Candlelight: Lighting The Old World (Article/Tutorial)

Posted by on Mar 27, 2017 | 0 comments

The First Musketeer – the period web series I DPed in France in 2013 – gave me one of the biggest challenges in simulating candlelight. Almost every scene had candles in it (albeit fake, yet very convincing, LED ones) and it was always a struggle to make them appear to be shedding authentic light.

A couple of years back I blogged about how I created candlelight for the Wasteland trailer, by hiding ordinary 100W tungsten bulbs behind the set-pieces the candles were standing on. I did this again on The First Musketeer, and it can be very effective.

The main tavern set was dotted with large barrels topped with candles, so it was quick and easy to gaffer-tape pendant fittings with 100W bulbs onto the backs of these barrels. (A piece of blackwrap was interposed to stop the bulbs singeing the barrels.)

The advantage of a bare bulb over a fresnel or par fixture is that it sheds light in all directions, just like a candle. So when three people were stood around a barrel, as long as the two at the sides were cheated slightly back out of the barrel’s shadow, it lit them all up fairly convincingly.

A single 100W bulb hidden behind the barrel lights the three Huguenots in the background. A blue-gelled HMI provides backlight, while two dedos off the sides of frame cross-light the foreground characters.

A single 100W bulb hidden behind the barrel lights the three Huguenots in the background. A blue-gelled HMI provides backlight, while two dedos off the sides of frame cross-light the foreground characters.

Dedo, de-e-edo. Dedo come and me want to go home.

Dedo, de-e-edo. Dedo come and me want to go home.

This method doesn’t always work though, and it relies on the candle being sat on something a bulb can be hidden behind.

Dedolights are great for creating circles of light to surround candles, and their built-in dimmers make it easy to flicker the light for added realism. But this method has serious drawbacks. Firstly, it lights the candle itself as well as the surroundings, often rendering the flame (or LEDs) almost invisible. Secondly, anyone passing between the dedo and the candle will pass through the beam of light, destroying the illusion. In an ideal world you would rig the dedo to the ceiling and set up a little thin flag to prevent the light hitting the candle itself, but in practice this would usually be difficult and time-consuming to set up.

A dedo creates the pool of light around the background candle here.

A dedo creates the pool of light around the background candle here.

More recently I’ve tackled the candelight problem again on Ren. The difference was that we were able to use real candles, often double-wicked for enhanced light output. Real candles take care of their own immediate pool of light, so then you only have to worry about beefing up the amount of lighting hitting the talent and the surrounding set.

Again, bare bulbs can be useful for this, but dedos are often best. It’s possible to cheat the dedo positions quite heavily and still get away with it, because they produce such a narrow, controllable beam of light.

The two candle stands in the background have 100W bulbs hidden behind them. 40W bulbs would have been more suitable, but unfortunately we didn’t have any. The light supposedly cast by these candles actually comes from two dedos. The first is at ceiling height off frame left, aimed at the Duke de Luyne (Toby Lord) on frame right. The second is hidden behind the duke’s desk and lights the heroes on frame left.

The two candle stands in the background have 100W bulbs hidden behind them. 40W bulbs would have been more suitable, but unfortunately we didn’t have any. The light supposedly cast by these candles actually comes from two dedos. The first is at ceiling height off frame left, aimed at the Duke de Luyne (Toby Lord) on frame right. The second is hidden behind the duke’s desk and lights the heroes on frame left.

What methods have you used to simulate candlelight? Comment on Facebook or tweet me – I’m intrigued to hear.

All images copyright 2014 The First Musketeer. Find out more about the series at www.firstmusketeer.com

This article originated at www.neiloseman.com . 
Check out Neil's other cinematographic articles there.

I'm a director of photography with 18 years' industry experience. My recent feature credits include The Little Mermaid (starring Shirley MacLaine), Heretiks (starring Clare "Hellraiser" Higgins) and additional photography on The Etruscan Smile with Brian Cox. In 2016 I was awarded Best Cinematography at Festigious International Film Festival for my work on the short drama Night Owls. Second only to my love of cinematography is my passion for sharing what I learn, which I do through my blog and my Instagram feed.

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