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The ability to control the amount, color, and quality of light can turn an ordinary scene into a masterpiece. That's why some of the best lighting is often done in a controlled environment like a studio. To help you get the most out of your studio lighting, we'll show you what factors to consider when placing lighting gear such as lamp type, fixture type and room dimensions so that your scenes can look just as good as they do in the movies.
The first factor to consider is what kind of lamp you want to use in your studio. The most common and inexpensive lamp you can get is the incandescent or quartz-halogen bulb. Of course that doesn't mean they're the best. In reality, quartz-halogen bulbs are the warmest lamp types on the market. They can easily raise the temperature in a studio by several degrees after having been on for only 10 minutes. They also use up an incredible amount of wattage for the amount of lumens they give and have a fairly short life span which means you'll have to replace them often. As a result, many lighting technicians have started to use fluorescent lighting. Though they're bit more expensive than quartz-halogen bulbs, they stay much cooler, have a softer light quality, and draw very little power. The only real drawback is that they don't have enough lumens to light distant objects well. However, many news stations and studios are beginning to use these lights due to their reasonable price and soft light quality. The last lamp type to consider is the LED. They are by far the most efficient light sources and unlike other lamps generate virtually no heat. The only real issue with LEDs is the odd shadow the panels cast due to their multi-light setup, and the extremely high price. Even so, energy-conscious places like the White House Press Room and high end news studios have been using LED fixtures to save significantly on bulb and energy costs.
Fixtures or housings also play a role in good studio lighting. Choosing the right fixture can give you the kind of control that makes studio lighting so great. One feature to look for in a fixture is a Fresnel lens. A Fresnel lens is a type of glass that bends light. It's usually paired with a movable lamp mount that allows you to easily narrow or broaden your beam of light. This allows you to choose how the light affects the scene. The narrow beam of light casts a strong light over longer distances while the wide beam of light falls off rather quickly. You should also consider whether or not the fixture has a removable plug-in. Especially if you plan to save some money by using your studio lights on the road, having a standard sized removable plug makes it easy to take down lights without having to undo all of your electrical wiring. It's also nice to have the ability to mount barn doors and colored gels to the light fixtures in a studio. This way, you'll be able to control both the color temperature of the light and where it falls in your frame. Light size is another factor to consider. Generally, the rule is the bigger the light source, the softer the light quality. Because of this, bigger light sources such as multi-bank fluorescent fixtures work great for green screen backgrounds since they help soften shadows. Much like broad lights though, soft lights have a shorter throw so you'll probably find that it's best to use them at closer distances. Finally, since your lights will be in a fixed studio setting, it's a good idea to make sure your fixtures have DMX outputs. These outputs will allow you to plug a 3 or 5 pin XLR cable from your fixture to a light board in order to control intensity. However, if your light fixtures don't have DMX outputs, you can still control the intensity of your lights by plugging them into a DMX relay or dimmer pack. These units will assign each plug a channel address which will allow you to dim your fixtures using a standard lighting board. By having this ability, you can save a lot of time and effort in setting up lights in your studio.
The best way to know which lights you'll need to adequately cover your studio is by drawing a lighting diagram. To make one yourself, start by measuring the dimensions of each part of your studio. Then draw both a bird's eye view of your studio using a computer program or graph paper. At this point, you'll want to determine how far away you want the camera from the back wall and how far the background or backdrop is from the front wall. Keep in mind you'll want enough room to for monitors, tripods, and other people so you won't want to place the camera too close to the back wall. () Next, draw symbols representing the camera and backdrop in your diagram. From here, calculate the distance from your backdrop to your camera and divide that number by 3. This is the distance your subject should be from the backdrop in order to get the shallowest depth of field when using a zoom lens. Your subject will need to be far enough from your background so that you can separate their lighting from the background's. If this is not the case, it's okay to move your subject a little closer to the camera. In addition, you can use another rule of thumb to find out where to put your background lighting truss. Simply divide the height of your backdrop by half. This will get your lights far enough from the screen to cover your entire backdrop with light. However, if the background is taller than 10 feet, you may have to use some lights on stands to cover the bottom of your backdrop. () If you're using a 3-point lighting setup, you'll want to place the back-light along with the background lights on this truss. Next, you'll want to set up at least one more truss about 4-8 feet away from where your subject will be. This truss will have the subject's key and fill light. Lastly, if your studio is fairly wide, you'll probably want to include several key and fill lights at 3-4 foot intervals in order to make your shots look great no matter where your subject moves.
As you can see, setting up a lighting grid is no easy task. However, by devoting a little time to understanding how these factors affect your studio, you'll be able to build a studio that saves you time and improve your shots as well.