Simple lighting makes cleaner, more natural images, while reducing production hassles.
By now, it's old news that video for the Internet should be simple in order to conserve bandwidth and constrain file size. Complicated images and frequent movement produce artifacts, dropped frames, and an overall quality that almost equals the first attempts of Thomas A. Edison. (This used to somewhat be the case with home DVD as well, but DVD-burning software is improving dramatically.) Lest we forget, video is nothing but recorded light, so the simpler the light patterns, the simpler the images, moving or still.
What if you don't share your vacations with an eager world, at 15 fps in 1/8-screen windows? Simple lighting is still desirable because it takes less equipment and power, it looks more natural, it's kinder to performers, and it's easier to create. So let's run through these advantages and then see how to finesse great images out of simple setups.
Cut Down on Hardware
Priced a professional lighting kit lately? Wrestled six halogen work lights into your car trunk? Tried to light a 12 x 12 room with four lights on one electrical circuit? The fewer the lights, the milder the hassle and the lower the power drain. A big lighting outfit may make you feel like the big guys on your first time out, but it soon feels like swimming with an anvil.
What do you really, really need? First of all, reflectors: cheap, light, and compact because they're skinny or they fold up. Start with, say, three 3 x 3 sheets of one-inch white foam core board (thinner than one-inch sheets are less robust). Add a big roll of oven-broiler-grade aluminum foil and some masking tape (easier than duct tape to remove) and you can make hard, medium hard, medium soft, or soft reflectors as needed (see our Buyer's Guide on Lights and Reflectors in this issue for details). You can also buy collapsible cloth reflectors that are even more convenient.