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Shooting Night Scene in Forest - Fire


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#1 Kevin Jones

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 04:31 AM

Hello all,

I'm wanting to shoot an opening scene to a film that is going to be in a forest at night, with a large fire being the only source of light.

I know this is a very difficult scene to shoot and light, but does anyone have any advice on what film/lenses/etc to use in this situation?

I remember a conversation I had with the director of the film "House of Sand" at the Sundance Film Festival. He had shot a scene in the desert at night using nothing but a fire and some reflectors to get the characters faces lit. Can the same be done in a dense forest?

Also, please note, I don't really want to shoot it as Day-for-Night. Oh, and the film will most likely be shot on Super 16.

Thanks in advance for any info.


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 10:02 AM

It depends how much background you wish to see around your fire. If you just wish to see the characters faces it won't take much lighting, however if you wish to see deep into the surrounding forest it'll take a lot of lighting. Dark forests tend absorb light much more than light coloured sand.

What sort of forest are we talking about? Dense conifers or relatively open deciduous woodland?

Any time I've shot in forests at night it's involved quite a bit of lighting. However, you could hide smaller lights amongst the trees or/and use larger HMIs to light larger areas of forest. You'll need a generator to power any lights, battery lights are OK for CUs, but are pretty useless for lighting forests at night.

If your lighting budget is limited you could consider shooting at magic hour/dusk using fast lenses and perhaps 500 ASA stock for your wide shots and using the light from the fire for you CUs. The light from the fire should also illuminate nearby trees in the wide shots.

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 07 January 2009 - 10:04 AM.

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#3 Kevin Jones

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 10:09 AM

Thanks for the info, Brian.

I'm really only needing just one of the characters faces to bit lit, the other two will be wearing ski masks. And I feel that it would be better for the scene to just leave the forest (mostly deciduous) dark to heighten the tension of the scene.
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#4 Gus Sacks

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 01:26 PM

Thanks for the info, Brian.

I'm really only needing just one of the characters faces to bit lit, the other two will be wearing ski masks. And I feel that it would be better for the scene to just leave the forest (mostly deciduous) dark to heighten the tension of the scene.


Hey Kevin. What color ski masks will this be? If they're any kind of dark color, they'll more than likely blend into the background and you'll be left with two headless bodies. You'll need to over-light their faces in that case. If that is the case.
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#5 Kevin Jones

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 01:32 PM

Good point Gus, as they will be black ski masks.
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#6 Gus Sacks

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 03:56 PM

Good point Gus, as they will be black ski masks.


Yeah. That's certainly tricky just keying from a fire. The problem wouldn't be seeing their eyes (youd get something in there and a nice reflection in the eyes), but seperating them from the background will be an issue if you're not lighting the forest, unless he's fairly close to the fire. Even having him on the ground might be helpful.
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#7 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 04:36 PM

If you're not planing to light the forest in anyway other than from the fire, you'd best place the characters close to some trees, otherwise the audience won't realise the scene is set in a forest. The light from the fire will drop off pretty quickly and you'll be left with just black in the background rather than dark forest.

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 07 January 2009 - 04:37 PM.

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#8 Sean Emer

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 11:42 AM

Good point Gus, as they will be black ski masks.



Place the ski mask guys in front of your brightest trees. You don't need to light their faces extra IMO because there's no need to 'see' the mask. Overlighting their faces risks your continuity with the unmasked person. I could be wrong, but if we can see their eyes and mouths all you need to do is separate their outlines from the background. A 1K or maybe a tweenie with some CTO and straw splashed against the trees would probably be all you need, depending on the size of your fire
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#9 Batalov Alexander

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 03:37 PM

We shoot night scene with action and fire a few month later
And we used Kodak 5219 and Zeiss Master Prime lens with full open aperture 1.3
And had a "gas dimmer" our fires was conncted with gas ballons throw the some thing (like dimmer), and we easy control lighting
don't forget reflector's :rolleyes:
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#10 Joe Giambrone

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 10:56 PM

Just an idea that could help--

Replace the black ski masks with grey ones for that scene. You may need to replace jackets as well so they match.
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