plus by keeping
the units dimmed they'll burn warmer which will be closer
to the color temp. of the candles. If other units are not
available a bunch of paper lanterns should do the trick, just
use some blackwrap or flagging to control the light some.
It can make the star look nice if she's glowing a little brighter
than anything around her or in the background.
The ambient light level 100's of candles will give will vary
depending on the reflectivity of the set surrounding the actress.
Obviously if it's just the actress and the candles in limbo
the effect of all those candles on the scene will be different
than if there are walls, set pieces, etc. that can bounce
the light around. A lot will depend on how wide the shot is
and the mood that you're going for. Adding smoke will bring
the ambient light level up even more as the candle light will
make the smoke more apparent and blacks and shadows less dense.
Having positive (white) and negative (black) fill ready to
place off camera will help control the ambient light somewhat.
As for the actress's key, it will be less important to have
a flattering perfect key in the wide or medium wide shots.
Something soft and controllable will be what you're looking
for here. When you do move in to close-up, you'll want to
give her a soft flattering key and if the candles are spread
all around her then I would opt for very little modelling,
bring it straight in from where she's looking.
I would personally shy away from adding a flicker generator
to the key. Unless it's motivated it would be distracting
and probably will not mimic what the candles are really doing.
Lighting through beadboard can recreate the glow of candle
light nicely. Experiment with the key to find a look that
suits her face and the scene. Keeping her hair (probably dark)
from fading into the darkness behind her will need some attention
in all shots. Here's where I would use subtle flicker if I
did at all. Unless she's sitting in a hard back light (like
a par can) I wouldn't back light her with hard light unless
completely necessary (as in a wide shot). I would warm up
all my sources with a little CTO.
I'll let others comment on the 5218 vs 5274 question since
I haven't shot the 18 yet. If it's for TV only, from what
I've read here grain on 5218 shouldn't be an issue.
Lastly, if you can light this for video than you'll have no
problem lighting it for film. Have fun.
Randy Miller, DP in LA
I agree with your observations...candle light a soft source...dimming
sources or adding correction for colour temp...carefully controlling
the smoke...and certainly flicker effects need to be treated
with caution or they can look like a mistake.
My question : a single dark skinned subject in subdued light...other
than the obvious, rim them with a backlight...but I normally
look at firstly the shot by eye...then through the camera...anyone
who has been around a while usually has a pretty good idea
by eye roughly what the exposure will be in the wide... but
on close-ups...I usually pull out the spot meter and read
the skin reflectance off the subject to work out an exposure...this
may not be all that successful in this case. Short of bracketing
like the stills guys do...how would you compute the exposure
for this shot.
And yeah video is hard work to get a reasonable result.
You could always try doing what I did for a commercial years
We took one of the big old 5K north lights and filled it with
I read your email response and wondering if you could shed
some more light in my direction.
I am working on a short thriller/horror shooting on Kodak
16mm film Vision 2 500. I am looking to create a cold creepy
place that would somehow resemble either "Seven"
or Buffalo Bill's apt (silence of the lambs") this character
place has to creepy looking.
I thought about using candles to light up the place do you
have any suggestion on what lights and gels should I rent
Thank you for your time
You could always hide low voltage lamps, wrapped in a nice
coloured gel suitable for your look, in largish candles, with
the cables hidden in clothing or wherever. If the lamps are
always held away from the camera you can get enough light
for a decent stop which actually comes from the source and
is pretty cheap and very simple.