Camera! Action! Wait. Something’s missing. What happened to the lights? You see, just like the famous "Lights! Camera! Action!" we hear reverberated by directors in studios across the land, your production needs lights to make it complete. Proper lighting can give your images depth and dimension, help fill in harsh shadows, brighten colors and even create a special style or mood. Whether you’re just starting out and need a simple, on-camera light to enhance your videos, or you’re a veteran in need of a full-blown lighting system, this article will show you the equipment you need to light it right.
From inexpensive on-camera lights to costly lighting systems with all of the amenities, we’re sure to cover something here to fit your experience level–and your wallet. Let’s look at equipment for these four levels of video producers: the casual user, the serious amateur, the entry-level professional and the serious pro.
Lighting 101–The Casual User
For the beginning hobbyist, spending a fortune on expensive lighting configurations is neither necessary nor practical. There are a variety of simple options that will quench the beginner’s lighting needs without leaving behind a thirsty pocketbook.
On-camera lights, like the Mite-Lite by NRG Research, Inc. start at just $100. This pocket-sized light weighs in at just 5.7 ounces, with quartz bulbs available in 20, 30 or 35 watts. Quality-minded consumers might also consider NRG’s Versalite AC/DC light. This light package runs $130 and is ideal for mid-to full-sized camcorders. The Versalite package comes complete with the Versalite, dispersion grid, 150-watt AC lamp, cigarette lighter plug adapter, on-camera/stand mount and a comprehensive instruction manual.
Bogen Photo Corporation’s Reflecta Mini NC-20 ($99) is battery operated, and has a 20-watt quartz-halogen lamp that lights subjects to about 10 feet for 20 minutes per charge. Frezzi Energy Systems offers a wide array of lighting set-ups for the beginner and advanced videographer. The Frezzi Mini-Fill is a compact professional light designed to accept 20- to 100-watt bulbs. It measures in at 2 inches by 4.25 inches, with a fighting weight of just 12 ounces. The Mini-Fill runs from any 12- to 14.4- or 30-volt battery and is designed for all on-camera applications.
While reflectors are standard light-control devices for all experience levels, they are especially useful for the beginner who doesn’t have an endless supply of money.
Bogen’s Bo-Flex reflectors are collapsible light-control reflectors. They are available in a wide assortment of materials, and come in either round or rectangular shapes. Round Bo-Flex reflectors start at $22 for the 12-inch size and range from $89 to $178 for the 50-inch models. Rectangular types come two ways: 40-inch-by-30-inch with a price range of $59 to $124, or 54-inch-by 28-inch, which range in price from $78 to $178. All models fold to approximately one-third of their full size.
A Little More Light, Please
If you’re a serious amateur videographer-the type who has the means and the desire to spend a few hundred dollars on your hobby–you’re probably ready to get a little more creative with your lighting. This can be done relatively inexpensively; expect to pay anywhere between $150 to $450 for a lighting set-up that’ll allow you added versatility. Detachable lights, flood lights, light stands and gel filters are common additions to the serious amateur’s lighting set-up.
Lowel-Light’s Fren-L 650 Fresnel light with barndoors sells for $450, and is capable of accepting 650-, 500-, and 300-watt lamps. It comes complete with a double-wall convection cooling system, oversized swing-down handle, single-yoke design for maximum tilting capabilities, and a 7:1 focusing range. Bogen’s Reflecta 3005 sells for $92 ($116 with adjustable four-way barndoors), and lights subjects to about 16 feet away. The light features a 300-watt AC-powered quartz lamp, a threaded handgrip and camera shoe, and accepts an optional Dichroic Filter for daylight color balance. Another option is Arrilite’s 1000-watt Mini-Flood with integral barn door ($240), which comes with a 25-foot cord with inline switch, and offers videographers even more lighting versatility.
Light stands allow videographers extra flexibility in the videomaking process. Bogen offers an extensive selection of stands ranging in size and price. Their 8-foot Compact Stand ($68) weighs in at just 2 pounds, 8 oz., and is a popular choice for portable strobe and quartz halogen lighting. For heftier needs, their three-section, 13-foot Master Stand ($114) might fit the bill.
Gel filters offer videographers an inexpensive way to diffuse or balance light, or even add color. NRG Research offers a Diffusion Pack consisting of light, medium and heavy diffusion filters for $24.95. For the same price, a color effects pack is available, and is comprised of red, yellow, blue, green, orange and rose-purple filters. A Daylight Balancing Pack is also available, and consists of two Blue 50 filters that actually balance 3200K (degrees) to daylight, and two Tough Booster Blue filters, which add 400K (degrees).
The Entry-Level Pro
If you’re a videographer who’s just starting to venture out into the paid market, you may want to consider adding more specialized lighting paraphernalia to your collection. By adding some of the items in this section to your arsenal, you’ll be more prepared to handle a wider variety of situations. From all-inclusive lighting kits to umbrellas, lightbanks and soft lights, there’s plenty to be had at this level of production.
Lighting kits help take the guesswork out of shopping by combining lighting essentials into one simple package. These kits range in price, starting at around $400 for the basics up to thousands of dollars for professional lighting kits that claim to "have it all."
NRG Resources’ Quartz-Halogen light kits include two or three 600-watt quartz-halogen lamps, quartz light heads, focusing quartz light heads, 8-foot tip-resistant light stands, a hard carrying case and instruction manual. These kits are designed for stage, theater or industrial applications, and range in price from $400 to $640.
Smith-Victor’s Alumina lighting-kit line includes two photoflood and two quartz kits, ranging in price from $299 to $595. The tungsten photoflood kits (the 2-light K85 and the 3-light K86), feature the A80 Ultra Cool light, and are useful as main or fill lights. The quartz light kits come with 600-watt lights that give 100-degree coverage. All kits include the Light Cart case and aluminum stands that extend to 8-feet.
Umbrellas provide videographers with an easy way to smooth and soften harsh light at a reasonable price. NRG Resources offers a number of umbrellas, ranging in size from 23 inches ($30) to 40 inches ($50). Smith-Victor sells white and silver umbrellas in 38-inch or 48-inch sizes, ranging in price from $25.25 to $36.75.
For more control over your lighting, consider a lightbank, a quick and easy way to shine soft, directional light on a subject. Chimera manufactures over 12 styles of lightbank with up to five sizes in a single style. Their Video PRO Bank series comes in extra small, small, medium and large, and ranges in price from $150 for the extra small version to $625 for the large.
Softboxes also offer videographers a great way to deliver natural, inoffensive light. These soft "pouches" slip over the light source and work as a diffuser. NRG sells the Chimera Softbox diffuser, especially designed for the NRG Versalite, Versalite Professional or Varalite, for $140.
Serious Professionals Only
Chances are good that if you’re willing to spend $700-plus on a lighting set-up, you’re a video pro who knows what you need. You probably need a complete array of equipment, ranging from the most basic on-camera lights to more fancy lighting paraphernalia like deluxe lighting kits.
The serious professional might consider Arrilite’s 650/3 Compact Kit ($1610). This kit includes three Arrilite 650s, three four-leaf barndoors, two 7 1/4-inch full scrims, two 7 1/4-inch half scrims, three stands, three 650-watt 3200-degree K 100-hour lamps and a carrying case.
A combination of lighting equipment, from lightbanks, flood lights, scrims and umbrellas, to gels, reflectors and stands of varying sizes make up the serious pro’s inventory. Pro or beginner, though–evaluate your needs, and plan your purchases accordingly.
Time To Reflect
From on-camera lights to full-blown lighting set-ups and everything in-between, videographers of all skill levels are sure to find essential lighting equipment at prices they can afford.
As mentioned earlier, proper lighting can enhance your video production, and make your subjects shine. Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to one light source, or that a simple on-camera light will fit all of your illumination needs. Once you’ve mastered the basics of on-camera lights and reflectors, experiment. A combination of studio and on-camera lighting will help you get the most out of your light coverage.
Alice Greany is a freelance writer, editor and frequent contributor to Videomaker.
Lighting Equipment Manufacturers
This list is only a sampling. It is not intended to be comprehensive.
One Controls Drive
Shelton, CT 06484
617 Route 303
Blauvelt, NY 10913-9985
4347 Cranwood Parkway
Cleveland, OH 44128
1600 Lower Road
Linden, NJ 07036
Bogen Photo Corp.
565 E. Crescent Ave.
Ramsey, NJ 07446-0506
Cam Gear/Jasco Products Co.
3111 N.W. 122nd St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73114
630 E. 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10036
Frezzi Energy Systems/Frezzolini Electronics
7 Valley Street
Hawthorne, NJ 07506
Hahnel USA [art: umlat over first a]
N 7653 650th St.
Beldenville, WI 54003
140 58th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11220-2515
840 Rogue River Hwy., Bldg.#144
Grant Pass, OR 97527
333 Encinal St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060-2132
Smith Victor Corp.
301 North Colfax St.
Griffith, IN 46319
7202 W. Hudson River Drive
Dexter, MI 48130-1099