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How to Cheaply Light a Scene in Film

Learn how to Light a Scene in Film
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Lighting is often one of the toughest challenges faced by filmmakers regardless of their level of expertise. Locations, prep time, weather conditions, cast, and crew all influence the process of setting up lights on a set. However, out of all these elements, budget constraints are one of the most common obstacles in the way of the department of photography. 

This is why being resourceful and knowing how to improvise are some of the most desirable qualities in a filmmaker. Keep reading to learn a few lighting tips and tricks that may save you during your next film project.

How to Cheaply Light a Scene in Film

Clamp lights are your friends

Clamp lights are the go-to light fixtures for films on a budget. You can find them at most home improvement stores, and filmmakers love them because you can basically use any color-temperature light bulb to get a quality, reflecting light that you can use in virtually any situation and is easy to install.

They come in different sizes, so the reflecting surface can be as large as you want in the model you get. Most of these lights are not dimmable, though, but for the price, you can do with a bounce or a diffuser of some sort.

Use home surfaces to bounce light

Of course, most of the time on controlled sets, using direct lighting can be a bit too much. You usually want to soften the light to some level, and using a bounce is one common way to go about it. However, if you don’t have one of these, you can just set the scene so it’s close to a clear wall on which you can bounce the light, or use the ceiling for the same purpose.

Use colored t-shirts and fabric for different colors

Bouncing light with household objects can also work in your favor if you want a different light color but don’t have gelatin filters. For instance, t-shirts and other clothes of different colors provide a great hue for you to play with light. All you need is to bounce light off these pieces of clothing close enough to your subject to get the desired effect.

Diffuse light with curtains and sheets

If you don’t want to fill up the room with light but just reduce the intensity of it, then diffusing it is the way to go. There are professional light diffusers, but you can achieve the same effect by placing a bed sheet or a shower curtain in front of your light. Mind the lights that get hot over time, though, since they can transfer heat quickly to other materials. 

Shape your light with handmade flags and skirts

Sometimes, you want to illuminate just a certain part of your frame or only one of your characters, for instance. Depending on the angle of your light, you can use flags to “cut” light from flooding the entire scene or casting shadows that shouldn’t be in frame. If you have a prone light, meaning directly above the scene, then you can “skirt” it by taping fabric all around it so that the light goes nowhere else but down. That way, you can place a character right under that light and have him be the only illuminated character in frame.

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