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Create A Campfire Flicker With These 3 Inexpensive Tools

Noam Kroll
By Noam Kroll

Buying or renting a flicker box to create a campfire effect is very effective, but it can also be quite costly. This DIY approach will cost you far less and will yield just as strong results.

Top image and footage via Shutterstock

The distinct lighting aesthetic created by flickering firelight is one that cinematographers have been attempting to emulate using film lighting for years. While many tools (such as flicker boxes) have been developed over time as a means to achieve this look, they aren’t always the most practical or cost-effective option.

Create A Campfire Flicker With These 3 Inexpensive Tools: Simulating Campfire

If you’re on a budget and need to create the look of firelight on your talent, here’s how you can do it using three inexpensive tools:

1. Light Source

Create A Campfire Flicker With These 3 Inexpensive Tools: Clamp Lights

  • Price: $7

Assuming you don’t already have a film lighting kit, you’re going to need to pick up an inexpensive light that will serve as your source. Probably the most cost effective option is a flood lamp (available at just about any hardware store) and a set of standard 250w household bulbs.

2. CTO Gel

Create A Campfire Flicker With These 3 Inexpensive Tools: CTO Gel

Although the light from your bulbs will already be quite warm (as they are tungsten color temperature), you’ll want to add some orange gel (or CTO) to make the color temperature even warmer. Fire has a much warmer color temperature than your average household bulb, so if there are any other light sources appearing in your shot, it will be critical that you use CTO to make the firelight appear nice and warm.

3. Dimmer

Create A Campfire Flicker With These 3 Inexpensive Tools: Dimmer Switch

Now that you have your light source set up with your CTO gel, the last step is to get it to actually flicker. While there are many ways to do this (like using a flicker box or intermittently flagging off the light), the best method for budget filmmakers will involve using a dimmer switch. Consumer-grade dimmers can be purchased at hardware stores for very little money, and if you require one that can handle more power, professional-grade dimmers can be purchased at many film and photography stores.

To achieve the firelight effect, simply position your light source below your talent (where the fire should be), clip on some CTO gel, and have a crew member manually flicker the light using the dimmer. Depending on the exact look you’re going for, you can add or remove gels, tweak the positioning of the source, and adjust the intensity and frequency of the flicker.

This video from RocketJump Film School will outline exactly how you can achieve this effect, and also how you can use LED panels in a similar fashion:

Know of any other great ways to simulate fire on set? Share your tips in the comments below.