Lighting a scene is not simply about putting enough light on your subjects to get a good exposure. Sometimes, you'll have to find ways to recreate certain practical lighting situations—like a movie projected in a dark theater—using whatever equipment you've got on hand.
Practical lights, or lights that are (usually) visible within the frame, are used in filmmaking all the time. They are the TV/computer/movie screens, lamps, and headlights that make your shot not only more realistic, but more interesting, as well. However, including these kinds of lights isn't always as simple as turning them on and putting them in your shot. Often, they're not bright enough or have a lot of flicker. This is why it's helpful to have a few practical lighting tricks in your arsenal. Below are the four tricks from Swain's tutorial.
- TV/movie screen: There are many ways to create this effect, but Swain does it by bouncing a light off of a "pizza box" (2'x2' bounce board) that is set right in front of her subjects. She then changes the frequency of the light with a dimmer to make it look like there is something playing on the "TV."
- Projector: This very simple effect can be done by putting a spotlight (Swain uses an Aputure Mini-20) behind your actors and syncing the frequency of that light and the "TV/movie screen" light with a dimmer.
- City lights: If you want to fake a nice city skyline in the background of your shot, all you need is a string of Christmas lights. However, to get this effect right, you're going to have to sell the illusion that they are coming from miles and miles away. So, keep in mind what kind of lens you're shooting on and move your Christmas lights far enough away so they are out of focus. You might also need to put the lights on a dimmer to make them less bright.
- Police lights: Swain's rig to create a police light effect is pretty awesome, but definitely not as simple as the above three. She took two Mini-20s, put a red gel on one and a blue gel on the other, and then mounted them onto a C-stand with a C-clamp and a Cardellini clamp. She also used batteries on the lights so there weren't any issues with twisted wires. After that, it was just a matter of spinning those things around until they looked like sirens.
Do you know some other simple practical lighting effects? Tell us in the comments.