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Monday, January 21, 2013

••◊ Using a Chinese lantern for video lighting

During one of my recent thoughts about video lighting, which happen all too often and proves that I need to get out more, I starting thinking about Chinese lanterns. Yes, you see them all the time and Chinese lanterns are one of the cheapest lighting fixtures you can buy. The local shop had two on demonstration so I decided to see what I could do with them for low key lighting - which seems to be the typical way you see them used. Like any light fixture Chinese lanterns aren't for every situation. Sometimes you want hard light, sometimes you want soft light, sometimes you just want a little twinkle of light somewhere. A Chinese lantern is very capable of producing soft light and can can occasionally substitute for more expensive lighting fixtures in certain situations. What Chinese lanterns aren't, is durable - unless you plop down the big bucks for a name brand like Chimera that comes with all the bells and whistles and a hardshell case.

We'll start with an example of a Chinese lantern being used as a soft box. You will see that I used a black piece of duvateen as a light blocker at the rear and sides of the Chinese lantern to control spill since the lantern is a 360-degree light source. You don't want to cover the top or bottom because airflow is required to keep the lantern and bulb cool. In this case I was using a 500W tungsten bulb. Unlike a soft box, there is no inner reflective silver foil so whatever light is emanating from the sides and back is simply lost. Not very efficient, but neither is a tungsten bulb. Still, as you see in the photo, it works.


Another sample is using the lantern as a lantern or space light. In this case I wanted to keep the attention on Nikita so I placed the duvateen around the circumference of the lantern and let light shine down like a ceiling light. Without the duvateen the lantern makes a good general ambient source for a party scene or an over-the-dinner-table light. Also, note in this picture that I changed the kicker to a Litepanels Sola 4 with a full CTO. In the previous example I used a Filmtools Tungsten 300 on a dimmer and the result was that the kicker went way too red. The lack of color shift seems to be one more advantage of an LED light, even when combined with tungstens.

I could have used another Chinese lantern as the key light, but the shop only had one piece of duvateen left in rental and I didn't want to waste loads of black wrap.


The last example is using the Chinese lantern as a variable soft bounce. I used a Source Four as a semi-window light to motivate a hard edge light. The light on the left of Nikita's face (the picture left) is generated not from a bounce board, but from the Chinese lantern placed low and is meant to emulate a floor/wall bounce. The advantage here is that I can use a small wattage bulb - (in this case 40W) - and even place that bulb on a dimmer to control how much bounce I want. It would be a lot more expensive to use a PAR or Fresnel and skip the light off a card. This was simple, cheap, and effective for the situation. Now if you need to battle daylight, forget it. You'll burn up the Chinese lantern before you produce enough light. That's where you need an HMI and a piece of bleached muslin fabric.


Mike Brueggemeyer stopped by while I was performing these experiments and made a great suggestion. He likes to use small Chinese lanterns with low power flicker generator bulbs they sell at Home Depot for wall sconce electric candles. When you place small lanterns in the background and out of focus it provides beautiful flickering bokeh.

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