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Old March 31st, 2002, 02:49 PM   #1
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lighting struggle

I need to light a conversation on a table in a common living room with relatively low ceilings and bright walls. The walls are a real problem, as I cannot place the lights above the actors because of the low ceiling I get tons of light and the actors shadows on the walls. I moved the lights whereever I thought I could put them, but no good.

And putting blackwrap to block the light always blocks the actors too, at least partly.

I already see myself carpentering a special stand to get these light above the table. Can someone give me advice how to avoid this? When it comes to mechanical work I have two left hands...

I have 5 (3x 500W, 2x 150W) photofloods in normal reflectors, so I cannot focus them.

Cheers,
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Old March 31st, 2002, 02:58 PM   #2
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Peter,
Are you trying to avoid the shadows being thrown onto the adjacent wall? If so, are you really sure you need to do that? Perhaps they won't be as distracting as you might think?
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Old March 31st, 2002, 11:13 PM   #3
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Could you try bouncing the light off the low ceiling and the walls behind the camera. if the walls are light, and your lights are bright enough, this might give you a nice soft look.
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Old April 1st, 2002, 11:20 AM   #4
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Thanks for the input guys. Iīll try out everything tonight. I hope I find something I like.

Donīt want to end up in a mid-light-crisis: :-))

Cheers
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Old April 2nd, 2002, 09:06 AM   #5
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"mid-light crisis" eh? Do you own a copy of Ross Lowell's book by any chance? =)
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Old April 2nd, 2002, 11:00 AM   #6
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Here are two possible methods to light a tableside chat:

One is to use a china ball. These are readily available (in the US at Pier One Imports, sorry Peter, I don't know where you get them in Vienna!). These are the paper-like collapsible balls of different sizes that incorporate a standard household bulb. Use a fairly high wattage bulb, perhaps a 150w or higher with a china ball at least two feet wide. Because the whole thing is so light it can be easily hung from the ceiling, or preferably boomed in from behind camera. A mike boom can be pressed into service and clamped (carefully!) onto a light stand for this purpose. This way, you can adjust the height of the ball easily.

The result is a beautiful soft light that wraps 360 degrees and casts minimal shadows. It will spill all over the ceiling and walls however, so the best approach is to drape the ball around the top and sides with black material (duvatene is traditionally used, but any lightweight black material such as a sheet will work. Make sure to leave the airhole at the top open!) and let it hang about a foot below the ball. Lower the ball until it is just above the frame, then using clothespins, pin up the sides of the skirt until the light hits the actors but doesn't spill onto the walls unnecessarily. For more control, add a simple household lamp dimmer unit to the cord so you can regulate the intensity of the light.

This is a very easy setup and it will look lovely, you can shoot in any direction around the table and all the actors will have the same light. When shooting closeups, you can lower the ball as needed to get the light into their eyes (or bring in a second ball if you wish). As low tech as it seems, this technique is used virtually as I described it on the "big shows"!

If there are only two people at the table and you are shooting them in profile, you can also crosslight them using your photofloods. This would be easier with a diagram, but I wil try my best to explain this! Imagine that the table is at the center of a clock, and the actors at 3 and 9 and the camera is at 6 o'clock. Place your lights at about 2 and 10 (backed out so they are out of camera range) and about a foot higher than the actor's faces. The light at 2 will be pointed at the actor at 9, the light at 10 pointed at the actor at 3. This will give you a nice modeled light on the actor's faces and the shadows will fall outside of camera range (around 4 and 8 o'clock). If the scene is too contrasty i.e. the camera side of their faces is too dark, use another flood bounced off the ceiling above camera to taste (or use a china ball, there it is again!). If this is a candelight dinner, lower the floods until they are just below the actor's faces and add a little warming gel (1/4--1/2 CTO or straw) to simulate the candlelight.

Good luck!
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Old April 2nd, 2002, 11:11 AM   #7
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You got me, Casey

Aw, I got caught! :-))

I am turning to page 172 now to be exact. Great book.

Cheers,
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Old April 2nd, 2002, 11:46 AM   #8
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I donīt know why I didnīt think about the possibility of chinese lanterns in the first place. Thanks for the hint Charles. They sell them in all shapes at my local Ikea store. And after some emails I even found the importer for Cinefoil in Austria, so everything should be a little easier now.

The light set-up you adviced is exactly what I need. My problem was, as this living room is completely new, I didnīt want to mess anything up in there. Drilling holes into the ceiling was out of the question. Now I have built my own lightstand that goes over the table and can I place the lights directly above the actor(s) easily.

I forgot to mention it in my first post, but this is a test for a splitscreen dialogue (one actor is doing both characters), that is why I am so careful about the shadows. I canīt let the actor cast shadows on his counterpart on the other side of the frame.

Cheers,
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Old April 2nd, 2002, 07:42 PM   #9
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Peter,

Like Charles says, be sure to keep the opening at the top uncovered...and I'd keep a fire extinguisher handy as well.

I used a china ball set up a while back and didn't realize I had too small a ball and too much bulb. The actor I was filming made the comment "What's that smell?" and we then both noticed smoke pouring out of the china ball. I think I unplugged it just before it burst into flames!

Caught it in time to prevent real damage, but the ceiling tile had smoke/heat discoloration that had to be painted over. So...be careful.
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