If you're shooting video and need a way to alter the quality of your light sources, then making your own homemade light modifiers may be the perfect solution — especially if you're on a tight budget or pressed for time. Crafting your own light modifiers may seem like a daunting task at first, but there are ample resources available to help you get your project off the ground.:
Many productions prefer to use expensive and heavy lighting accessories for their production projects. Usually these projects have hefty budgets that can afford those quality light kits, but for the DIYer--budget is everything. High-tech, first-rate equipment may make production easier, but that doesn't mean quality is absent for the shoot with limited resources. If you absolutely need to cut costs, the DIY method is your best option. All it takes is a little rigging and the knowledge needed to light your subjects in a variety of situations.
Let the Source Be Your Resource
Your source of light is your resource. You can modify light to accommodate any situation or scenario, whether you're using indoor lighting, natural sunlight, fluorescent lighting or a household lamp. Homemade light modifiers, in addition to their economic benefits, come with the advantage of being custom-built to your needs.
Test your lighting to see what works best for your shooting conditions.
You can use a clamp light from a hardware store as your key light, and aluminum foil around the kitchen as your reflector. Parchment paper and foam boards are a good resource for diffusing or bouncing harsh light. When you determine the location and subject you will be shooting, test your lighting resources to see what works best for the conditions you're shooting in.
A common lighting challenge is finding ways of softening too-harsh light. This is done by diffusing the light with some kind of translucent material, like a white bed sheet or parchment paper. A bed sheet on a C-stand hung between the sun and you subject is a great DIY scrim for outdoor shoots. If you use a bed sheet with artificial light sources, make sure to place it away from the heat of the light source you are using — particularly if using tungsten fixtures. Never put flammable materials in front of a light source that you know will get hot. Clipping parchment paper to the light’s barn doors works as well. Just keep in mind the overall size you will need for the light to provide sufficiently soft and even light. Remember, the bigger you make your light source using diffusion material, the softer the light source will be.
Foam core is a key component in many DIY light modifiers. Not only is it inexpensive, but you can find it just about anywhere. For the DIYer, white foam core board, covered or not in aluminum foil, works as a great reflector. When working in low light, line the foam core with the dull side of the aluminum foil to improve reflection. They are extremely useful for just about any lighting situation. Instead of adding extra light sources, you can simply bounce light around using a foam core board.
You can use a black foam board and other matte black material to create what is known as a flag. Flagging helps you manage the spill of the light source and block the light when needed. You can use black foam core or cardboard to block any light you don't want on your subject or in your background, giving you more control over how the light falls in your scene. Secure your DIY flag to a C-stand or have someone hold it in the correct position for a simple way to control spill.
A cookie, or more formally a cucoloris, allows you to create light and shadow shapes projected onto a background. This creates an interesting pattern on the back from the shapes cut into the cookie and by placing the cookie in the direction of the light. To make your own, take out more of that trusty foam core board and get cutting. Create simple recognizable shapes like the classic venetian blinds, or get creative with more elaborate shadow-making.
A snoot is a tube that fits over a light fixture to guide the light in a directed area. This prevents the light spill from muddying up your shadows. Using a snoot gives you a much harder light, leading to more directional lighting and well-defined shadows. It gives your scene more contrast. You can make your own snoot with gaffer tape and foam paper. You can also use foil you’ve molded to the correct shape and spray-painted black — or just get a roll of black wrap, special foil designed specifically for gaffers.
Video producers are always coming up with inexpensive ways to produce quality results faster than technology can keep up. A good starting point depends on what you're shooting and where you plan to shoot. Just keep in mind, learning the craft of lighting is a gradual, step-by-step process, and one easily achieved by doing your homework, following your passion and getting out there and doing it.
Stephen Mandel Joseph is a published writer and journalist from NYC. He also writes screenplays and comic book scripts when he’s not freelancing. He has a passion for filmmaking and directing.