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Forums Cinematography Shooting practical lamps and avoiding bulb blowout

  • Shooting practical lamps and avoiding bulb blowout

     Todd Terry updated 8 years, 7 months ago 5 Members · 7 Posts
  • Dylan Hargreaves

    March 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Hi folks,

    I’ve been watching House of Cards on the old Netflix recently, (if you haven’t seen it, check it out – amazing story bolstered by amazing cinematography!) One thing I’ve noticed is that in almost every interior shot, there are practical lamps in frame.

    I know from bitter experience how hard it is to expose for lampshades – to get a nice even glow across the shade without the bulb blowing out the centre or underexposing the shot – but these guys are doing it perfectly every time.

    So, any ideas how? Are they wrapping the bulbs in ND gel or something? How would you guys do it?

  • Mark Suszko

    March 22, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    You can wrap gels and.or diffusion around the inside of the lampshade. You could also put the (practical) lamps on a “squeezer” or dimmer circuit.

  • Todd Terry

    March 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    As Mark says, you can do it either way… the easiest and most controllable (and what you usually see done on sets) is to use “squeeze boxes”. Also known as “squeezers.” Just plain ol’ rheostats.

    We carry a few regular lamp dimmers with us for this, cheap and easy from Home Depot…

    You should also pack a few regular tungsten bulbs. These days so often you’ll go to someone’s location and they’ll have a CFL bulb in a lamp… and of course the dimmers don’t work with those.

    As you ramp down the lamp the color temperature will drop like a rock and get much more yellow… but usually that’s not a problem. Sometimes, the look is even desirable.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Dylan Hargreaves

    March 23, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Great advice, thanks both!

  • Peter Rummel

    March 23, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Using a dimmer with practicals is quick, but I still get a hot spot – it’s just less bright. The spill from the top and bottom of the shade is reduced, too.
    The trick I use in this situation is to wrap a small piece of black wrap half way around the bulb, on the side facing the camera. The light reflecting from the back side of the lampshade fills it with an even glow – no hot spot.

  • Rick Wise

    March 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    One of the methods we’ve used is to spray the bulb facing toward the camera with black or dark brown streaks and tips. Later it wipes off. Combined with a dimmer you have lots of control.

    Rick Wise
    San Francisco Bay Area

  • Todd Terry

    March 23, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    I’ve never done the Streaks-n-Tips thing on a bulb in a lamp, I’ve only used it on car headlights… I’ll have to try that.

    I’ve done the blackwrap thing too. And inevitably remembered that I left the blackwrap in some unsuspecting person’s lamp, usually about an hour after leaving location.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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