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Simulating lantern lighting in a dark cave


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#1 Joe Stas

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 03:12 PM

Hi
I am going to be filming a scene in a cave on Saturday which involves a person walking with a flame lit lantern. I have attached a picture below to illustrate. This is a screen grab from today. I had to really pump my ISO settings to get it exposed and even now it's not too great. So, I wanted to ask advice on how to add extra light to this scene with what I have available.

 

 

ScreenShot2013-05-02at210306_zpsa86b526f

 

 

When I shoot I will have access to 3 Bi-Color LED panels and 2 Dedolights. And an assortment of gels for them. Any advice you can give me would be great. I'm new to the lighting aspect of productions so am still learning.

Thanks a lot for reading and for your time!


 


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 04:08 PM

This is a traditional lighting problem that goes back to the beginning of cinema and there are a number of tricks, some may look better than others depending on the camera set-up.

 

1) Use the actual light from the flame as the source.  Requires very fast lenses and really high ISO ratings but obviously it would look natural, though the flame will be quite overexposed if you are exposing more for what the flame is lighting, i.e. his face.  When the face is very close to the flame so that both are in close-up, this may be the best technique though and if the face is close to the flame, then the exposure isn't so hard to achieve.

 

2) Use an electric bulb inside or outside on the lantern.  I've done plenty of shots when the lantern is sitting on the table, for example, of hiding a light bulb behind the lantern and using some black wrap or some black paint on the opposite side of the lantern glass to hide the bulb from camera and point the real flame side towards camera.  Or I've just installed a light bulb inside the lantern and frosted the glass to hide the bulb (it helps to use a bulb that is flame-shaped like a candelabra bulb).  This works well particular in distant shots so that the lamp can actually light the actor.

 

3) Follow the actor with an orange-gelled spot light as if it were coming from the lantern.  This works better when the lantern isn't moving and you can flag the light off of the lantern so it doesn't get front-lit (as in your example -- it would have been better to get more of the light flagged off of the lantern.  Doesn't help that the metal is shiny and reflective.)  Gets harder as you have to follow the actor around as he holds the lantern.  This is classic old-school Hollywood lighting that you've seen even used recently, such as the scene in "Shutter Island" when DiCaprio is walking around with the match flame in the dark prison.

 

Here are some examples.

 

"Days of Heaven" used a battery-powered light bulb inside the lantern, frosted to hide the bulb:

lantern1.jpg

 

"Amistad" here used an electric light inside the lantern but this design made it easier to hide the bulb:

 

lantern2.jpg

 

"Snow Falling on Cedar" used a number of tricks in the opening scene, from using the actual flame, to hiding a bulb behind the lantern (as in here), to shining an off-camera light, even dimming one technique and switching to another during a camera move:

 

lantern3.jpg

 

"Elephant Man" used an off-camera spot light, though in one angle in this scene, they switched to a lantern with a bulb inside, but only when the actor was blocking it with his body to camera, walking away:

 

lantern4.jpg


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#3 Joe Stas

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 04:40 PM

Thank you David for such a comprehensive reply. Very informative and interesting!

I'll try to do some tests holding the lantern closer to the subject's face and see how that works out.   If I need to get more light I can look at the other options. I have a couple of small battery powered LEDs that I might be able to stick to the back and gel to get some more light.

 

Unfortunately this shoot is very last minute so they are my only real options other than using my dedo as a spot. If I was to use that would you front light and flag, similar to the screen grab above?

 

Thanks again, I truly appreciate it.
 


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#4 Matthew Kane

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 04:41 PM

I've also had luck with using a china ball on a painters pole to fake the light from a small handheld source (did that for a scene where an actress was walking around a dark house with a candle). It also made nice shadows on the walls around her, and we were able to fish it around so that it didn't cast a frontal light on the candle itself. Low tech, but it was right for that shot.


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#5 Darren Weckerle

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 08:05 PM

I've also had luck with using a china ball on a painters pole to fake the light from a small handheld source (did that for a scene where an actress was walking around a dark house with a candle). It also made nice shadows on the walls around her, and we were able to fish it around so that it didn't cast a frontal light on the candle itself. Low tech, but it was right for that shot.

Sounds like a good solution! Curious though about what kind of bulb did you use in the china ball and how was it powered (were you on a set or on location)? 


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#6 Matthew Kane

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Posted 03 May 2013 - 09:24 AM

it was a smaller China ball (so we could run it closer the floor). I believe it was a 200 or 300 watt incandescent bulb--more than that and you'll want to go up to a 12" ball. Lantern lock systems are not too expensive to rent.


We dimmed it a little to warm it up, and we did have access to mains power. You could build a power adapter to power this thing off a battery belt if you're comfortable with that, but if you don't have power handy, one of David's solutions might work better.
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#7 timHealy

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Posted 04 May 2013 - 10:50 AM

I always think of shots like Indiana Jones carrying a torch in a cave or in The English Patient where the girl is in a chair and hoisted up to the ceiling to see frescos up close carrying a flare. For the wide shots I think they actually used a flare and for close ups they used a light of some sort.

 

I also love trick where someone is carrying a light and as a person walks through a house a large overhead soft source dims up as a person walks through a room and then dims out as the exit and goes into the next room. There's a scene in Silverado I recall that did this well.


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#8 Stephen Selby

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 11:05 AM

Very interesting - in John Altons book painting with light he talks about a candle where the back is cut out and a peanut bulb inserted - like the frosted glass idea. Safer and easier to film.


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