Short Films with Chinese Lanterns

Here’s an uber short called “Stew”:

A friend asked “How could I easily light a scene with a lot of actors sitting around a table?  Oh, and it all needs to be shot in one day” 

 - @josephdunstan

I answered that a Chinese Lantern in the middle of the table would be a convenient key light for all the characters.  It would mean that less lights would need to move between setups.  

I went to Bunnings warehouse and purchased the materials to make a Chinese lantern.   The build cost about $25 total, and consisted of the following ingredients:

- 2x70watt household bulbs

- Bayonet mounts

- a few meters of 240v power lead

- 2x 240v plugs

- Chinese lantern

I shot the above dialogue scene, called “Stew” to test the application of this light.

From this experiment I discovered:

200w bulbs are no longer made, or are very hard to come by.  However, 70w bulbs, which have the equivalent output of 100watts, are available at all supermarkets.  By creating two bulb fixtures, and dangling them both in one Lantern I got the necessary light output. 

The incident light produced at the actor’s position (approx 1.5meters from the lantern’s perimeter) was f3.2 at ISO 640. 

This allowed me to shoot at f4 or f4 and a half, which gave the actor’s a little room to move and also rendered the Actor’s PALE PALE PALE skin a little more accurately). 

When Joseph came to shoot his film, he was using a Sony Z7, which is rated at about ISO320.  This is half as sensitive as my ISO640, and as such, he opened up to f2.8, resulting in the same exposure.   

In order to get a little contrast between the Broad and Short sides of the face (the near and far side respectively) I cheated the Lantern’s position slightly.  In the wide shots, the lantern is positioned directly between the two boys, and in front of their noses. 

The Lantern actually needed to be in shot, so I removed it in Post.  Here’s what the raw footage of the wide shot actually looks like: 


If I shot the CUs with this same positioning the lighting on the faces of the boys would be very flat.  So, in the CUs the position of the Lantern was cheated a little further away, towards the actor’s far cheek.  This results in the drop off on the short side.

However, for Joseph’s shoot this above technique proved difficult due to the size/shape of the room.  Thus, we needed to leave the Chinese lantern in the middle of the table.  In order to give the actor’s a bit of contrast in their face we augmented the light hitting the Actor’s Far side with a Dedo.  The Dedo had diff gel, and was dimmed down to such a weak intensity that it was only adding 1/3 – ½ of a stop of light.

Here’s a photo I stole on set of Joseph’s lead actor, which demonstrates the desired falloff on the broad side of the face….

Finally, here’s us using the Chinese Lantern, whilst filming Jo’s short film “Death at the Dining Table”: