How To Light A Scene By Candle Light For Cheap

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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow can you obtain the effect that your scene is solely lit by candlelight, or perhaps just by a fire? For the little guys, this gets tricky as you’re not going to have access to specialized lighting equipment that gives the effect of flickering flames. You also won’t be able to light the scene by candles only; if you wanted to take this route you would need a lens with an extremely wide aperture.

You can watch the video tutorial or find the information in the text below.


A scene completely lit by candle light was once achieved by cinematographer, John Alcott on Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon. 6ladylyndon8Kubrick was determined not to reproduce the set-bound artificial look of other costume dramas. The production acquired three prime lenses with an aperture of f/0.7. This allowed for the full composition to be lit solely from candle light. Unfortunately, as DIY filmmakers, we’re not likely to have access to such lenses. You would have to crowd the room with candles to acquire enough illumination to reasonably exposure your image. However, there’s a good chance at the end of the day you’ll be sat with the fire crew explaining how your house burned down.

So how can we do this safely? There are a few blog posts scattered around the web on how you can build your own light emitting device that mimics the flicker of an incandescent flame. There’s one here by cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, and one forum post here by Roger Deakins citing his experience on True Grit. However, the problem here is that the equipment and materials used can quickly add up.

Therefore the questions is, how can we do this safely, and cheaply.

For myself, time was running out on trying to find a solution to make a scene look like it was lit by candlelight. On the day of shooting I had a hunch, and this hunch paid off as this was the final result.


This was achieved with just one 300w light and your typical 5-1 reflector. I placed cinefoil around the barn doors so the light beam was very minimal. It would have been more efficient to use a 150w light, but there wasn’t one available. The Light was then placed just passed the actor in frame (shot B & C in the floor plan below) and aimed towards the opposite side of the table.  Here an assistant held a reflector with the gold side on show. The assistant would slightly wiggle the reflector which would disperse the light along the crumbled ridges of the reflector. This in turn gave the reflected light minute movement, like that of a candle flicker. That’s all there was to it. It’s such a simple method and it produces a wonderful effect.


It should be mentioned that quite often when an actor/subject is illuminated by candle light or a fire, there’s frequently a cold light in the background (usually the moon) to help make sure the underlit areas on the actor do not fade into darkness.


You can buy a decent sized 5-1 reflector for as little as $30 from

The video tutorial was hosted on UglyMcGregor, remember to subscribe for instant notifications upon the upload of a new tutorial.

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.