If you’ve been asking yourself if your next lighting purchase should be tungsten, color-balanced fluorescent, or LED, you’re not alone. Most video producers are struggling with these same questions.
Ready for some good news? There’s a whole class of lighting equipment you can buy with great confidence knowing that it really doesn’t matter which kind of lights you end up buying! We're talking about lighting accessories such as reflectors, diffusers, and color correcting gels. These classic lighting tools work the same no matter what type of gear you use them with. These often modestly-priced accessories allow you to direct, shape, and control your light and are always a great option for expanding your lighting inventory.
When assembling your accessories kit, reflectors are a great place to start. A reflector takes light coming from one direction and re-directs it to another. If one side of the talent’s face is too shadowy, a well-placed reflector can effectively brighten it up.
Simple white foam core boards can be a great budget solution, but they aren't very durable or flexible — so a more lasting solution would be something like the Lastolight Bottletop collapsible 5-in-1 30-inch circular reflector ($84) which provides a rugged 30” diameter frame with extra swappable coverings to allow you to reflect from silver, gold, or white surfaces — and includes a diffusing fabric option.
Another popular approach to bounce light are the frame-and-fabric systems like the 42-inch x 72-inch Scrim Jim Kit from F.J. Westcott at $336. It ships with a silver/white reversible fabric and a ¾-stop diffusion fabric included. It combines a quick assemble aluminum frame with hook tape fabric panels allowing you to use the same frame with dozens of optional panels for flexibility.
The larger the surface, the more light you can reflect, but increasing the area of a flat unit like these will rapidly make them more cumbersome to transport, rig and manipulate, so with reflectors you need to balance size and portability.
Similar to reflectors, diffusers come in the same popular forms – but instead of reflecting the light they’re designed to pass through much of the incoming light while simultaneously softening and spreading it out over a larger surface area.
A large square or round fabric diffuser - flown over a talent in the harsh outside sun - lowers contrast and lets you achieve a much more pleasing exposure. Indoors, you can combine the same fabric diffuser with a bright light source to spread soft light over a large interior area. High-efficiency LED light units like the LEDZ Brute 9 ($1,660) combined with a stand-mounted diffuser fabric panel let you rapidly rig a large soft source - then move outside and use the same light without the diffusion panel to brighten the features of a talent that might be positioned outdoors in the shade.
A scrim is a special kind of light-control device. Its job is to cut the amount of light that passes through it without overly changing the shape or quality of that light. Large fabric scrims called “nets” are commonly used outdoors and placed behind talent to lower the level of a bright background to allow a more pleasing exposure between the talent and background scene.
The F.J. Westcott Co. sells both large frame outdoor scrims as well as the more personal-sized options such as the Fast Flag Scrim Kit with two collapsible 24-inch x 36-inch frames, single black net, double black net, 2-stop silk, and black block fabric, the kit costs $252. Fabric like the black block are often carefully inserted partially between a bright key light and the subject to reduce the light's brightness on silver or blond hair, or to lessen lighting hot spots on a forehead or bare shoulder.
The term “scrim” also applies to a form of wire mesh inserts often attached to the front of focusable lights to cut down on the intensity of the light without affecting the users' ability to shape the beam. Circular scrims, used in conjunction with barn doors are common on Fresnel-lensed light.
If you already own a lighting kit, you can check to see if scrims might be available as an affordable add-on. The Cinemills website (www.cinemills.com) has a wide array of metal scrims available in sizes from three inches up to 29 inches in diameter, suitable for many location sets.
Gels are the colored or textured plastic sheets used to correct or filter lights. Gels from GAM, Rosco and Lee Filters are made to precision recipes with careful attention to color and light transmission properties. If you have a room with both a tungsten lamp and a daylight window, there’s a gel color available to precisely match the color temperature of one to the other. The Rosco Laboratories CalColor kit runs about $50 and includes 33 10x12 gels covering typical color correction and color effects. It’s a great way to start to learn about these critical lighting accessories.
Gels aren’t always for color correction and there is a host of gels designed for diffusion, as well like the popular LEE 216 and 250, and Rosco's Tough Frost line. These are placed in a gel holder or just clipped on the front of the light, adding diffusion at the source.
In fact, by employing a frame-and-gel approach you can take a super-bright instrument like the ultra-rugged Sumo100 LED - ($3,195) and add a custom color, and larger surface output via gels so that one powerful fixture can be suitable for more specialized jobs.
Umbrellas are another common form of reflectors and diffusers that have migrated into the world of video from their popularity in the still photography arena. They have the advantage of being super-portable and extremely affordable with options like the Lowel Tota-brella T1-25 - ($34).
Umbrellas are available in a variety of finishes for harder or softer bounce, and like reflectors can often be found in “warm gold” versions that can add a touch of healthy glow to a pale subject. Matching a reflective umbrella with a Lowel Tota-light T1-10 would give you a very diffused light source for raising the overall light level of an office or other small room – all in a convenient and travel-friendly package.Accessory Mounts
No matter what kind of light-controlling reflectors or scrims you use, you need to mount them properly. This is the realm of grip gear. You’ll want stands and the specialized accessory holding tools that make for safe positioning and lighting accessory use.
A great place to start your grip collection is with a solid stand like the classic Matthews 40-inch Sliding Leg C-stand ($187) from Matthews Studio Equipment. It includes a grip head and arm combination and provides a basic, flexible light and accessory stand that will last your entire career.
A good practice is that every time you add a device to your shooting rig - be it an audio recorder, monitor, microphone or a new light - spend some time researching mounts that will let you position it properly and securely. The major video catalogs from B&H, Filmtools, Full Compass, Markertek and others are full of clamps, arms, platforms, and other specialized holders and it’s fun to spend an afternoon paging through them to see if you can locate the perfect mounting solutions for your lighting accessory.
Odds and Ends
But don’t just look for commercial solutions, grip gear is an area where the DIY spirit thrives. For example, lots of great accessory mounting solutions can be found at your local home improvement center. Spring clamps (many for $1-$2) and clothespins (typically found in packs of 50 for about 2-5 bucks)– are both tremendously useful for affixing gels to lights and clipping power cords out of the way on sets.
Finally, don’t forget to order some quality gaffer's tape ($10-$30 a roll). It’s the ultimate on-set necessity that solves a thousand unforeseen problems.
Change is Constant
Lighting instruments are changing as new light producing technologies are developed. But reflectors, filters and grip accessories are investments that will usually last you a lifetime. Technology changes everything - and nowhere is that more apparent than in modern lighting controls where we have new tools and resources. Some of the techniques we use to manage and control light remain the same, but some will change. Because the thing about change is that it is constant - and that it can't be stopped.
Bill Davis writes, shoots, edits, and does voice-over work for a variety of corporate and industrial clients.