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A Ray of Light: A Buyer's Guide for Lights and Reflectors

A Ray of Light: A Buyer's Guide for Lights and Reflectors

Light up your world with possibilities with the right light for mood,

intensity and dimension.

Lighting should be considered as more than a source for illumination. The purpose of lighting is to increase the intensity of the light level so that it matches depth of field standards as well as equipment. Beyond that, lighting also provides dimension and depth.

When selecting lighting components you should consider how you would use lighting. For example, do you plan to use lighting to record events such as a wedding? Do you plan to shoot people or products? Will you shoot indoors or outdoors -- or both? A light kit allows you to use a variety of light sources instead of relying on the on-camera light that came equipped with your camcorder. A light kit contains two or more lights, diffusers, stands, clamps and color correction gels that allow you to produce lighting. This buyer's guide should help you determine which features best apply to your light needs and we'll look at reflectors and diffusers and identify their unique features.

Kit Features
Since manufacturers produce standardized lamp types, you should look at the key features such as versatility and functionality. Some points to consider when shopping for a light kit include:

  • Adjustable Beam Spread -- Determine if you can focus the light as well as produce a wide, less intense distribution of light.
  • Stand Height -- Look for a stand that is durable as well as adjustable.
  • Portability -- Be sure your light kit has an organized carrying case that's durable as well as lightweight.
  • Accessories -- Consider the availability of accessories too, they go hand in hand with your light needs.
  • Lamp Type, Selection, and Quality
    The lamp is the heart of the lighting system, because it determines the smoothness, intensity and coloration of an image as well as the life of a battery. Be sure to check the wattage, voltage and color temperature in the lamps that are specific to your needs. Wattage is nothing more than the amount of power the light uses. Even if a light uses a high level of power, it doesn't mean that the lighting is efficient. A high efficiency light allows a 20-30 percent lower wattage lamp to achieve the same light levels produced by less efficient lighting.

    Lighting Accessories
    Lighting accessories allow you to expand your lighting possibilities, as well as craft the appearance of the light to fit your needs.

    Barndoors -- A system of two or four metal doors that control the spill of the light.

    Flags -- Flags consist of an opaque material that blocks or shapes light. Flags are often clipped to barndoors, a light stand or a boom arm.

    Scrims -- A scrim is a metal screen that you can place on the front of the lighting instrument to decrease the intensity of the light. Scrims come in various densities that enable you to control how much you want to decrease the intensity of the light.

    Filter Frames -- Filter frames are sometimes built into the front of a lighting fixture but can also be a separate stand-mounted accessory. Filter frames typically hold scrims or diffusers to soften light or colored gels to alter the light's color.

    Carrying case -- A carrying case is used to safely store and transport lighting and other essential components. A light kit should be stored and transported in a well-organized case that is portable as well as reasonably lightweight.

    Gels -- Gels are the artistic tools of the trade. Every light kit should have color correction gels, diffusion gels, and neutral density gels for reducing the intensity of the light coming from your instruments and some deep color gels for use in adding color to the background or the surfaces of objects in the scene.

    Umbrella -- An umbrella can turn a small, intense reflector spot into a soft eye-pleasing light. When you shine the light through or bounce it off the umbrella, it spreads out the light and decreases its intensity.

    Softboxes -- A softbox, like an umbrella, can turn a small, intense spot into a large, soft light. A softbox produces a light that is more even and softer than an umbrella, making it ideal for lighting faces.

    Light Bulb Types
    Lighting for videos are available in four different types of bulbs and lamps.

    Incandescent -- The incandescent or tungsten bulb is just like the bulb in your living room lamp. It burns with a yellow/orange light. Lights with this type of bulb are inexpensive, have a short burn life, relatively low wattage, and don't produce bright light.

    Halogen -- The halogen or quartz lamp is the most prevalent light source used in video. This type of bulb burns hot and bright and comes in high wattages. The halogen is economical because it has a long burn life. However, it generates intense heat and uses much power.

    Fluorescent -- This tube has become widely used in the industry in recent years. This type of light emits little heat, uses significantly less power than incandescent or halogen and provides soft, even lighting.

    HMI -- The film and video industry uses HMI lights to create outdoor lighting on an indoor sound stage, or to supplement light outdoors. These lights are relatively expensive.

    Reflectors and Diffusers
    There are various tools that videographers can use to expand the lighting possibilities, including reflectors and diffusers. Reflectors and diffusers vary in size, shape and color -- depending on the needs of a videographer. Large reflectors or diffusers are more costly as well as more of a challenge to manage, especially when filming outdoors with gusty winds. Smaller reflectors and diffusers should be positioned closer to a subject than larger reflectors. You should consider how the shape would affect your ability to experiment with lighting. For example, round reflectors collapse for convenient storage and portability. In contrast, square reflectors are rigid, while rectangular reflectors and diffusers may offer more flexibility with lighting than round reflectors and diffusers.

    Reflectors come in white, silver and gold. A white reflector will reflect a diffused, pleasing white light. This kind of reflector functions nicely as a fill light. A silver reflector can create a sharper, brighter light. In contrast, a silver reflector is ideal for reflecting light from a lamp. Gold reflectors work well outdoors, reflecting sunlight quite effectively.

    George Furukawa is a freelance writer. His articles have appeared in national electronic, technical and photographic publications.

    Tags:  May 2005
    George
    Furukawa
    Sun, 05/01/2005 - 12:00am