View Full Version : Lighting! <shakes fist>

03-31-2005, 06:57 PM
As a teen filmmaker with a budget of whatever my friends and I have in our wallets and equipment traditionally used for family gatherings, one of our mortal enemies is lighting (and from what I've read, it's something that even professional filmmakers have a tough time with). We've usually found ways around it with our own little tricks and whatnot, but there's a particular scene we're shooting that's giving us a lot of trouble, and I'm wondering if you guys could help.

This is a horror movie, and it's more on the thriller side, as opposed to a bloody slasher flick. The scene is; the main character is alone in his friend's house, and the power suddenly goes out. Some stuff happens in the house that I won't get into because it isn't relevant, but to make a long story short he ends up outside in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, running for his life. Now, this is filmed at night, and the only environmental lighting is streetlamps and house lights. The street lamps are orange, not bright white or anything, so the lighting is rather dim. Because of the space between lamps, there are very dark portions of the street, and frankly, we can't see our lead in these places (and even under street lamps, the screen is still darker than I'd like at times). A method we've used in the past is having him run in a way that has the flash light he's running with shining on and off his face while he runs, which tends to work very well, but we're going for some different angles here where that just doesn't work.

I'm wondering, what can we do to deal with these lighting problems? We've considered getting a better camera (like one with good exposure settings, since the ones on this camera seem to be nonexistant), but that might be a ways off, since we don't have as much money as we'd like. The only artificial lights we have to work with are a bunch of flashlights, the light on the camera, and this big-ish light that I'm not sure how to describe except as a rip-off of the lights used in real's on a stand not too high off the ground and it can hold a large-ish lightbulb in it. But even that doesn't work for everything, especially wide shots or places where we don't have any plug-ins handy.

Do you guys know any tricks or any sort of cheap effective lighting we can get our hands on? I'm open to anything at this point, allowing we can afford it.

03-31-2005, 08:01 PM
Hmm- that's a tough one. We used halogens on a stand for a couple scenes... doesn't work well, but it works.. they're fairly cheap too.. just go down to your friendly neighborhood hardware store and see if they're cheap (we have Canadian Tire, but I'm assuming they don't exist in the states).
You can try that. They cast a lot of shadow, but that could be good in a horror movie...
Just a thought.

03-31-2005, 08:14 PM
for cheap, as Spatula mentioned, 500w or 250w Halogen work lights are available at every hardware store including Home Depot. You can can probably borrow a generator from a friend or his pop. To reduce shadow, bounce off a shinyboard or reflector. To match color to street lights, orange gel the lights. Also, if you time it right, you might have a car driving up the street at the same time, illuminating the subject as a backlight.

03-31-2005, 08:15 PM
The brightest light for the cheapest price I can think of (and trust me, I understand making movies for cheap) is halogen. You can often find either halogen work lights or the even the living room halogen lights on stands (with dimmer dials) for around $20 or less. Now of course, you don't want to aim this right at the actor because it will look too artificial. Perhaps you could position the lights so that they look like light coming from additional light posts. You can also make light color filters to help with lighting night scenes. Go to your local party store and buy rolls of colored cellophane. They are usually $5-$10 dollars per roll. A blue color will be good for lighting a dark area that is supposed to still look "dark." You may want to also get a roll of orange to try and match the natural glow you are getting from your street lamps. NOTE: don't put the cellophane directly on the lamp. The heat will melt it (fire hazzard). Figure out a way to make a large sheet of the color and position in front of the lamp.

03-31-2005, 11:02 PM
I had just recieved this awsome lighting set for Christmas, which i found on ebay, and it seems to work pretty well. I'll see if i can conjure the link up for you.

04-02-2005, 05:06 PM
Thanks alot, guys! Appreciate the help. I'll start looking around for halogens. Any other suggestions while we're at it?

08-05-2005, 09:30 AM
If you have to stick to the ULTRA cheap, you might go to your local bargain outlet and grab a couple of battery operated spotlights, the kind you see on "crocodile hunter" on night expeditions. Just be careful to diffuse it properly as was mentioned earlier. I have used them before, and if you can get nothing else these might just save your bacon.

08-05-2005, 09:40 AM
Here's a link to an article I wrote about this:

Low Budget Light Kit (

The battery powered spotlight might work, but I would recommed taping a piece of diffusion (a type of gel which you can get at a theatrical supply store or some camera stores) to the light. Try tough frost or something similar. The 500watt work light will work in places where you have power. The other option is move your action where you have lots of light. Getting a better camera isn't going help because even the pricey cameras need light. In fact, some need even more than consumer cameras.


09-30-2005, 04:10 PM
You might try filming day for night.Shoot your wide master shots at dusk,just when the street lights come on and you still have about an hour of ambient light to work with.White balance (I'm assuming you are using video)on tungsten so that your scene will have a bluish cast and underexpose by 1 and a half to 2 stops.

You may have a little more leeway in your closeups and medium shots.Maybe make a few reflectors out of cardboard and cover them with aluminum foil and place them out of camera range when you shoot your closeups and reflect back fill light from your street lights.

Also,you might want to wet the street where your actor is running.It adds a nice dramatic effect and reflects your natural light sources.

The key is to work WITH what you have instead of AGAINST what you don't have.

09-30-2005, 05:00 PM
if you have access to a car, you can go to walmart and get an adapter that will run at least 1 halogen or 2 flourescents bulbs in reflector lights (not as good for wide shots). It plugs into the lighter on the car and is cheaper than a generator (both will use gas-run the car while using it, dead batteries suck!). Or use the headlights of a car to light the talent. Either static car or driving by for effect.

09-30-2005, 06:53 PM
[QUOTE=knightly]if you have access to a car,

Hey lest we forget,car lights set on high beams can be used as lights.I was shooting a TV station promo once,dark alley, talent walks in sillouette,fog machine for atmosphere.We had a similar problem.Limited lighting instruments due to power restrictions.We had a small generator which could only run two 650's.Our production van parked at one end of the alley with headlights on high beams provided the strong backlight we needed.

Boz Uriel
09-30-2005, 07:41 PM
I've done the day is night shoot with filters (yuck), done in post (double yuck), I've seen it done in other films too (yuck again but not as bad as mine) but I think jax is onto something here. Set up during the day, rehearse till it hurts and shoot it at twilight using a lighter night filter. Timing is crucial but I think that will work since.

10-01-2005, 08:58 AM
Set up during the day, rehearse till it hurts and shoot it at twilight using a lighter night filter. Timing is crucial but I think that will work since.

You don't want to overdo it with blue.Of course if you're shooting with an El Cheapo all auto camera (auto white balance,auto iris)with no manual overrides then all of this becomes moot. unless you know some way to trick the auto w/b..

The more I think about it,parked cars set just out of camera range with lights on high beams may do the trick.At any rate it's gonna take some experimentation,but then that's the beauty of low budget filmmaking.Anyone can make something work with a big budget,but it's a real test of your creativity to pull it off with no money.