Watch: 4 Practical Lighting Effects That Are Super Easy to Pull Off

If you want to create some easy practical lighting tricks, like police lights or a TV screen glow, this tutorial shows you how.

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.

In this short tutorial from Aputure, DP Julia Swain shows you how to pull off four simple lighting effects that will come in handy for almost every project you shoot.

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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.     

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Your Comment


This light was announced last year and still isn't available. Looks good though.

March 22, 2017 at 3:56AM, Edited March 22, 3:56AM

jack d

When are the Aputure C20 LED lights available to buy?

March 22, 2017 at 7:32AM


Thumbs up!

March 22, 2017 at 9:49AM, Edited March 22, 9:49AM

Terrell Lamont
Director, Director of Photography

I think these would be great for single light lighting. They are nice and small and easy to move around and -- did someone say Battery Pack --- WHAT.... lets go shoot something. BTW love the super great idea with the Christmas lights for the city out the window -- brilliant.

March 22, 2017 at 12:42PM

Teresa Smith

Everyone knows the diffuser trick with some baking paper (wax paper) over the shutters? produces a nice soft light.

March 22, 2017 at 3:00PM


Great stuff. Thank you.

March 23, 2017 at 1:48AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography


March 23, 2017 at 7:45PM, Edited March 23, 8:05PM


I am get ready to do some tribute recordings with some of our clients and I am pondering what kind of lighting I ought to purchase. The regular situation I imagine is being in somebody's home and the lighting being excessively diminish. Whenever I need academic help i quickly take help from I simply need a lighting arrangement I can go for the objective and get great outcomes from. The arrangement ought to likewise be fairly compact.

March 23, 2017 at 8:08PM