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lighting and shooting a shower scene (amateur filmmaker question)

Gary Gregerson

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Hi everyone


I'm going to try my hand at lighting and shooting a shower scene (Super 8 with Beaulieu 1008xl camera). The 2 things I'm worried about are getting electrocuted and steaming up my camera! I have about 4 feet between my shower and where I'd like to place the lights - do you think that's safe? I would imagine any water on studio lights is a bad idea...alternately, I could put a high wattage bulb in my regular light socket, I suppose...


Also, will steam affect my camera and the film? Might just have to make it a cold one!





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I'm going to try my hand at lighting and shooting a shower scene ... I'm worried about are getting electrocuted ... I have about 4 feet between my shower and where I'd like to place the lights - do you think that's safe?


No. The National Electrical Code requires receptacles within 6ft of a shower be equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs). For the same reasons behind this code requirement you should use GFCIs on all the cables supplying your lights – whatever size they happen to be. GFCIs are a must when working around water in order to avoid someone taking a potentially lethal shock. If you stick with smaller quartz lights, you will be fine with the hardware store variety of GFCI cords. But, if you use HMIs, or even Kinos, you will need film style GFCIs, like Shock Blocks, that are specifically designed for motion picture lights. To prevent the nuisance tripping that electronic Kino & HMI ballasts can cause with standard GFCIs, film style GFCIs sense on an "Inverse Time Curve." And, to deal with the harmonics that non-PFC Kino & HMI ballasts kick back into the power stream (that will cause other GFCIs to trip), film style GFCIs include a harmonic filter with a frequency response up to 120 hz. 3rd harmonics are attenuated by 50%, and by 500 Hz are down to 20%. Attenuated by the filter, the harmonics generated by dirty loads such as non-PFC Kino & HMI ballasts, pose less of a problem.




A single 100A GFCI "Shock Block" can provide ground fault protection on wet locations for the entire distro system of a Honda 6500 portable generator when used in-line with a Step-Down Transformer/Distro.


One problem with Shock Blocks is that they don’t come smaller than 100Amps so if you are shooting in or around a house you will need to do a tie-in or use a step-down transformer, like the 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro we make for our modified 7500W Honda EU6500is generator, on a 240V range or dryer receptacle. A transformer will step down the 240V output of these receptacles to a single 60A 120V circuit that you can put a Shock Block on.


A 100A GFCI used inline with a transformer can provide safe and secure ground fault protection for an entire distribution system consisting of Bates Extensions, Splitters, and Break-Outs to Edisons – eliminating the need for hardware store 20A GFCIs that are not designed to be used with harmonic generating loads like non-PFC HMI & Kino Ballast, & LED Power Supplies. Used in-line with a transformer, a 100A Shock Block will provide a larger GFCI protected circuit than is commonly available in homes.





Master shot of an iRobot commercial lit with a 4kw HMI Par (outside) & 1.8kw HMI Par (inside) powered from a 30A/240V dryer outlet through a step-down transformer/distro. Note: Sunny feel created by 4k Par on an overcast day.


I used this approach on a recent commercial for iRobot (see production stills attached.) The spot contrasted the iRobot Scooba designed to clean kitchen floors to the old mop and bucket approach. For the mop and bucket approach we had a haggard looking Mom slopping water all over the kitchen floor as kids ran slipping and sliding across the floor.





Left: Transformer/Distro plugged into a 30A/240V dryer outlet. Right: 4K HMI Par under rain protection powered by Transformer/Distro


Because we knew water would get everywhere we used one of our 60A Transformer Distros on a Dryer Plug to power a 4K HMI, a 1800W HMI, and some Kinos. We put a 100A Shock Block like the one pictured above on the load side of the transformer/distro to provide Ground Fault protection inside around the wet kitchen floor. It was a good thing that we did, because it ended up pouring rain that day and so the Shock Block did double duty for the 4k that was outside the kitchen window.





Left: Arri AS18 1800W Par powered from Transformer/Distro. Right: 4Kw and 1800W HMI ballasts powered from Transformer/Distro.


For more detailed information on using Shock Blocks to provide Ground Fault protection on Dryer/Range plugs or with portable Honda generators, I would suggest you read the article I wrote for our company newsletter on the use of portable generators in motion picture lighting.


Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston

Edited by Guy Holt
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I would second Guy Holt's advice to make sure you have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) in any 'power cords' you may use to bring lighting into a 'shower' or other room were water may be a potential issue (Kitchen, pool area... etc.), even if you use 'ordinary' lights.


There are extension cord adaptors which can do this if the wall recepticle does not have one. You should also make sure your wall recepticle actually has 'ground' on it, with a plug tester.


The Wife use to take still shots of women in wedding dresses underwater in pools. We arranged the bank of strobes to be on one side of the pool, and no one was allowed in that section until the set was broken down, power cording going to the nearest plug, and the plug verify to have ground with a GFCI in line for the power.


We did hear of one person doing a similar shoot having their strobe fall into the pool... fortunately no injuries occurred... but AC power and water are a dangerous combination, and even if you have insurance... you do have insurance... there is still the emotional issue of telling someone's relatives their loved one is dead.

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The best way to light a shower scene is to backlight the water, for day scenes, this means finding a shower with a frosted window in it. For night scenes, it gets harder unless there is something like the backlit glass wall in this shower in "Skyfall":




I liked this shot so much that when we had a shower scene in "Extant" that had to hide nudity, I did something similar. The shower set already had a frosted glass window wall so that the room could be backlit in the daytime. I had a frosted frame made up to go around the window frame as if there were an LED border that glowed around the window edges at night, similar to what our bathroom mirror had. We used Lite Ribbon LED's in a frame that was outside the window, backlighting the water and actors. There was some ambient fill from the bathroom mirror frame LED's and over the whole set was a muslin ceiling and I had a space light above that dimmed way down. So there was never any lights actually rigged in the shower itself. I frosted the glass with Arid Xtra Dry, which looked like steam -- it had the added benefit of actually coming off in small rivulets as the water drops hit the glass, while still obscuring the parts of the body we weren't supposed to see.

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