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Flashlight as primary source (2 replies and 2 comments)

Carl
2 months ago
Carl 2 months ago

Hi Roger, and everyone!

I was wondering how would you light a scene where flashlights are the only source within the scene, and serve as motivation for how it should look and feel?

I recall there being a scene in 'Prisoners' where Keller is searching for his daughter at night in the woods, and that seemed to be the effect you were going for.

My best guess is: really powerful flashlights (perhaps diffused), with bounce placed strategically around the scene, or simply held in front of the actor to light their face.

How wrong am I? And is it possible to get a decent exposure without resorting to additional lighting, e.g. a moonlight effect.

Many thanks!

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

Whether a flashlight will serve as your only source depends on what the look you are after. I mean, you cant light a whole forest but, if seeing only what is revealed by the beam, a flashlight can be enough. The scene in the forest in 'Prisoners' as is the basement scene from the same film. There is also an extended sequence in '1917' that was lit by a flashlight, but it is a little easier in a tunnel with chalk white walls!

Carl
2 months ago

Thanks so much! Yeah, I bring up the forest scene from 'Prisoners' (and by extension the basement one you mentioned) as that is exactly the kind of look in my mind's eye. I find it quite striking to reveal just what the beam is able to light.

dmullenasc
2 months ago
dmullenasc 2 months ago

You should watch the climax to "Jennifer 8", shot by Conrad Hall, mostly lit by flashlights -- Hall had some grips with white cards taped over their arms, hands, thighs, etc. to bounce back the beam from the flashlight into the actor's face. You might switch to additional bounce lighting if the actor sets the flashlight down in the scene and lets it bounce off of a wall or ceiling as a worklight, just to save on batteries in the flashlight when it is off-camera.

As for whether you want to sketch the space with additional light, weak moonlight, dim ambience (especially if the flashlight ever gets switched off in the scene), that's a creative choice.  In a tight space like a narrow hallway, it might not make much sense for additional sources except maybe in the distance, but in a larger space, you might want something additional if only to see that you are in a larger space, but again, that's a choice, there are no right or wrong answer.

I will say that an even haze in the set will not only give you a beam, but will act to bounce some of the beam back into the shadows and face.  Or if you use some distant dim backlight that doesn't even reach the actor, the haze will create some silhouetting effect to separate the actor from the background.

Carl
2 months ago

Oh brilliant David, thank you! That's amazing, I will check out 'Jennifer 8' - the more I read about Conrad Hall, the more clever and inventive he seems!

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