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The Chinese lantern is famous for its unique ability to throw a soft, diffused light in almost all directions that no other instrument would be capable of handling. No wonder, cinematographers have known of Chinese lanterns and used them extensively in their work for many, many years. Chinese Lanterns are widely used today in films and television when the DP calls for a soft light source that can be rigged and adjusted quickly.
However, the real Chinese lanterns have one fatal drawback. They are made of paper... and paper, as it turns out, burns! Put a 250w lamp in what amounts to no more than a thin paper bag and leave it on for a few hours and you will have a fire. They are also rather flimsy and they tear or get torn or damaged very easily.
Nowadays, you can make Chinese lanterns at home and with material other than paper. They will certainly last long and turn out to be quite cost affective also. For example, buy foolproof fabric, a light post globe, a standard grip head and some basic tools and build your own Chinese lantern in less than two hours. Just make sure you purchase a standard ECA photoflood lamp that looks like an ordinary household lamp and has a frosted coating. Also do not use a larger wattage lamp in the lantern or you run the risk of melting the globe.
The appeal of the Chinese lantern lies in its ability to provide light over a wide angular area. However, this very quality also presents the problem of light spill where it may not be desired. To prevent that you can use of a small flag attached to the gobo arm holding the lantern or hang a flame retardant fabric such as Nomex like a drape around the lantern using velcro pads.
A Chinese lantern is a feast for the eyes both in terms of its aesthetic appeal and its soft soothing light.
The author is the owner of Chinese Symbol Tattoos & Crafts Gift Shop and Chinese Art Prints & Oriental Collectibles Shop.
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