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Lighting a campfire scene

You will have to supplement the light coming from the campfire flames with artificial sources. The best lights to use for is are small battery poweredLED lights covered with orange gel (CTO) doubled over to increase the warmth – it will give it the LED's a nice warm firelight colour.

The idea is to make the glow from these lights appear to be a natural part of the scene and the easiest way to do this is to include a camp light lamp in the scene, placed to one side to side-light the people sitting around the campfire.

A kerosene lamp or battery fluorescent light can work and would not look out of place. By "side-lighting" your subjects, you create an unlit darker side to the faces of those sitting around the fire and this allows the light from the flames to "play" on this dark side of the face.

The output of a practical lamp is sometimes not enough, so you may need to hide a few battery lights to lift the level of what is already happening with the camp-light. Place your battery light just out of shot, and at an angle that makes it appear that it's the practical in-shot lamp that's doing all the work.

Finally, you could try to get some light happening behind the actors to separate them from the black hole in the background – headlights from a vehicle are great for this. The vehicle should be just out of shot and the headlights shining on to the back of the people or illuminating a tree in the immediate background.

If it’s a period story, using just campfire light, use your battery light again, but this time place it on the ground pointing up at the actor/s. Some orange gel (CTO) doubled up and placed over the light source will give it the warm firelight colour, and a little diffusion will help blend it in with the firelight. Make certain that the level of light is low so that you can still see some of the flames from the fire playing on the face. Keep the flames burning so have lots of wood standing by.

© 2013 Pieter de Vries ACS