China balls are one of the cheapest and most effective ways to add beautiful light to your scenes. Here are just three of the many ways you can use them on set.
Top image from Leafhouse Films
The china ball is one of my favorite tools to work with on set. The quality of light from a china ball can be absolutely beautiful; it’s very soft, forgiving, and can really wrap around your talent’s face. That said, to make the most out of china balls means that you’ll need to know each and every way you can use them. Below are just three examples of the most effective ways to utilize them.
1. Ambient Room Lighting
Image from The Kreen of the Crop
Interior scenes will often call for the base light level in a room to get brought up. Say for instance you’re working with a nice three point lighting setup on your actor, but the lights aren’t spilling into your background enough, and the ambient level of the room is too low. By placing a china ball or two up high near the ceiling, you can easily brighten the room without having to further soften the light. This is a very fast and foolproof way to add ambience without eating up more time on set.
Image from No Film School
If you don’t have a softbox on set and there’s no time to set up c-stands, flags, and silks to diffuse your standard film lights, china balls are an excellent alternative. The light quality from a china ball is nearly identical to that of a high-quality softbox and requires very little set-up time. You’ll usually want to clip some black duvetyne to the back of the china ball to avoid having it spill all over the room. This will allow you to hit just the talent’s face with light (much like a sofbox would), effectively keeping the background light levels in check.
3. On a Boom Pole
Image from Comet Tale Productions
One of the most difficult types of setups to light (especially if you’re on a budget) is a long tracking shot. Tracking shots float through various spaces on your set, which means you need to light a much bigger area — unless, of course, you’re using a china ball.
An excellent alternative to rigging up countless lights across your set is to simply put the china ball on a boom pole and have a crew member walk with it. Doing this will allow your actors to move freely throughout the set, and can save you precious time while still delivering beautiful results.
Ever used a china ball on set? Got any footage to share? Show us what you’ve got in the comments below!