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lighting Making a short film in the night without any lights just a phone

I am developing a short film of a boy in a dark house in the night with just a phone, nothing more, i need some advice in how to light and create a proper visual look, that doesnt end up looking cheap or under exposed.

I dont have too much fancy stuff. but i need to know if i can pull off this and how can i get a solid visual look out of it, using easy methods.

So yes this is a pretty extreme low key setup.
Hey, I love a challenge..
The real world is seldom actually pitch black, and a black screen is just not cinematic.

Light spills in from outside street lamps.. the glow of the old school LED alarm clock in the corner, the little "tale tale" lights on every electronic appliance. Smoke alarm blinking battery light.. the cozy glow of a burning cigarette tip.

Try for motivated lighting. For example, you don't REALLY have to have a street light out the window you just have to have a motivation for what looks like street light spilling in from out side... If you take an external nigh shot of a neighborhood street with lots of street lamps.. then the viewer will assume, if the light coming in the window is the same color, that the light is coming from street lights.

Write your scenes to have motivation for lighting.. if you need to show something in detail with good lighting, maybe the actor opens the fridge and the light spilling from the fridge illuminates the thing you need to show..

The phone screen light bounced from mirrors or reflective surface might provide motivation for some interesting light setups..

Get creative..

I have many free ideas, post a bit of your script and Ill make some suggestions.

Fancy equipment is definitely not a requirement. I bought 10 of these battery operated lights at harbor freight
And used them in several instances..

All the setup "lighting" in this spot (one of my best) is from these..

The ambient light is from real street lights in the area, the lighting in the car is from those LED lights.. also the "sweeping" car head lights are from those as well. I used 5 of them stuck to a board as a panel light for a few of the shots..

Also.. dont forget that SOUND can motivate light. The sweeping car head lights illusion above is really sold by the SOUND design of the spot.. there were no cars, it was very late and there wasn't really any street where the light was coming from.. its all an illusion!
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The simplest option for you is to film during the day and then tint it blue.


They call this day for night and since you're using a phone all that great sunlight will help guarantee that your footage isn't grainy.

Can you use a specific phone or are you locked into filming with the phone you already have?

Honestly a project like this would greatly benefit from a digital camera designed for low light filming but sometimes you've got to work with what you have!

For the cheapest lighting possible you can get a power strip and some adapters to screw light bulbs into the power strip.. then you don't even need to buy lights. You just buy the adapters.
I use the "streetlight through the window" effect.




Ironically, I used a lot of light to achieve the wider shots. I didn't want to have to move lights, for the duration of the movie, so I put a 1k light outside each window. 6,000 watts worth. Obviously, you could get away with one or two.

For outside lights, just use lights from the hardware store.
It really depends on the visual style and what you want/need to 'see'.

For example, a horror film that relies on the audience on seeing very little other than what is illuminated by the phone could actually have its tension heightened by using few other lights (though you may need to cheat the phone light depending on whether your camera can get you an exposure from the phone light itself). Other visual styles or film styles might require more lights. It needn't be expensive, just requires some thought and creativity.
As a several people mentioned above; If you motivate the light it doesn't really matter where it's coming from.

Do you want it to look very dark throughout the entire short? Why is it dark? The answer to that question will likely indicate where and how much light you can use.
D4Darius on youtube made a short where he used a light thats designed to clip onto a mobile to simulate phone light, kind of like a ring light for your phone but not ring shaped... I think its the making of 'not cool' video in the end bedroom scene, I dont know if it would work for you but might be worth checking out
Try to play with the light somehow by throwing a thick cloth over it. This is a very interesting job, and I think you can do something of very high quality even without very cool or expensive equipment. I advise you to order an LED strip from https://www.vont.com/product/smart-strip-lights-led-strip-lights/ and take it to the shooting, since it is battery-powered. I use such devices myself, as it is very convenient to make various interesting shots.
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