Basement Shot, 1 light bulb, 2 faces - How 2 Light? Please

Anonymous (not verified)


Thanks for looking...

I need to film a scene with a blacked out background (I have black stage curtains or black colourama paper from a photo studio for the background) but with a central, sometimes swinging lightbulb, at about head height or slightly above. The lightbulb is rigged to a dimmer switch so i can vary the output and there will be one and two people in the shot.

I want it to look as though the lightbulb is the only source of light, so that at times the light moves with the swing of the bulb.

Shooting on an HD canon - can't remember the model right now - the one without the inter-changeable lenses and maybe a Z1 but I think I'd rather just use the canon. Also have a set of pretty good lights (3).

Any and all tips on how to achieve this would be massively appreciated - assume that I don't really know what i'm doing and have a budget of favors, snacks and pennies.

H. Wolfgang Porter's picture
Last seen: 2 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator


Two words; Chinese Lantern.

One word; Blocking.

Three more words; Compact Fluorescent Bulbs.

Okay, so you're now asking, 'what does any of that mean?' Simple. You have your 'single bulb' which I surmise (never assume) is in frame. Just above your bulb out of frame you hang a Chinese Lantern of the same color temperature. Your in frame bulb should be low wattage or dimmed just enough to be seen as lit.

Inside the Chinese lantern (sounds like a movie title) should be of higher wattage to clearly illuminate your talent with some shadow present. You could even run the cord from your in frame light through the CL so when it swings, so will the lantern. You're going to have to run some tests obviously and will probably need to use an ND filter so you can get an acceptable exposure and still see your effect. Not to mention you won't want to shoot a light bulb even dimmed straight on with a video camera.

Blocking: that's how you arrange your on-camera talent so they can be seen (I again surmise) at the same time and get your desired effect. Again you'll need to run camera and lighting tests to see if this works according to your vision.

The reason I said CL and CFB's is because the lantern will diffuse the light and the CFB's are soft lights anyway hence softening the look even more. Since your on camera bulb will have to be dimmed, the lantern will provide enough light so when you're shooting you won't have to be wide open on your exposure. CL's come in various sizes and in paper or nylon. Paper is very good at diffusing and cutting down the bulb's output, but nylon has a nice way of evening the light out. You can buy chinese lanterns at party supply or craft stores cheap. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs you can get at a discount store in indoor white and daylight white. Don't get colored lanterns! It's easier (and cheaper) to just get white and use a colored CFB.

H.Wolfgang Porter, Composite Media Producer Dreaded Enterprises Unlimited, Inc.

birdcat's picture
Last seen: 5 years 7 months ago
Joined: 10/21/2005 - 10:09am

Wolf's advice is spot on.

You could also look into reflectors - Digital Juice has a nice one ( and the first accessory I bought as a professional (I was getting $100 as a bonus for doing it) was an "official" Videomaker reflector (

A good article on how to use them is here:

Bruce Paul 7Squared Productions

D0n's picture
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: 11/09/2007 - 5:28pm

another cheap lighting tool that may be useful to you is the simple white bifold closet door, mount yourflourecent tube inside the V of the standing door and by opening or closing the v you can widen or narrow the strip of light it throws, a strip of gaffer tape will seal the seem where the door hinges if needed.

these striplight banks can then be used to seperate your subjects from the background from behind or to fill in shadows from the front.

they won't cause flair in camera if position properly.