Janusz Kaminski: Candle Light & China Balls

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August 1998)

As the soldiers continue their quest for Private Ryan, they take shelter for the night in a bombed-out church. Illuminated by candlelight, the...

"soldiers are sitting and analyzing what has happened and what is ahead of them. It’s a very beautiful, underlit scene about three stops underexposed that has a painterly feel, as if it was lit only by the candles. There’s a very nice section of dialogue between Tom Sizemore and Tom Hanks. I wanted to create the sense that the light was coming from the candles below them, but I didn’t want to get big shadows. I ended up lighting them with China balls fitted with 1/2 CTO and 1/2 CTS. I then used a flag just outside of frame to take a little of that soft light off Sizemore, so his face was a little brighter on the bottom and then dropped off. I don’t like candle flicker effects very much, so the key was a normal [non-flickering] light, but I did have a little flicker on the fill to give it some movement. I’d tested China balls in the past and never liked their effect, but I’m learning more about how to use them now. The key is to underexpose by 11/2 stops. You also have to keep them just outside of frame but away from the walls, so you get that nice falloff in the light. Philippe Rousselot [AFC] has been using them for years, but if you look at his films, you’ll notice that the people are always positioned away from any walls. He may have a very soft China ball a few feet away from the actors, but everything falls dark behind them. Because there no other light reference in the frame, their faces still glow even if the shot is 11/2 to 21/2 stops underexposed."

- Janusz Kaminski

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