Lighting How-To: The Chinese Lantern

There are limitless ways to light a set, tons of different lighting techniques, and there are no rules (just make sure what you achieve helps tell your story). So where do you start? Anywhere! Start experimenting with your lights and see what effects you create. This week you’ll be adding another technique to your arsenal with an item called a Chinese lantern.

Organization #1

A Chinese lantern is a ball of thin paper with a bulb in the middle of it. These fixtures create soft, omnidirectional light that have great “wrap” on a subject’s face. Using Chinese lanterns have their pros and cons. Because this is a ball of light — light spills out everywhere. This is great if you are filming a scene with a group of people or if it makes sense in your specific environment.

Organization #1

For example, let’s say you are filming a scene with two people who are out to dinner. They are sitting at opposite sides of the table and you are setting up two cameras —  one over each of their shoulders. A Chinese lantern would give a similar look to an actual light fixture that would be over a table in a restaurant. An environment that would not work for this is if you need complete control over your light. If you are filming a dark warehouse scene, a Chinese lantern would spill light everywhere and might not be the best option for that scenario.

Organization #1

Chinese lanterns are also great for mobile key lights. They are lightweight enough to attach to a boom pole and walk with your subject. If you have to film your actor walking down a narrow hallway, it could be hard to fit lights in that space. Perfect scenario for a Chinese lantern! You can also change light bulbs for different effects. You could use cooler or warmer color temperatures and well as different wattage bulbs. Give this technique a try and you’ll find how easy it is to create a good looking lighting setup with simple techniques.

Josh Layton

Josh Layton is a 22-year-old cinematography student from Pennsylvania. He attends school at Center for Creative Media, a Christian film school in Tyler, TX. He draws much of his inspiration from adventure and being in nature. He cites bacon as one of his greatest creative muses.

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