September 14, 2014 at 8:32AM

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Lighting an interior to look like candelight

Hello all - I'm currently nearing the end of the shoot for my first feature. The majority of the film has been exteriors - all shot with natural light/reflectors. We've got a couple of interior scenes coming up, and for those the only practical light is a candle in an old-fashioned lamp... and because of the location we're filming in (a library) we can't use an actual candle - it's going to be one of those 'fake flicker' battery powered ones!

We'll be shooting on a BMPCC (and possibly, if I can borrow one, an A7S) and we're not able to set up masses of kit. I'm currently thinking that an Arri 800 into a gold reflector (being wiggled a bit) might help raise the ambient level without looking too fake - but unless our lead holds the lamp up to head level (which can be done, but maybe not for the whole scene), we're going to get very little light on his face. I might potentially work with it that way - and bring up the level around the actor as much as possible, leaving the actor silhouetted, holding the torch (and relying on a more 'physical' performance through silhouettte).

Just wondering if anyone has any tips/suggestions? I've already shot one candlelit scene for the film (in a tunnel - pic here: https://www.facebook.com/dsrmovie), and I shot most of that at f0.95 or thereabouts... That was manageable, as we were in a space where the actor could barely move - but I don't want to be doing that in this location - focus will be unmanageably shallow and we'll miss half the detail that makes the space so good.

13 Comments

I've never been able to fake candle light properly, but you might want to take into consideration that candle light isn't exactly a point light source, meaning you want want to use a gold foil bounce. Instead I suggest possibly going to a fabric store (or heck, any store that sells towels) and picking up an orange/yellow cloth bounce. If you cant afford a flicker box, I suggest finding an inline hand-squeezer and having someone gently ramp up and down on the dimmer to flicker your light. This might be a bit of an issue if you're shooting a constantly moving subject, but I've found that this method works create for fireside scene.

Another option is to just find a camera with the dynamic latitude to get details in both the shadows and in the torch. Sadly both of your camera options are relatively mediocre in terms of dynamic range, but the BMPCC does have 12-bit raw which will allow you to pull down your highlights and push the shadows up a bit whilst maintaining contrast.

Hope this helps!

September 14, 2014 at 1:10PM

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Aidan Gray
Director of Photography Assistant Camera | Gaffer
1479

The A7S has fantastic low light performance though, and I've seen it used with only candle light. Looks pretty good too!

February 10, 2015 at 9:01PM

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Derek Mindler
Cinematographer
251

Thanks Aidan,

The subject is going to be moving around a lot, which is going to complicate matters - still thinking that I might be better off (particularly in the wides) with some unmotivated ambient lights in certain areas of the screen, allowing me to pop out the characters as silhouettes against the background, and have the highlight of the lamp itself as a point of interest... And then combine this with something like your suggestion for the close-ups.

What have you been unhappy with, when you've tried to emulate candlelight in the past?

September 14, 2014 at 2:23PM

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Alex Richardson
Director
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Faking candles is tough, especially a single candle. In the past I have taken a standard 60w bulb and rigged it to the end of a boom pole and had it attached to an inline dimmer, the guy "lamp operating" would then keep the lamp just out of frame as close to the candle as possible (we asked the actor to keep the candle just off centre of his body so we could keep it a little sidey) and mimic the movements of the actor while someone else operated the dimmer to fake a little flicker. This method is very cheap and works decently well for close ups, for wide stuff Aidan's idea of the towel works great, I have done it with yellow/gold bed sheets. Same principles as my boom pole idea just a bigger scale.

I would also add some ambient light to your location with some very cool soft lights to mimic moon light seeping in or something just to add some dynamic and texture to the background if its in a library I assume there would be windows or something and this will help you get some fill in the room.

September 16, 2014 at 1:33PM, Edited September 16, 1:33PM

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Chase Axton
Cinematographer
1183

Thanks Chase - I think I'm going to run some tests a few days before the shoot and try out a mixture of techniques and see which one will work best for the way I'm shooting. I've used something similar to your setup in the past (we called it the 'moon boom'!) and that might actually be an elegant solution to the problem. I've done some experiments today with flickering LEDs inside the lamp itself (not to illuminate anything per se, but just to 'read' as a candle), and so far it's looking good. I think that you're right - some ambient light - particularly on any background planes - will give definition to the scene, and allow me to pop the characters out a bit.

I'll let you know when I've managed to shoot anything (should be in a couple of weeks). Thanks for the help guys!

September 16, 2014 at 3:39PM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3340

you can light the scene fairly even with a large diffusor like 10x10' for a bit of fill. then slightly darken/vignette in post plus do some secondary corrections around the candle. this is very possible with the raw files from bmpcc

October 2, 2014 at 10:14AM

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Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1321

Thanks Kazu - We ended up shooting with a modifed LED lantern as the key, a smaller LED for some fill, and some occasional bounce. We'll be tracking the light and adding a vignette soon!

Here's a pic of our homemade lantern: https://www.facebook.com/dsrmovie/photos/pb.265277913681242.-2207520000....

November 1, 2014 at 8:41AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3340

Hi, maybe a little late but an ikea china lantern does the trick for me. Just put it on a perche hanging on a rope so it moves naturally when you move it around as you follow your subject. Check this making of,
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=j_rSyjt7XgU

October 25, 2014 at 2:07PM, Edited October 25, 2:07PM

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Steven elisabeth
Cameraman, DOP
81

Thanks Steven! Looks like a great solution! We had a ridiculously small crew so we ended up doing it in a slightly more ramshackle fashion, but the end results are looking good!

https://www.facebook.com/dsrmovie/photos/pb.265277913681242.-2207520000....

November 1, 2014 at 8:42AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
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Just noticed - love how my initial question has been graded "-7" by the users on here!

November 1, 2014 at 8:44AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
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I wouldn't go down the flicker route, the only good one I seen (and it was excellent) was when I was working on Dracula Untold it was a complex three channel dimmer effect where the dimmer ramps where built on a computer programme and as you can imagine produced with an array of expensive gear. The reason why it was so good was that it didn't look automated. When I'm making my own stuff I never use a flicker effect because I don't have access to the gear I need to do it right.

My advice would be keep it simple lift the ambient by bouncing small tungsten. The important bit is get your colour temperature right tungsten is 3200k you want to be around 2600 - 2800k to do this bring your tungsten lamps down to around 80 per cent and get yourself some 1/4 CTO gel/filter and gel your lamps. When I'm shooting I always try have candles or flame in shot as much as possible to help create the atmosphere desired. My advice with lighting is keep it simple. There's countless other filter combinations you can use for flame/candle but that's the one I like. Good luck!

January 1, 2015 at 8:57AM

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Gino Lynch
filmmaker
158

Cheers Gino! We shot it a while back, but this is definitely useful for the future!

January 9, 2015 at 10:07AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3340

Is better simulate that light...

March 16, 2015 at 7:24AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
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