They're cheap, soft, and stay out of your way.

It might seem like a dumb idea; paper lanterns — known colloquially as China balls — are rather flimsy. But they only cost five bucks to replace, so buy a dozen! Or buy the faux silk version, which is a lot tougher. And they can live up on the ceiling where they won't be in anyone's way. Use them to provide a broad, indiscriminate, soft wash of light in a room, or get even fancier by draping part of the light!


If you need bright, soft, inexpensive light, you probably know how much of a pain these can be. They tip over easily. They get in your way. And they're fragile! But you don't want to get rid of them, because they're so soft and bright! Still, there must be an alternative. So today, we're gonna look for lighting in a rather unexpected place.

Chinese lanterns – which, in the film industry, are known as china balls – are a videographer's best friend. They're just as soft as softboxes. They hang from the ceiling, which means they can't tip over. And best of all, they're cheap.

You can get really serious about them. Head on over to Filmtools and check out their substantial collection. They even make them in faux silk, which you can hang outside. Seriously, I did this for Christmas one year.

Just as long as you use a compact fluorescent with a decent color rating, and not one of the 500-watt lamps used by gaffers, you shouldn't have to worry about things catching on fire.

If you're tall, like me, and you worry that'll you be constantly bumping into them, the pancake version should also work well.

If you want to have some control over the direction of the light, another common trick is to cover one side with black felt.

And if you're looking for something that's light and compact while traveling, well, I can't think of anythiing better than this.

Honestly, I don't know why I didn't think of using China balls until now. I'm about to go light my whole studio with these. But until I do, if you'd like to receive more video tips like this one, we'd love it if you'd sign up for our newsletter! That's all for now. Thanks for watching!

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