Everyone has a shrinking budget, but you still have to come through. You need a decent video camera system, and you need nice camera supports with tripods, monopods and stabilizers. Perhaps you find yourself struggling with the last incarnation of your favorite camcorder, and it’s no longer sufficient because the need for high-def is creeping up. Perhaps your tripod is about to fall apart due to constant use. Maybe that old computer monitor is really in need of a trip to the electronic recycling bin. Or maybe you’re just starting out and it’s time to get serious about your gear, but you’re just a bit challenged by the economy. What’s a videographer to do?
Try a bit of DIY (Do-It-Yourself), with a dose of ingenuity (really smart thinking) mixed in for good measure, and you can become the master of your own future. All you need is a bit of confidence, a few tools and some basic knowledge of how to use them. You can become a genius at lighting kit photography. With some simple materials and the ingenuity that got you into video in the first place, you can invent almost anything. You can create your own lighting kit!
Before we begin, a word of caution: when engaging in lighting kit photography or designing any equipment, safety is of utmost importance. So it’s best to carefully inspect professionally-designed equipment and integrate those designs, as closely as possible, into your DIY projects. Remember, each 500-watt quartz shop light draws a lot of amps, and most household circuits are not designed for commercial applications, so exercise caution when using them.
Also note, we are building a simple quartz light only, LEDs, floursences and other complext lights are best left to the professionals.
Gather Your Lighting Kit Tools
Your foray into lighting kit photography will soon teach you to be realistic. Know that you probably can’t build your own video camera or LCD monitor, or possibly even a tripod. But you can build your own lights, light modifiers, light supports and most of the grip equipment that come with professional lighting kits. There are a few pieces of equipment in every lighting kit that will save you hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars, and are readily available online from professional video outlets. One is the Manfrotto Rapid Adapter (catalog #014-14) (Fig. 01). It allows you to mount literally anything to a standard 5/8″ light stand stud. It’s important that all your DIY projects mount to industry-standard sizes, so you can interchange things as you grow, and this baby will get you there in a hurry! Don’t try to make this adapter yourself, because it would take too long and you can’t be sure exactly how strong it is.
Now that you have a reliable and, most importantly, safe system for attaching your creations to stands, you can concentrate on building your creations. Let’s start with the obvious: those quartz shop lights you see at all box stores. They come packaged by themselves or in a kit with a nifty colorful stand, and they are well-made, reliable, safe and – my personal favorite – cheap (or I should say inexpensive) lights to work with (Fig. 02).
Standard professional light kits are designed to mount on industry-standard 5/8″ light stands and can attach light modifiers such as barn doors, gels, soft boxes and the like. Your shop lights have a different size mount-screw and can’t attach modifiers. It doesn’t matter if you bought a shop light kit with two lights and one stand or the single light with a big stand or a light with a little floor stand, you won’t be able to mount them on a 5/8″ light stand or mount barn doors, gels, umbrellas or pretty much anything else, for that matter. But with a few little mods as shown in these pictures, you can attach lighting gels, barn doors and umbrellas to your lights. Now your lighting kit is looking good!
Strap on Your Toolbelt
As you can see in the photos, we have attached the 5/8″ Rapid Adapter by drilling a small hole on the original mounting bracket that came on the light (Fig. 03). This allows you to easily mount it to a “real” light stand.
Now we need a system for mounting barn doors. We removed the supplied protective frame and glass plate and drilled eight 1/4″ holes in the frame (Fig. 04). Into these holes we put eight eye-bolts, which will mount the barn doors. The nuts for this application are the nylon locking type, which allow us to gently tighten each one. This creates some friction, which keeps the doors open at the desired angle. We fashioned the barn doors from aluminum flashing (Fig. 05) by simply cutting out the shapes with heavy-duty scissors and drilling the holes (Fig. 06 and 07). A little flat black spray paint, and everything looks professional (Fig. 08).
Next we tackled the umbrella mount, which is just a small electrical part from the hardware store (Fig. 09). Once we discarded the part we didn’t need, we were left with the parts shown (Fig. 10). It already has a 1/4 20 thread, so the little thumbscrew, also from the hardware store, fits with no mods! As you can see (Fig. 11), the umbrella is securely fastened to the light fixture and looks professional.
It’s important that all your DIYs are reliable, work flawlessly and look finished and professional, because it’s your reputation on the line. I have no hesitation telling clients that I make some of my grip equipment, and I enjoy showing off the better designs. By the same token, if anything is flimsy or silly-looking, it may compromise your reputation, especially if it fails during a shoot. I use the most top-notch equipment I can afford. Commercially produced products have gone through years of research and development and there are many features they offer the specialists.
What good is a nice, cost-effective light kit without equally nice sandbags? I know what you’re thinking: “sandbags – that’s pretty basic,” and you’d be right. But, if you work alone and you are like me, obsessed with safety, then sandbags are an absolute necessity. So here is a nice system for creating your own sandbags in a cost-effective way. This system has some flexibility that many OEM sandbags can’t offer. The problem with sandbags is that the better they are, the worse they become, in that they are heavy and cumbersome and pretty much a pain in the neck! But once deployed, they provide you with invaluable peace of mind. As you can see in the picture (Fig. 12), I have taken some standard heavy-duty ballistic nylon tool bags and filled them with chains – tire chains to be exact, ones frequently found used online or at yard sales. However, the beauty of this system is that you can carry several of these bags in your kit without all that weight. That’s right. Just don’t fill them until you get on location. Suppose you are on shoot, the wind kicks up and you suddenly realize you don’t have enough sandbags. Just dig through your kit and get out the empty bags, fill them with tire chains, rocks or what ever else you can find at your location, and you’re back in business, with every stand on the set bagged and sturdy as can be!
As you can see by these simple examples, you don’t have to become a slave to the high cost of equipment. Just a few well-spent hours and a trip to the hardware store can save you hundreds of dollars that can be spent on other stuff, like better camcorders and faster computers.
As with any do-it-yourself project, unfamiliarity with the tools and process can be dangerous. This story should be construed as theoretical advice. Videomaker, its editors and authors will not be held responsible for any injury due to the misuse or misunderstanding of any DIY project Videomaker publishes. This story cannot be construed as formal advice, Videomaker will not be held liable in any instance of an action resulting from this story, and Videomaker assumes all our readers will exercise good common sense. This disclaimer assigns the readers all responsibility for their own decisions.
Terry O’Rourke specializes in retail advertising photography and videography for clients worldwide.