With the growing number of videographers, it can be difficult to set yourself apart. One way to stand out is by using of professional video lighting equipment.
In today's world of affordable camcorders, editing systems and internet video sharing, there are countless ways to create a video that people will watch. However, with the growing number of do-it-yourself filmmakers, it can seem difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd. One of the easiest ways to make your video stand out is proper lighting.
There are many ways you might try to combat low-light situations, such as adjusting the aperture on your camera or filming in locations that don't require extra lighting. Unfortunately, these solutions can be limiting and often fall short of your lighting needs. Proper lighting will not only give you saturated colors, but will also help create depth of field, resulting in a final picture that is worth a second look.
A Pretty Penny for Pretty Lights
Determining your lighting needs can be frustrating, due to the wide variety of equipment and costs. Keep your budget and your lighting needs in mind. This will help narrow your choices and make for an easier decision. If you find that your lighting needs don't fit into your budget, purchase a general light that will be versatile. You can always supplement it as your budget allows. If your budget allows for more lights, a lighting kit may be a good place to start.
The Lighting Kit: Your One-Stop Shop
Buying a lighting kit is like walking into an ice cream shop and ordering a three-scoop sundae. The possibilities are endless, leaving you with one question: What's going to hit the spot?
There are several things to take into consideration when purchasing a lighting kit. Portability is important if you plan on moving the lights to and from locations. Some kits include a case to house your lights, cables and accessories. Cases that are equipped with wheels are an added bonus, since wheels will allow you to roll your lights around effortlessly.
A lighting kit wouldn't be complete without stands and accessories. Stands allow you to place your lights at the desired height. If you purchase stands that are too short, your lighting possibilities will be limited. In addition to height, sturdiness is another important factor to consider. You want a stand that will support the weight of your light plus the extra weight of accessories, without the risk of falling over.
Most importantly, the lighting kit you purchase should be flexible, to meet your various needs. Since every lighting situation can be different, having a flexible kit will allow you work around any obstacle.
Cue the Lights!
Whether you're buying one light, several lights or a kit, you'll eventually have to decide what kind of bulb you want to purchase.
Incandescent: Incandescent bulbs are much like the common household bulb. The heating of a tungsten filament creates the light. This results in a warmer color temperature than daylight. Incandescent bulbs are less expensive than other bulbs, but they don't create a lot of light, and you need to replace them frequently.
Halogen: Halogen bulbs are similar to incandescent bulbs, but with the addition of halogen gas. The added gas allows for a brighter-burning light and an extended lifespan. The color temperature is closer to daylight than non-halogen incandescent bulbs, but you will still need gels when mixing them with cooler light sources. While they are inexpensive, they create a lot of heat and use more power.
Fluorescent: When thinking of fluorescent lighting, it's hard not to imagine the sickly green hue of a doctor's office. Fortunately, the engineering of the bulbs listed in our Buyers Guide enables them to match the color temperatures of daylight or tungsten bulbs, depending on what you purchase. They cast a soft light, use less power and don't heat up like incandescent bulbs. Fluorescents are great for general lighting and interviews, but, if it's drama you want, you should consider a different bulb.
Hydrargyrum Medium-Arc Iodide (HMI): HMIs are a modern version of the arc light. They output a high level of light at the same color temperature as the sun, while staying surprisingly cool. However, HMIs are expensive, and they use a lot of power, which will add to the overall cost.
What Can Lights Do for You?
Spot/Flood Adjustable: Lights with this feature allow you to switch between a focused beam of light and broad beam of light with just a twist of a knob.
Fresnel (Fra-NEL): The Fresnel lens was invented in order to increase the reach of lighthouse signals. Over the years, the Fresnel lens has been adapted for smaller lights with the same purpose: to make a little light go a long way. What makes these lenses unique is their stepped appearance. The circular ridges focus the light beam, creating a greater throw. Fresnel lamps are spot/flood adjustable.
Bare Bulb: Rather than using a lens to concentrate the light, a bare bulb uses a reflector. The open-faced light source has a nonadjustable floodlight appearance, but it will allow the bulb to shine without losing any of its intensity.
To Bank or Not to Bank?
A single fluorescent tube is great for lighting small spaces, such as car interiors and elevators. However, a single tube isn't going to do much in terms of lighting an entire set. Due to their low-light output, fluorescent tubes are a great example of when to invest in a bank fixture.
Bank fixtures come in an assortment of sizes, a four-bank being the most common. Housing multiple tubes in one unit allows your fluorescent lights to pack a little more punch while keeping that soft, diffused look. Although the larger banks are versatile and lightweight, they are larger, which makes them hard to squeeze into those tight spaces.
The Necessity of Accessories
Lighting accessories make adjustments to your lights. These minor adjustments can make your lights more versatile and better suited for your lighting needs.
Barndoors: Barndoors mount on the front of your light to help control the spill. Their hinged flaps allow you to adjust them to mask areas you don't want illuminated.
Scrims: Scrims, made of a screen-like material, are used for controlling the output of light. The woven steel dims the light without creating a diffused look or affecting the color temperature. Scrims are available in an assortment of styles and densities.
Gels: A gel is a polyester sheet that is placed in front of the light in order to alter the color temperature, diffusion or density. They also allow you to add a splash of color to your plain backgrounds.
Umbrellas: Umbrellas allow you to diffuse and soften light. They work by bouncing the light from your source onto your subject. They require little setup, and they collapse for easy transportation and storage.
Softbox: A softbox is another great way to diffuse and soften almost any light. This box-like enclosure fits over fluorescent, halogen and tungsten bulbs, while allowing the light to shine through. The result is a soft, even light void of hot spots.
With so many lighting choices to make, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Try to keep in mind that buying lights is an exciting endeavor. With a bit of research and this Buyer's Guide in hand, you'll surely be on your way to saying, "Lights! Camera! Action!"
Julie Babcock has worked in all areas of video production.
Click here to download a PDF Manufacturer's list of Videomaker's Video Lighting Equipment Buyer's Guide 2009.
Side Bar: Two Lights or Three?
A three-light setup is the basic lighting setup in film and video. The key light will light your subject. The fill light will help lighten the shadows that the key creates. The back light adds a subtle glow to your subject's shoulder or hair, which will distinguish your subject from the background. If you find yourself one bulb shy of a three-light setup, try using the first light as your key. You can use the second light as either a fill or a back light.