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lighting with candles and replicating the sun


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#1 James Buckland

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 05:09 PM

I am in the process of planning a student short film. I need advice on lighting in a couple of the scenes. Although it is a student short film we have a couple of thousand pound budget.

The first scene I need help with is an interior scene. In the scene a police officer interrogates a suspect. In this scene we want to try shoot it using only candle light. (The candles would be in the frame.) What lenses and camera would we need to do this without having any noise in the image?

If it is impossible to use only candle light, what lights would you recommend to give the impression that only candle light was lighting the room? And how would we replicate the flickering of the candles? (I know candle light is 1900 kelvin.)

If neither of these two options are possible, we want to try and replicate daylight by shining artificial light through the window. What lights are between 5200 - 6000 kelvin?

One of our scenes is an exterior - in a wood. We want to try and replicated the sun. What lights would be the best to do this? Again I assume we would need lights between 5200-6000 kelvin. What type of generator would we need to pull this off? We want to defuse the light, how would we do that? We wont have access to a crane unfortunately, is there any other equipment that could be used to place a light high up?

I realise this is all pretty ambitious but you've got to dream big!

 

If you need any more info let me know and I will see if I can provide it.


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 05:57 PM

If you can get f/1.3-ish prime lenses, that would be good for candle scenes -- either the older (and softer when wide-open) Zeiss Super-Speeds or the new Zeiss Master Primes.  The Canon HD cameras like the C300, etc. seem to be the fastest and least noisy on the market, but you didn't say what format you wanted to shoot in and deliver in.

 

You can augment candle light with dimmed down tungsten light, even strings of regular white Christmas tree lights (not the LED-type) have a nice warmth to them, and you can use a hand dimmer and add a slight random up & down dimming if you want, though candle light doesn't flicker much compared to fire light.  Since you said "pounds" instead of "dollars" I assume you are in the U.K. or Europe, so I don't know if ordinary tungsten lightbulbs have disappeared yet...

 

When you say sunlight in the woods, do you mean during the day... or at night faked for daytime, because that would be rather hard to do.  If you don't have scissor lifts, condors, etc. you are limited to scaffolding (parallels), which can be dressed somewhat out to camera with some camouflage netting and greens clamped to the structure (would be harder in the winter with no greens), or very high stands which can go up to maybe 18' but then you are more limited to the weight of the light on it, and dealing with controlling and aiming the light if your ladders don't reach that high.

 

HMI's are generally used for powerful daylight-colored lighting, though a powerful tungsten lamp can simulate a warm sun nearer to sunset.  You'd need a generator that can handle those kinds of wattages, and we are getting into something that takes some money and experienced labor to handle.  

 

If the woods are dense and leafy, sometimes a lot of smaller lights are better to punch through gaps than one or two giant lights.


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#3 Guy Holt

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 05:49 PM

We want to try and replicate the sun. What lights would be the best to do this? Again I assume we would need lights between 5200-6000 kelvin. What type of generator would we need to pull this off? We want to defuse the light, how would we do that? We wont have access to a crane unfortunately, is there any other equipment that could be used to place a light high up?

 

I realise this is all pretty ambitious but you've got to dream big!

 

 

It is not too ambitious if you approach it the right way. On a budget there is really only one light to use to light a large master shot in the woods and that is the sun. This is one of those situations where scouting, choosing the right location, and planning your production day is worth more than all the grip trucks, tow generators, and large HMIs in the world, because nothing compares to the quality of that large plasma light in the sky.

 

In these situations, the approach that I find works best is to choose a location that puts the sun in the backlight position for the establishing master shot that is required to bring out the shafts of light that make for an interesting shot and then wait until the optimum time to shoot that shot. Up to and after that point in time, shoot the close coverage under a full silk. Shooting the coverage under a silk offers a number of advantages. If the sun is in the wrong place for scene continuity, the silk takes the directionality out of the sun and knocks down its’ level by two and half stops. Now a smaller HMI light will have more of a modeling effect. Shooting into talents' down side under a silk, I find that a 4k Par through a diffusion frame is a sufficient key source for a medium two shot and it can easily be positioned where it needs to be to match the establishing wide shot when you eventually shoot it. To get shafts of light you will need to add “atmosphere” to the shot. That can be easily accomplished with some short of fogger (an old Mole “ramjet” fogger will eliminate having to run through the woods trailing an extension cord.)  

 

A good example of this approach is a scene I lit for a low budget feature that took place around a campfire in a small clearing surrounded by woods. Surrounded on all sides by woods, we knew that we would lose direct sunlight in the clearing early in the day and would need lights. We also knew that the scene was going to take all day to shoot because of its’ extensive dialogue, so we figured out where the sun was going to be throughout the day and where it would look best for our establishing wide shot.  Where it was a two shot, mostly over the shoulder of one character talking to the second character that was standing with his back to the campfire with the woods behind him, we decided to wait until the sun had moved into a near back light position to shoot the establishing shot.  So we shot our close coverage first with nothing more than a 4k Par and 1.2k Par under a 20x light soft frost on top of which we threw leaves. The 4k was heavily diffused and positioned so that it gave the talent the reverse key modeling that would be consistent with the wide shot but still attractive. The 1.2kw was used bare and was positioned as a backlight where the sun would be when we would eventually shoot the wide - this way there was always an edge in every shot for continuity.

 

When the time came to shoot the establishing shot, the shadow of the overhead frame and stands were thrown forward and did not interfere with the wider framing. Since we were still shooting under the silk, we were wider open on the iris and so our exposure dug into the dark woods and brought out more detail. The smoke from the campfire drifted into the woods, creating shafts of light where the sun broke through the tree canopy. What would have been a high contrast scene without lights, turned into a beautifully lit scene, and was accomplished without a lot of amps.  The whole scene was lit with nothing more than a 4k and 1.2k Par and powered by nothing more than a 60A/120 circuit from a modified 7500W Honda EU6500is/Transformer Gen-set.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Screenlight and Grip, Lighting rental and sales in Boston.


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#4 joshua gallegos

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 10:49 PM

I've been thinking of a similar scenario for a new short film I'm working on, it's going to be in black and white, and normally in a densely forested area there would be very little light, even when the sun is out, there may be some shafts of light seeping from the tree canopies, but if you place the scene near dusk or dawn you can very simply use an array of inexpensive lights such as the Dino or Moleno lights which have up to 36 lamps that you can switch on and off, point them in the direction in which the sun is shining, since the light will be shining from the side and not the top, that way you don't have to rig any lights, you can just set the color temperature on the camera if you were to film in color and wouldn't have to worry about adding gels. Since, I will  be filming in black and white that wouldn't matter, you can easily diffuse the light with 12x12 white griff for soft fill. I never have a budget to do things, so I have to think of ways to make it work, You can easily line up a few Dinos, depending how you're blocking the scene, but I intend to film all the night scenes in the daytime, which is an affordable solution when filming in black and white, that way I won't have to spend money on big lights or any HMIs, expensive generators and crew. There's always a way to make things work with little equipment. Scouting is of great importance, Sven Nykvist would spend hours photographing the behaviour of light; it's how he ultimately accomplished such masterful use of natural light in the film Winter Light. 

 

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Edited by joshua gallegos, 25 November 2013 - 10:52 PM.

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#5 Stephen Selby

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 07:35 AM

Barry Lyndon uses candlight only and a 0.9 lens. But John Alcott probably had very slow film speeds. You'd be fine with an f2 lens and iso 1600. You can get double wick candles that give out extra light or hide peanut lights behind candles to give out extra light. Use lots of candles - and possible artificial ones in background (out of focus) otherwise continuity of candle length becomes a nightmare.

 

Use some tunsgten lights to augment the lighting but make sure you flag then correctly so that there is no shadow of the candle. See Cinematography book by Malkewizc and David Mullen.


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#6 Eric Wobma

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Posted 29 December 2013 - 04:38 AM

There's always a way to make things work with little equipment. Scouting is of great importance, Sven Nykvist would spend hours photographing the behaviour of light; it's how he ultimately accomplished such masterful use of natural light in the film Winter Light. 

The sun IS and will always be our Best Friend.

 

As for augmenting candle light:

 

When we shot 'The Musketeer' ("from a script so bad the other two Musketeers ran off at once" as one critic said…) we bundled up Christmas tree lights and hid those for little eye lights or effect or a tiny fill where possible. Put it on a little shadow maker / dimmer with a chase. Just a tad !!

 

Worked like a charm.

 

Day for night shooting is always hazardous. Be aware NEVER to shoot day for night when it is cloudy; it will look ridiculous.

Try shoot at dusk underexposed...

 

Many greetings from Amsterdam,

 

Eric


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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 December 2013 - 11:46 AM

Barry Lyndon uses candlight only and a 0.9 lens. But John Alcott probably had very slow film speeds. You'd be fine with an f2 lens and iso 1600. You can get double wick candles that give out extra light or hide peanut lights behind candles to give out extra light. Use lots of candles - and possible artificial ones in background (out of focus) otherwise continuity of candle length becomes a nightmare.

 

Use some tunsgten lights to augment the lighting but make sure you flag then correctly so that there is no shadow of the candle. See Cinematography book by Malkewizc and David Mullen.

 

"Barry Lyndon" used an f/0.7 lens on 100 ISO film pushed to 200 ISO.  So today, an f/1.4 lens on a camera rated at 800 ISO would give you the same exposure, or an f/2.0 lens on a camera rated at 1600 ISO.  But keep in mind that Kubrick used triple-wicked candles.


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#8 Eric Wobma

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Posted 29 December 2013 - 01:54 PM

Thank you, David !!

 

There are some disadvantages to double- or triple wicked candles:

 

-1- They are very expensive.

 

-2- Quite a high percentage of them do not burn up properly, one wick going faster than the other.

 

-3- These candles burn up FAST !! Which is havoc and hell for the art department and continuity and, yes, light, since a fresh candle gives different light than a candle which is half way down or almost finished...


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#9 Doug Palmer

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 02:50 PM

I don't know if this is an idea. I had to photograph a shelf with some old fashioned kitchen items, from a fairly low angle, and it had to be mostly lit by one candle.  So behind that candle I had a line of 6 more candles on a metal sheet making sure they are all hidden. We only see the front one, but of course camera can't move !  Result looked realistic and I got a reasonable exposure with 100 speed film.

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