Posts Tagged ‘china ball’

Low Budget Lighting Part Three: Putting it all together

Beardy’s Note: Here now is Part III of Cinematographer Jeremy Applebaum’s Three Part Low Budget Lighting guide.  In case you missed the first two installments you can read them here:  (Part I) (Part 2)  Big thanks to Jeremy for creating this very handy guide.  Remember, if you have an idea for a Guest Post of your own, be sure to send me an e-mail at .  And now, on to Part III…..

First here are the answers to the questions from Part II:

1: 4.16 (dived by volts = 120) or 5 (dived by volts = 100).  2: 2.  3: Yes.  4: No, Around 3.74, largely depending on how you round (dived by volts = 120) or 7 (dived by volts = 100).

In the first part of this series we went over what gear you should invest in for low budget lighting and in the second part we went over some basic electrical safety. This time I’ll explain how to put everything together to light a simple scene.

It should be noted that while stingers, multi taps, and surge protecters would be used in order to power our a lights, a lighting diagram as well as amperage calculations (per circuit) wonʼt be presented here. You should always take note of your amperage draw and be calculating your total draw on the circuit before plugging anything in. With that in mind lets get to work!

Let’s say that we are shooting a commercial for a contest and our script involves two actors; one sitting in a kitchen and the other standing in front on him.  It is to be assumed that our kit contains*:

– 2 Work lights, 1 500 watt fixture, one 1,000 watt fixture (a stand with 2 500 watt fixtures)
– 1 China Ball
– 4 clamp lights
– 5 Pony Clamps
– Clothes Pins
– Tin Foil
– 2 Sheets of each white and black foam board
– Gloves
– Various Bulbs
– Various Stingers, Multi Taps and Surge protecters

A rough diagram of our scene would look something like this:

Note: For these examples the exact wattage of the lamps doesnʼt matter

So were do we begin? The first light that we will need for a our scene is a key light. This is probably the most important light you can place as it determines were all the other sources will come from. What I would do here is take my 1,000 watt work light, place in right hand corner and bounce it off some white foam board (or tinfoil, depending on your tastes) onto the subjects. This would give me a large, soft, directional lighting source that I can then build off for the rest of scene.

While it should be assumed stingers/multi taps would be needed to power our lights, the exact amount needed/used isnʼt important

The next thing I would do is to start adding some fill light. I would proceed by taking my paper lantern and hanging it overheard. This would give me a more even, all around, soft light while not canceling out the effect of the key. It would also help light the background.

I made these images using Google SketchUp and its 3D warehouse. Special thanks goes out to who ever created the templates that I used in creating these diagrams.

So now that we have a strong key light, and a multipurpose fill light it is time to start adding some highlights and more focused fill lights.  While the paper lantern provides overall fill, we will still have a little too much contrast between the key light and the non key light sides.  To remedy this I would then take two clamp lights, and place one at each the opposite side key of our talent.

A china ball is hard to make in that program!

At this point our scene should look good enough that we could go ahead and shoot the commercial. However there a few more things you could do to make our actor or some of the props stand out. One would be to take your clamp lights and use them to highlight certain objects in your scene. You would do this if there was something in your scene you wanted to call special attention to (like the product or something important to the story).

The other thing that you can do would be to place backlights on the talent. The backlights would provide a nice shine to the back of your actors heads and makes them pop out a bit. Be careful though, if your backlight is too bright it can make your whole scene look cheesy.

Yep, that's a lot of clamp lights

Remember that this is just a sample lighting diagram and won’t work for all angels or shots. You may very well have to tweak or move lights out of the way for a different angel. Furthermore this example, while very broad and general may not work for all circumstances and is just to give an idea how these lights can be used.  When on your own shoots you may very well find that you like the look of the scene with only the paper lantern and clamp lights or you may not like the look the paper lantern gives at all! The best way to learn is to go out there and shoot something. Donʼt be afraid to experiment and mess up, itʼs the best way to learn.

If you liked this article, have any questions, or think I missed anything please speak up below.

* This is not to be considered an end all be all kit, just a basic kit with several options to light your scene with.

**You may want to use parchment paper attached with c-47s to soften the lights or a dimmer to control the brightness of the lights. If you do choose to use parchment paper please allow the lamp some room to breath.  You should not allow the parchment paper to directly touch the lamp. CFL (compact fluorescent lamps) lamps wonʼt dim.

—     Guest Post by Jeremy Applebaum. Check out Jeremy’s “Virtual AD” app    —


DSLR FRIDAY: (China) Balls of Fury

Made in China, I assume.

I shoot my video contest entries with a DSLR for one reason and one reason only: It’s cheap.  My Canon T2i cost me about $900 and shoots full 1080 HD footage.  Compared to a $5,500 Panasonic HVX200, that’s a ridiculous deal.  Yeah, you lose a ton of features (like decent audio capabilities) when you don’t shoot with a real “video camera” but unless you’re a well-stocked pro, a DSLR is the best, most affordable option around.

So if your only video camera is a DSLR, you’re probably doing your filmmaking on the cheap.  Which means you need to come up with some low-cost solutions to the challenges that DSLR shooting presents.  One weird thing I’ve noticed about my DSLR is that it hates shadows.  It’s really unforgiving if you use a strong light source.  If you don’t diffuse your lights (including the sun) you’re going to get some stark shadows, especially under your subject’s eyes.  I’ve found that a great, cheap way to soften the look of a video is with one of the oldest tricks in the book: China Balls.

It seems like at least one a year I talk to a filmmaker or read a film book that recommends lighting a scene with a China Ball.  You know what China balls are right?  Those big white, paper balls that you put a light into?  (By the time you read this I probably will have added a giant picture of a china ball to this post)  For some reason I never heeded the advice of those China Ball evangelists.  But now I am a convert!  I started using them a few months ago and the results are pretty sweet.  Check out this video I shot for the Insinkerator assignment that Poptent ran back in the spring.  This entire video was lit with China Balls and natural room light.  Oh actually, the shot of the happy baby was done by my long distance collaborator, HappyJoel.  He did the adorable song for this too.  But the rest was done by me and my big, white balls:

Is that some even lighting or what?  Check out the shots of the “snacks” at the 19 second mark.  There isn’t a hint of shadow on that table.  That’s the magic of the china ball.  You can find a lot of tutorials online that explain how to build a China Ball light but here’s how I built mine:

Also probably made in china

Step 1:  You can order a china ball online here but I just went to Pier One Imports.  I bought 2 decent sized balls for like 16 bucks.

Step 2:  Head to Home Depot (ok, I prefer Menards but I think that’s a mid-western chain) and buy a cheap clamp light like the one in this picture.

Step 3:  While you’re at Menards (or wherever) pick up a 300 Watt clear or white light bulb.

Step 5:  The rest is pretty self-explanatory.  Rip that silver dish part off your light.  Pop open your China ball and put it’s metal support in.  Then put the socket into the ball and shove the cord into the ball’s cord holder bracket thing.

And that’s that.  Now the disclaimer.  BE CAREFUL!  The thing you just built is really goddamn dangerous!!  Most China Ball tutorials will tell you to use a 100 Watt bulb max.  But 100 Watts will only be enough if you want “moody” lighting.  You want to light up the night!!  But if that 300 Watt bulb touches that paper ball you’re fucked.  It’ll start smoking in a few seconds if the bulb has been on for a while.  So if you’re stupid enough to actual build this ball of death, here are the precautions you will need to take:

1.  Always make sure the bulb is hanging in the dead center of the ball.

2.  Always turn the light off when not filming.

3.  Always have a fire extinguisher on set.  (You should always have one whenever you’re setting up hot lights, actually)

So now that you’ve got your ball you’ll need to hang it from something.  A pro or semi-pro would probably stick it on a a “C-Stand” like this one. But one of those suckers will run you $165!! Screw that noise.  I just hang my China Ball from this a simple boom mic stand.  Here’s a picture of the exact mic stand I use.  Guess how much it cost?  Less than 30 bucks!  You can even buy one at Best Buy.  And let me tell you, this thing is perfect for hanging china balls.  It can extend really high so you can get the ball all the way to the ceiling (to mimic a room’s actual light source.)  Plus, the thing is super light weight and can fold up and fit in your car trunk.  A old fashioned C-Stand is so awkward and weighs so much that if you knocked one over you could break somebody’s nose.  So these mic stands are 500 million times better for suspending china balls then a big ass metal stand.

You know what?  I’ve been thinking about it and my version of the China Ball is just too dangerous to actually attempt to build and use.  So please do not build the lighting device I just explained how to make.  For the record, this post is intended for entertainment purposes only and if you burn your house down, it’s not my fault.

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