Practical lighting effects easy to pull off

This week in Zeferino Professional Lighting we want to take a look at how practical lights can give us amazing results.

Lighting a scene is not simply about putting enough light on your subjects to get a good exposure. Sometimes, you’ll have to find ways to recreate certain practical lighting situations. Like a movie projected in a dark theater. Using whatever equipment you’ve got on hand. In this short tutorial from Aputure, DP Julia Swain shows you how to pull off four simple lighting effects that will come in handy for almost every project you shoot.


Practical lights, or lights that are (usually) visible within the frame, are used in filmmaking all the time. They are the TV, computers, movie screens, lamps, and headlights that make your shot not only more realistic, but more interesting, as well. However, including these kinds of lights isn’t always as simple as turning them on and putting them in your shot. Often, they’re not bright enough or have a lot of flicker. This is why it’s helpful to have a few practical lighting tricks in your arsenal.

TV or movie screen

There are many ways to create this effect, but Swain does it by bouncing a light off of a “pizza box” (2’x2′ bounce board) that is set right in front of her subjects.  Then you just need to change the frequency of the light with a dimmer to make it look like there is something playing on the TV.


This very simple effect can be done by putting a spotlight behind your actors and syncing the frequency of that light and the TV or movie screen light with a dimmer.

City lights

city lights

If you want to fake a nice city skyline in the background of your shot. All you need is a string of Christmas lights. However, to get this effect right. You’re going to have to sell the illusion that they are coming from miles and miles away. So, keep in mind what kind of lens you’re shooting on and move your Christmas lights far enough away so they are out of focus. You might also need to put the lights on a dimmer to make them less bright.

Police lights


Definitely this trick is not as simple as the above three. Swain took two Mini-20s, put a red gel on one and a blue gel on the other. And then mounted them onto a C-stand with a C-clamp and a Cardellini clamp. It is also useful to use batteries on the lights so there aren’t any issues with twisted wires. After that, it was just a matter of spinning those things around until they looked like sirens.

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