I haven't been around on the list much of late but I've got
a seasonally appropriate challenge for all of you: As part
of a cinema-verite documentary about a Catholic church outside
Boston I'll be filming a midnight mass on Christmas eve.
I've been working with an Ikegami HL-DV7 DVCam camera which
rates out at about ASA 800 and it's been performing very well
in various available light situations. I suspect this shoot
will be a real test of its mettle as the entire service in
the big old church takes place by candle light alone. (The
priest admits even he has a hard time seeing his text.)
The crew consists of the director (doing sound), myself and
a Vietnamese translator so we're not really staffed or budgeted
for helium balloons, Kino Flos in the kneelers or anything
like that. I'm hoping to lay in some extra candles and maybe
(if my verite conscience will allow it) plant a couple of
9" mini-Kino tubes in critical places.
The challenge of capturing the spirit of this very solemn
ritual is appealing to me. I'm wondering what "lighting-from-the-shelves-at-the-dollar-store" tricks you all have come up with in similar situations.
All the very best to you all as the year comes to a close..
If you could change the candles to double or triple wick ones
you would get a fair bit more light out of them.
Don't know where you can get them in the jolly old USofA but
they are easy to come by in the land of Hollywood bad guys.
>I'm wondering what "lighting-from-the-shelves-at-the-dollar-store"
tricks >you all have come up with in similar situations.
I always like the aluminium reflector clip lights one can
purchase in a variety of sizes and wattage capabilities. Paper
tape on some diffusion with an 250 watt ECA or smaller and
it works like a charm. Test this out first and be sure the
socket is able to handle the wattage of the lamp.
>....takes place by candle light alone...
The suggestion of double wick candles is a good one but they
are a bit pricey and may not fit the votive holders that are
practical. Definitely get as many candles happening as you
You should probably take a look at some kind of diffusion.
Maybe even back-netting if you are going to be bothered by
filter reflections. ProMist filters do a nice job of giving
a glow to the candles.
Maybe UltraCon or LoCon if you want to work more on bringing
a bit of level into the blacks.
David Perrault, csc
>The suggestion of double wick
candles is a good one but they are a bit >pricey and may not
fit the votive holders that are practical.
>... Definitely get as many candles happening as you can!!!
Yup, that’s true.
Maybe if you can have a number of fixed candles, as on stands
etc., you could rig low voltage bulbs into the candles, away
from camera, wrapped in diffusion and a suitable coloured
gel, say Lees 1/2 CTS. As I have said
before, I have done this on film and got a very usable stop.
Hope you sort it.
I'd try to use as much reflected light as I possibly could.
Rosco silver or even white cotton sheets lain on every available
surface or tacked to boards would help or silver Mylar - the
'underwater' effect from it rippling probably isn't a problem
when it's candle light to begin with.
Many years ago I had a large diameter concave mirror which
was a terrific tool for not only bouncing light but concentrating
it on a particular spot too. Great till someone smashed it.
This may be a little off-base, but incense smoke adds fill
- lowers contrast a bit - kinda like pre-flashing the film
I first noticed this in a church - If they are using incense
anyway, adding a bit more or burning some in farther corners
of the church will help bring up the shadows a bit without
breaking the mood.
Jim Sofranko writes:
>I always like the aluminium
reflector clip lights one can purchase in a >variety of sizes
and wattage capabilities.
And If you're using diffusion, make sure to leave some gaps
to ensure ventilation.
You can also clothespin aluminium foil and blackwrap to the
reflectors, to create barn doors, cookies, etc., which are
easily rotated to any angle.
Small clip lights with foil barndoors make great backlights
and spotlights that can be attached to just about anything
-- stands, bookshelves, chandeliers, etc. Encapsulated halogen
reflector bulbs, available at any hardware store,
are durable and very efficient...
Marin County, CA
I really like those clamp lights too - I usually have a couple
in my kit.
The other way to go to build up the ambience is paper lanterns
- perhaps a few large ones up high would lift the shadows
Los Angeles, CA
>Small clip lights with foil
barndoors make great backlights and >spotlights that can be
attached to just about anything
Considering the color temp and general color of your candles,
if you go this route, you might consider just using 150w household
bulbs - the lower color temp may match better with your candles
>And If you're using diffusion,
make sure to leave some gaps to ensure >ventilation.
A clever way that I've seen gaffers address that problem is
to pierce the diffusion with small holes.
Wrap the diffusion and paper tape it tightly to the light.
Then take a sharp object like the point of a matte knife to
make small holes in the diffusion. Another method is to use
a pattern cutter used by dress makers. It looks like a pizza
cutter but has little points on the cutting edge.
This makes small holes in the diffusion or gel and provides
the light with adequate ventilation while keeping it's profile
small and compact for hiding in places unseen. For higher
wattages, some people even drill holes in the back of the
reflector although Mark W. wisely pointed out that the wattage can probably be kept lower. Also the clip lights reflectors
are available with a variety of sizes and shapes, all using
the same threaded socket.
One method of lighting may be the diffused clip light as we
discussed but for a harder light source there is a wonderful
selection of small par and reflector bulbs available from
Home Depot. These may come in handy for a harder light or
a longer throw. They are available in a variety of sizes,
wattages and beam spreads. You can even use the clip light
without the reflector to keep it low profile.
What makes this approach interesting is that it is a box of
clip lights, a box of bulbs, a box of reflectors, a bit of
diffusion, color gel and paper tape with some zip cord extensions
and your all set. Very simple and inexpensive.
Hope this helps.
>"...the entire service in the
big old church takes place by candle light >alone."
Hi Stephen -
I think that a good trick might be to buy a whole bunch of
strands of white Christmas Lights and just hang them out of
shot and strategically string them along the backside of the
pews, pulpits, columns, etc. The color temp of these lights
is very warm (which will sell as candle light I think), but
more importantly they won't distract from the ambiance of
I think that it would not be bothersome at all to see them
in the shot.
(And they are readily available this time of year!).
Would be nice to have a glow outside the stained glass windows
too, but that might be another topic entirely.
I would like to add that the Christmas Lights could be put
in line with a dimmer, so they could be warmed up (dimmed
down) to match candle light even more closely if needed, but
they are already at about 2000 K.
broadcasting live from Vilnius, Lithuania
based in L.A.
Another option you could try is A/C fed MR 16s (available
in various wattages), if you mount them in groups of six (2
rows of three), in a standard aluminium box, you get a small
cheap light source. Then if you randomly pair the bulbs, leave
one pair direct on A/C, the other 2 pairs on flicker units
if you keep one flicker unit on slow flicker & the other
on a faster flicker, you can create a subtle flicker/flame
effect. Gel is your choice but Lee 004 (med. Bastard amber)
give a nice candle/flame colour & you can soften to taste.
All of the above are available from hardware stores quite
cheaply (the flicker boxes from any rental co., not overly
expensive), if you have a few extra dollars there is a new
range of MR 16s that have had the basic filament replaced
by LEDs (available from more specialised stores in US try
Radio shack/In UK RS), slightly less light output but the
beauty is less radiant heat so you can place the gel directly
on the glass at the front of the unit & not have the gel
melt, & get the units closer to your subject.
after extensive testing with fires, flame bars & candles,
& got some great comparisons, but remember with candles
less is more, the amount of flicker from a candle indoors
is very very subtle. We’ve made units as small as 8
x 6 x 3, easy to hide. Hope this is of some use.
James Mc Guire
Steve McCarthy writes:
>I'm wondering what "lighting-from-the-shelves-at-the-dollar-store
"tricks >you all have come up with in similar situations.
Church lights are often on dimmers. If that's the case maybe
you can have the church lights on a low setting to give you
a decent overall level.
If they're not on dimmers, you (an electrician) can temporarily
wire in dimmers at the breaker panel for the lights you need.
IA 600 DP
You are going to need to light this and whether it's 3 wick
candles or cleverly hidden fixtures it is going to be a little
intrusive. So, if you haven't already, you and the director
should bight the bullet and have a discussion with the priest
about what "candlelight" means when it's on DV.
I don't think "some extra candles and maybe... plant
a couple of 9" mini-Kino tubes in critical places"
is going to get you what you want.
My favourite cheap trick (like Chris Maris's) is those little
golf ball size vanity bulbs in bare sockets hidden behind
pews, lecterns, candles etc. Put them ganged on 600w household
dimmers and dim them down to warm them up. I usually use 40w
but it depends on the placement so get a variety. (They also
work great for restaurant back ground tables a trick I learnt
from Tass Michos on "Man in the Moon"). They are
hot bulbs though so you have to warn every one and watch out
for seeing the bulbs when you change angles.
Oh and watch out for quantization in the near blacks due the
DV compression and any DSP/gain tricks your camera may try
and pull at low light levels.
Director of Photography
The great thing from hardware stores are rope lights and Christmas
tree lights. I often use them for night time car interiors
(yes you can get them in 12 volt for the lighter socket).
Anyway, you could hide the lights on the podium, etc. I doubt
in a documentary (360 degree shooting) you'll find a place
in the pews, but up front you should have lots of opportunities
to place them. Don't be afraid of multi coloured Christmas
lights; just like the old theatrical footlights (red, blue,
white) they give off a very flattering light, but will be
different from candlelight.
Stephen Lighthill, ASC
Rosco silver or even white cotton
sheets lain on every available surface >or tacked to boards
would help or silver Mylar
Dollar store "Safety Blankets", are an item I always
carry in my kit for reflective fixes. I've found them extremely
useful in so many situations, you can cut them up. They're
very lightweight, They unfold to a surface area of 6'x3.5',
and they cost exactly 1$. Its best to scrunch them up first
to eliminate the fold pattern and improve random reflection.
In the finely crinkled state they make interesting back drops.
In one situation I seamed 40 some odd sheets together with
Super77 and created a seamless Cyc. With a total weight of
about one pound, it was very easy to tape to the ceiling the
gridless makeshift studio.
It resembled the inside of a large
Jiffy Pop container. One caution, if they are hanging and
not fixed to a stiffer surface (foamcore etc...,) because
of the extreme lightweight, sight breezes cause by nearby
movement, will undulate the surface. This can also be an interesting
I think one idea to bring the level of various sections of
the church up, but at the same time keeping an atmosphere
of normal ambience might be to hang clear icicle type Christmas
lights as a decorative element. They work great if you're
looking to light large areas evenly, and they can live in
the shot !! I have these hanging on my house and they read
out at 6 footcandles from a eight foot distance.
Another cheap way to throw some spotty light is to use pinspots
($15-20 each). Used naked they throw a harsh, irregular pattern...
but adding some Hampshire or opal will smooth it out. I buy
mine at Musician's Friend ( a music and DJ online store )
but I'll bet you can get them in Boston at the same price.
Because it's a church service, I'm guessing that the priest
will appreciate you hiding the lights. These pinspots have
a yoke but no baby receiver. If you work with 4 of these instruments,
you can screw the yolk on a 1x3 piece of lumber which can
lock into a griphead and be discreetly placed. It's almost
like working with a baby triple header.
I haven't tested this but I've always wondered if it would
work. It might be problematic with candles. Use some sort
of heavy filter (Low Con or Ultra Con) that really milks out
the image. This might give you more detail in the shadows,
and you can later bring down the blacks and massage the gamma
in post for a nicer look.
If you have a matte box (hopefully not Chrosziel, because
this trick doesn't work well in them) tip the filters forward
to minimize filter kicks.
As far as off-the-shelf lights, the one that comes to mind
when I think "bang for the buck without finesse"
is the Q-Beam.
I don't know how big your church is but these might add a
footcandle or two if you want to create a bounce source somewhere
My approach in candlelit situations has always been to boost
the ambient light level to the point where there's shadow
detail but the candles still work on their surroundings. I
haven't lit anything as big as a church that way but for small
to medium-sized rooms a couple of tungsten units with full
CTO bounced off the ceiling or from a bounce in the direction
of the candles has worked wonderfully.
I worked on a feature where the method used for lighting a
church was to aim a Raybeam at the ceiling. It worked marvellously.
I shot a Christmas PSA for the Lutheran Church 2 years back...we
intended on showing the audience the comparison of a crazy
Christmas season at he mall and ending on a candle-light service.
We shot time-lapse in shopping malls and mounted to car hoods
to show crazy shopping activity and then we finished in the
church on 35mm with rear-nets on the rear of Cooke primes.
What an incredible look!
I used 5279 and shot almost wide-open [remember to compensate
for the net's ND factor] and I used a few 2K Jnrs. for soft
rims/backs as well as mini-flos on the key players...otherwise
the cast was lit exclusively by the actual candles.
We used regular church candles, not fancy 3 wick deals...it
just worked great because the singers actually keep the candles
fairly close to their face. I might have used a mighty or
2 into bounce boards for some ambient light...I just remember
the candles doing an incredible job all by them selves.
Shoot a few Polaroids to confirm your exposure.
Your approach to lighting the church is just right. You have
overcome the barrier of too much knowledge. There are all
those magical lighting tools out there and you know about
Kino’s and balloons a still look ahead with "lighting"
without them. Some of the best shots I ever did was when I
didn’t know any better! I suspect the way you'll be
working getting outlets and stingers from any lights will
be tough. Have you thought about a small video light like
the Sony HVL 20DW2? Its DC 7.2 Volts about three inches high.
I have wrapped tracing paper around it to make an invisible
light. You would put a warming gel to match candles. On picture
I just finished I had the little light on a monopod to change
the angle and intensity. As you know so well the best lighting
will look like no lighting. The Video light I was talking
about uses Sony Lithium batteries. Well nobody asked me but
it is enjoyable to sit at this machine and talk to somebody
I don’t know who loves to make images.
Take it easy but take it.
Haskell Wexler writes :
>Some of the best shots I ever
did was when I didn’t know any better!
Early this year I shot a large local peace march here in San
Rafael, California. Just went out at the spur of the moment
with my single-chip Sony PC9 with a Sennheiser short-shotgun
bracketed to the top. Everyone was carrying candles, and round
about dusk they lit them all at once.
Did a lot of tracking close-in at wide angle, just walking
backwards. At a certain point the balance of ambient light,
sky light and candlelight combined to produce something really
gorgeous and magical. I wished that the Great Gaffer in the
Sky could have held that lighting setup forever....
>On picture I just finished I
had the little light on a monopod to change >the angle and
What's the running time of that Sony light with the largest
Marin County, CA
>Early this year I shot a large
local peace march here in San Rafael, >California. Just went
out at the spur of the moment
Funny. I did the same thing about two weeks ago in Hudson,
NY. Shot an outdoor candlelight vigil with a Sony 1000 at
magic hour and there was a time frame where it all balanced
I wonder how many of us on this list have shot candlelight
Might be a good source of stock footage for projects.
I just want to say that this is one of the best threads that
we’ve had for a long time.
This is what CML is about.
Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
Geoff Boyle writes :
> I just want to say that this
is one of the best threads that we’ve had for a >long
Me too. I can't wait to find out how it all turns out.
I hope Steve will tell us...
IA 600 DP
Thanks to everyone. You've given me so great suggestions and
reminders for what to pack in me old kit bag for this one.
I've got a lot to go on and I'll certainly will y'all in on
how we work it out.
Holiday cheers to you all and God rest ye merry gentle people...
Hope you've all had a warm and restful break.
Here's a Sunday morning go-to-meetin' debrief on the midnight
I arrived at St. Patrick's early Wed. evening to find the
parish priest in gym shorts and work boots high atop the two-story
marble facade behind the alter distributing a milk crate's
worth of votive candles to any horizontal surface that would
hold them. If you thought the "dogma" filmmaking
movement had strict guidelines I need only remind you that
the Catholic Church pretty much invented the concept - "candles
only" meant candles only. However, for my trouble I also
gained entry into the mysterious world of Roman Catholic gripology
when the ever-creative church facilities manager pulled out
some triple-header window candelabra’s he'd welded together
from 1/2" black iron pipe couplings and wrought iron
that morning. In the course of two hours, a half dozen volunteers
distributed every imaginable form of candle to almost every
corner of the sanctuary.
I had assembled a crate's worth of string lighting and small
Ikea mock-pewter lamps with 12 volt MR-16s inside (we christened
these "The Paul Revere") In the end, these stayed
in the crate and it was black wrap and aluminium HVAC tape
that carried the day. I was able to fashion some small, unobtrusive
candle reflectors out of this heat resistant duct sealing
tape and attach these to various large candles to serve as
kickers in various strategic locations around the alter. Bent
at just the right angle, these doubled the output of the larger
candles. I also discovered a loophole in the candles-only
rule in that I was allowed to place a few D-lights and a small
HMI on the adjacent rectory building to supply minimal illumination
to one wall of stained glass windows. This gave me very pleasant
coloured highlights off various reflective marble and hardwood
architectural features around the church.
The choir showed up about an hour before kick-off and immediately
began complaining that they couldn't see their sheet music.
On short order a dozen convenience store flashlights materialized
and I found myself with a choir loft full of beautiful bounce
cards and those hundreds of votives atop the distant alter
in soft focus in the deep background. This all came together
for a very moving rendition of "Oh Holy Night" high
above the darkened sanctuary with the shadows of parishioners
In the end, the night's sweet spots tended to be a matter
of placing myself so that my subjects were rimmed by the illuminated
stained glass windows with the triple candle fixtures directly
behind them for a sort of golden halo. In the best of situations
I had lots of foreground candles to shoot through and the
wall-o-votives put out enough light that I actually was able
to get some level on the church's vaulted ceiling. At +6dB
gain I had a pleasantly under-exposed look with lots of votive
halation to "flash" the blacks. The night was a
series of scenelets - including some hilarious commentary
from the exhausted choir director complaining about the darkness
and alter servers saying they couldn't bear to look at another
candle. (I've learned that dripping wax is a major occupational
hazard for many mass participants). Shooting was a frantic
walk on eggs but I felt like I managed to unobtrusively capture
a sense of this very central ritual in a people's wintering
through a dark night in their faith. This, in fact, was a
central theme to the priest's sermon that evening so I was
pretty much bound to accept his restrictions on lighting.
The night's end found me, dressed all in black, squeezing
through the vent pane of a stained glass window of a nativity
scene - a sort of anti-Santa hauling my artificial north star
off the roof.
Thank you all for your illuminating contributions. It's been
an unexpected pleasure to share a few virtual hot toddies
beside the new electronic hearth with you all. The snow in
Vermont this morning is covered crystalline feathers unlike
anything I've seen before so I'm going out to soak in some
more available light nourishment.