Exterior night scenes with no power source

dirtee1

New member
Hi Dudes,


I got referred here by MattinSTL saying that this would be a good place to ask my question. I have a photography background but have long been a movie geek. I'm in the process of making my second short movie, ultra low budget, on a DV camera (GL2/XM2).

My problem is I'm stuck with either shooting in daylight with a reflector or nothing at all. I might have made the mistake of setting most of the movie in the night and now I have no way of lighting the night scenes. What makes it worse is the fact that they're action scenes, and so it makes light all that more important.

My question is is there any way I can bring a portable light system to an outdoor set, without using a generator or knocking on a neighbour's door and asking them if we can feed off their power with a 500 foot cable. I'm recieving a set of soft boxes soon so maybe that could do something in the way of lighting?

What I see a lof of movies do in night scenes is rig a very high-powered lamp a couple dozen feet up, casting a blanket of light onto the set and bringing more detail to the shot. I've noticed without that my shots at night look quite forlorn and amateurish, and this is an even tougher problem in terms of portability and affordability. I've thought of using a 200W halogen lamp attached to a ladder to make do for scenes we can perform near a crew-member's home, but that can only work so far, and is not really a portable solution...

Please please, I hope you geniuses can whip up a solution for me! The deadline is drawing near and the crew grows impatient...

Thanks so much, and once again thanks to MattinSTL for referring me to this website!

 
Last edited:
You could try running your lights off of car batteries using a power inverter, but they won't last long. Another option would be to use those rechargeable spotlights that you can get cheaply at hardware stores. They kick out a lot of light, so you may want to bounce them off some foamcore boards or something.
 
I'm hip to Horse's ideas. I would suggest using the 12 volt power invertors with high output fluorescent bulbs.

Here is a type of invertor I am talking about:

http://brohmsonlinesales.stores.yahoo.net/noname1.html


and the type of bulbs:

http://www.teksupply.com/webapp/wcs...&langId=-1&division=TekSupply&productId=65625

Make sure that you have automobiles with very good/highoutput electrical systems, extra batteries, jumper cables and maybe a fastcharger handy. This will suck the juice out of a battery pretty fast. Just use the lights during shooting, use flashlights and the like for working and set-up. One thing that is cool about the compact flos are the fact that the put out more light than there wattage ratting suggests, compared to incandescant lights. Figure 100wats output per every 23 watts of bulb rating. So in your above example of the 200 watt halogen, you could get roughly 800 watts of output from the compact flos. Using two 125w compact flos you could get just under 1100 watts of out put.

Good luck.
 
There's not much you can do from a battery, and you will probably find yourself renting a generator (or wishing you had). Creating realistic night exterior lighting is one of the toughest lighting setups, especially for beginners. There are many ways to attack the problem, and many tools to use. For a rough rule of thumb, I would say use as big a soft source as possible for frontal fill (4' kinoflo, china balls, or direct bounced off a 4' foamboard or 8' or 12' or 20' muslin) (and above if possible, but often not on a small budget shoot leelium baloon or giaint coop lights off a condor.), and use a strong source far, far back for back light as a moonlight or just an unmotivated rim light. HMI or tungsten with 1/2 ctb...

check out my production journal from a low-budget (~25k) feature I worked on "Greydog", there are lighting diagrams and descriptions for several outdoor night shoots.

Best of luck, and try not to use the pink font...

-j

http://emrl.com/j/projects
 
I've tried (foolishly) to attach 3 12W halogen lamps to a car battery. I even did it with a 300' cable once. First of all we only have access to one car (most of us are high school/university students, and that car has a reputation for failing to start sometimes. Add to that a very worried car owner (and rightfully so) as part of the crew, spreading his anxiety and generally cramping our creative efforts with fears of whether we'll all be camping out with the car on an unlucky night. And the cable had so much resistance that electricity barely leaked out the other end enough for a single lamp to light up dimmer than a cellphone. The 3 bulb setup can still be used as a key/fill light indoors tho as I have a transformer. However I think its safe to say the car battery is too crazy an idea for long night action shoots, and we don't have the cash to drop on a charger either.

I've never dealt with portable power systems so I am clueless about generators and how they work with lights. A few questions about them:

1. How long can I pull a cable off a generator?
2. How much power can I expect to get off a generator?
3. How is the fuel consumption like?
4. Is there a way to mask the noise from a generator?
5. How much should I expect to pay for renting it?
6. Can I fit one into a car trunk, assuming I have half of it filled with other equipment?
7. Where can I get a generator?

Forgive my lack of knowlege but I have to ask what the following terms mean as well: Unmotivated rim light, HMI, coop lights, "condor" and CTB.

Your website is quite insightful! I will definitely peruse it as I think I can glean a lot from there alone, and the DIY dolly is pure genius! I tried making one with aluminium rails and vertical wheels but it was total failure :p How did you transport those long pipes tho, I wonder? At that length, is it possible to make dramatic sweeping movements? Ever tried it on a non-paved(bumpy/rough) surface?

What would you say my rate of success would be if I tried to make a DIY cluster of white LEDs? Running off dry cell batteries would save space and money, as anything we buy is not an investment...

Is a 200W worklight powerful enough to simulate moonlight, and would it be wise to put a couple blue gels on it for color correction?

Thanks for all your advice so far!

ps: Sorry for the pink font, I had no idea it was on till I checked back here :p
 
Last edited:
Dirtee...

To answer a few of your questions...

A 200W worklight is NOT going to be enough to simulate anything really, in my experience at least (especially if you gel it, because putting the gel in front of any light will cut down on its brightness). If you can't afford any 1,000watt tungsten lights, you should get some of the 500-600 watt worklights at Home Depot. You'll need more then 2 to effectively light a night scene that includes any wideshots.

Some definitions for you:

HMI: Is a type of light, that is very expensive compared to Tungsten. Tungsten is similiar to a Home Depot worklight, and it gives off a yellowish/warm off-white color. HMI's generally output MORE light per watt then tungsten, and the color of the light is closer to the pure white you'd expect from outdoors in the early afternoon. HMI's are much more expensive then tungsten... just do a google search or look at www.BHPhoto.com to get an idea of the prices at different wattages. Also, HMI's lamps are much more expensive then the typical tungsten lamp. (lamps = bulbs)

CTB stands for "Color Correction Blue"... If placed on a tungsten light, it will make the light match that of an HMI (closer to pure white, even with a hint of blue). They make different strengths of CTB, such as 1/2 CTB.

I believe 'unmotivated light' is referring to a light source that you never show, and isn't easily assumed. There's a better way to explain that, but I'm sure somebody else will help out. :)

I've yet to use a generator myself (but I do plan to for my next shoot), so a lot of those questions I can't answer... but I can tell you I plan to build a simple wooden box, with egg crate or some kind of sound-deadening fabric attached to the inside, to put over the generator. I haven't thought about exhaust issues, now that I've 'said' that outloud... so maybe someone can chime in with better advice on that.

In regards to your first post... I too get a little jealous when I see the lights big productions have available to them. To give you an idea of what they have... from what I understand... those big lights you mentioned seeing are usually around 20,000 watts and even more. So to expect a 200 watt light to do anything even within the realm of reason is a bad idea. You really gotta hit the 1,000 watt range, or at least 650 watts to make a dent. When I worked at Universal, I saw a lot of their little red-heads laying around as if they were junk... and those suckers were 4,000 or 5,000 watts. Nuts huh?

One last thing... if you don't know already... you should search google for color temperature definition and 'table'.... actually... here's a pretty good one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_temperature
 
Last edited:
Have you ever considered day for night? That might work...I haven't actually tried shooting serious day for night before, however I did do an approximation of day for night - I did a shoot on a stage, getting help from stage lights from above and i had a nice 1000watter floodlight providing illumination from the side, and it turned out pretty ok. The lighting was good enough that i was shooting with an aperture of 4...i think. Something like that. I'll just attach a grab of what it looked like.



and



Yes I know my key light was a tad low, etc...but you gots to take what you get
 
dirtee1 said:
I've never dealt with portable power systems so I am clueless about generators and how they work with lights. A few questions about them:

1. How long can I pull a cable off a generator?
2. How much power can I expect to get off a generator?
3. How is the fuel consumption like?
4. Is there a way to mask the noise from a generator?
5. How much should I expect to pay for renting it?
6. Can I fit one into a car trunk, assuming I have half of it filled with other equipment?
7. Where can I get a generator?

1. I'm assuming you mean how long of a cable you can run off the generator? You can run as long as a cable that you need but remember that when you run longer cables you get voltage drop. When your voltage drops it's going to increase your amperage thus allowing you to put less on your circuit (which are typically 15amps on a small genny) based on amps= watts/volts.

2. Generators come in various maximum wattage varieties. The common ones for smaller productions range from 3000-5000 watts. I find most run a couple of hours just shy of maximum load. Definitely carry a jerry can of extra gas.

3. Tank capacity varies but are about 3-5 gallons for 3-5K genny's.

4. I've heard of people building baffles from plexi and sound blankets but really you need to get some distance on it and stash it around the corner of a building if you can. With baffles you have to be extra careful that it doesn't overheat and that the fumes can escape.

5. Up here in Toronto I can rent a genny anywhere from $50-$100/day Canadian.

6. No. You're going to need a van whether you have other equipment or not.

7. Most do-it yourself places, like Home Depot, have them for rent. You can also call a film rental house and they should have them if they also rent lighting gear.

One thing to note also is where you're shooting and at what time. A lot of places have bi-laws about sound and you can't run something like a genny after a certain hour without getting a fine.

dirtee1 said:
Forgive my lack of knowlege but I have to ask what the following terms mean as well: Unmotivated rim light, HMI, coop lights, "condor" and CTB.

Unmotivated rim light: When there's a rim light or backlight that seems to be coming from no where and has not been setup in previous shots showing the rest of the space.

Coop Lights: Short for chicken coop lights. It consists of a series of bulbs built into rectangular housing with a black skirt to control spill. Used as overhead lighting - great for lighting scenes with characters sitting at a table. Gaffer's will normally build their own or you can buy commerical ones like this: http://extranet.mole.com/public/index.cgi?cmd=view_item&parent=-1899-1900-1905-1917&id=62101

Condor: It's a giant crane that you'll see on larger productions. They normally mount 1 or 2 18K's on it to light up a large area or push light through a window on a top floor of a building or house.
 
Last edited:
TWJP: As I understand it(correct me if I'm wrong) DV cameras are more sensitive to light than film, and therefore need less light to function? I was thinking maybe those high end productions use such high wattages not so much for useability of the light than flexibility? Lol yeah I envy them a lot too!
I have a feeling 200W won't be enough for my XM2 either, so I might try experimenting with it and seeing how far a leap ahead I need to make.

Malcolm: We are shooting the action scene largly on the road. One particular part will occupy a good portion of the street. I doubt we'll be able to get road clearance from the relevant authorities for a non-profit shoot (Its for my church) so shooting at night gives us freedom from traffic and to make it more comfortable for the actors (all of them are doing this for the first time). It's a very emotional scene, and in the city we work we don't get a lot of respect for what we do. We've been verbally assaulted/jeered at twice in 2-3 public shoots already, and I have personally encountered some folks who are *very* aggressive about their privacy going around with my camera/video camera. All thanks to the paparazzi, I guess. Your night for day shots look pretty good tho!

bcheong: From what you say it sounds like a genny would suit our lights just fine! Why do you say I will need a van tho? Is it really too large to fit into a trunk or a car's back seat? Here in Australia I think it's safe to assume 10pm to be the noise cut-off point. That really gives us too little time to work with, so if I am to consider getting a genny I'll definitely have to build myself a baffle. Will the decrease in noise be sufficient? I am going to be shooting in a residential area.

My crew has spent around 400-500 on this project (300 from my own pocket) and they're already complaining about it. Its not that these guys are poorer than I am (quite the opposite literally) but I guess they're not into filmmaking enough to justify the cost. Oh, and this is with assurances that they'll be reimbursed at least in part! $50-$100 Canadian sounds pretty steep for me. I live in Melbourne, Australia by the way and the Home Depot equivalent here is Bunnings Warehouse. Cute, huh?

About unmotivated rim lights, what are the cinematographic and dramatic values of this kind of lighting?

Thanks a bunch for your advice so far!
 
I have a different definition of an unmotivated rim light - its a light that appears to not be coming from any source. It doesnt matter if you have established the source by showing it or not.

Example - you can have a light simulating moonlight and never show the moon - that is completely motivated.

Example of unmotivated. I light over the actors heads and then in a wider shot you do not see the light. Some unmovitated lights work for artisitic purposes - its like any rule - know the rule -"only use motivated lights" - then break the rule when you want to - you just should always know when you are breaking a rule
 
dirtee1 said:
bcheong: From what you say it sounds like a genny would suit our lights just fine! Why do you say I will need a van tho? Is it really too large to fit into a trunk or a car's back seat?

It's big - if you can get a van you'll save yourself a lot of headache. You're going to make it difficult on yourself with a car I think. You can probably try to get it into an SUV or station wagon if you don't have a van. But certainly go check it out and see - some models are smaller than others. They're also heavy - 150lb if I had to guess.
 
smelni said:
I have a different definition of an unmotivated rim light - its a light that appears to not be coming from any source. It doesnt matter if you have established the source by showing it or not.

Example - you can have a light simulating moonlight and never show the moon - that is completely motivated.

Example of unmotivated. I light over the actors heads and then in a wider shot you do not see the light. Some unmovitated lights work for artisitic purposes - its like any rule - know the rule -"only use motivated lights" - then break the rule when you want to - you just should always know when you are breaking a rule


You're right smelni. That's a better and more complete definition. Thanks for clarifying!
 
my take on car batteries...first you really don't need them connected to the car. second i use a marine RV battery and it lasts pretty long...consider that it's used in an RV...:)

okay on my setup the RV battery with a 750W inverter lasts for quite some time. if you read the battery it will say (X)amp hours...for a better understanding read this . a 500W worklight will use 4.x amps...if the battery is rated at 200ah then you have approximately 50 hours of battery usage.

noise...inverters make a whirring noise a little high pitched, but definitely less noticeable then the noise made from a generator. then again noise isn't really a factor if you know how to do ADR.

you can make the "car battery" set up work especially if you use more than one and connect them in series or parallel. series will increase the voltage, parallel will increase the amp hours.

just my opinion.
 
inverters make a whirring noise a little high pitched
Are you referring to the tiny little cooling fan?

I think I remember reading somewhere you can white balance the camera to a colored card and it would record the image with a blue/night tint to it? Anybody remember something like that? I don't remember if this is correct, if it worked good or not, or what the color was.
 
Are you referring to the tiny little cooling fan?

a lot louder than a CPU fan definitely. :)

you're right about the card...i'd suggest go the hardware store and try various shades of red...too much might give you green instead of blue.

3587929.jpg


this isn't mine, but it was done with a red card.
 
A couple RV batteries, a high wattage inverter and a charger? Is there a reason why this setup won't cost more than buying myself a 1000W genny?

Bcheong, I can only afford a set of worklights if we do not recieve any more funding. At 1000W, and maybe an additional 250W and 100W I can probably rent a lower-powered genny, like a 1500W right? I believe those come in considerably smaller sizes than a 2000/3000 would.

Is it possible to drain the car battery flat with it connected to the car and the engine running? Can anybody give a figure as well as to what wattage average car headlamps are rated at?

Riff R4ff, you're talking about the night for day technique, if you don't already know that. I've seen it used on TV and I hate it and can absolutely tell it's fake. Considering the fact that I'm only starting out I doubt I can pull it off realistically.

Does anyone have any idea how I could DIY a portable muslin sheet about 6'x6'(give and take)? I've seen it being hung tilted about 50-60 degrees above the actors on movie sets. If all else fails I can always ask my grip and best boy to hold it up XD
 
A couple RV batteries, a high wattage inverter and a charger? Is there a reason why this setup won't cost more than buying myself a 1000W genny?

ah you may have me there...cheapest generator i found was $199. the inverter i have cost $69 and i have one battery it was $39 at walmart and i already owned a charger...if not i could borrow my parents.

however the real comparison...my set up makes less noise and costs less to operate..especially with gas at $3.00 per gallon...the generator i was looking at said it had the lowest consumption at 1.4 gallons per hour. i can run my set up for 7 to 8 hours before needing to recharge or replace the battery...that would cost you $29 to $33...i don't even scratch that using electricity to recharge the battery. so in the long run you will spend way more on gas than i will on electricity, but if you want to save money on the initial investment...go right ahead. :)

as for the DIY "silk"...i made frames and stapled my fabric to the frames...it was real inexpensive. i bought 2x8s at lowes - not 2'x 8' these 2" x 8' - ah you know what i mean - anyway they were $1.33 each. then either a DIY crane or have someone or sometwo hold it.
 
Back
Top