Assemble your lighting kit smartly and concisely, and you’ll be ready for unforeseen on-location light glitches.All great artists have their bags of tricks. Painters have favorite brushes and special tools, carpenters have their belts filled to the brink with tools of the trade and sculptors surround themselves with all kinds of chisels and mallets. If you ever have the opportunity to visit a Hollywood location or other professional video or film set, watch the lighting designer. You will notice a giant tool kit full of accessories needed to create the lighting for any situation. While your kit does not have to be as large, videographers should have a set of tools to help make their lighting experiences fun and creative. In this column, we will look at which tools and accessories you might put in your lighting toolbox. We’ll also discuss ways you can use these special tools and materials to make your lighting setups creatively effective.
When building a lighting kit, you should make sure you have tools and materials to control the color and quality of the light you plan to use. Gels that correct color, decrease light intensity, diffuse light and control the spread of the light beam are all useful materials for any lighting kit (see Gels sidebar). You should lay in a good supply of CTO (color temperature orange), and CTB (color temperature blue) for color correction and diffusion gels for spreading the light beam to turn a small, hard light source into a larger, softer source. A set of neutral-density gels of various thicknesses is helpful if you need to decrease the intensity of exterior light or need to reduce the brightness of a lighting instrument. A roll of tough spun diffusion material is useful in diapering lighting instruments. To diaper a light, attach the tough spun to the front of the light, using clothespins to hold it in place. This will diffuse the light beam and create a softer light. If you want to diffuse the light in specific directions, various directional silk gels are available that spread the light beam side-to-side instead of uniformly all over. This is helpful if you need to spread the light over a wide area, yet don’t want much spill above or below your subject.
To control the fall of the light beam, you will also need some flags and gobos and perhaps some "cookies." A flag is an opaque black piece of material placed in front of a light to block part of the light spill. If you want a shadow cast to a specific shape, you need to create a gobo. This set piece is usually in the shape of a door, window frame or a set of blinds. To create fancier patterns like tree-leaf shadows, clouds and other shapes, you need to make a cookie. To do this, you need to add some flat pieces of thin, flexible aluminum to your tool kit. By cutting them into certain shapes, they will cast the desired patterned shadows when placed in front of lighting instruments.
To control the light further, you need a set of reflective materials. For soft, diffused light, such as a fill light, purchase some white posterboard or foam core. For hard reflectors, you can use a mirror or pieces of aluminum foil. To create a warmer feel, use a gold-colored reflector. A "space blanket," a thin metallic survival blanket with a silver side and a gold side, makes an excellent diffused reflector. Those reflective sun shields that you place behind your car windshield also make great reflectors. Many of them fold into a couple of small circles. They are lightweight, take very little space and create a soft, diffused reflected light.
Those who work with lighting equipment know that at some point in their career they will have to repair an instrument, rewire something or deal with unforeseen electronic matters. Your lighting kit should include a pair of wire clippers, electrical tape, small wire nuts, a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers and some extra wire, preferably of the same gauge as the wire in your equipment. The reason for this set of equipment is simple: wires can become worn or cut and connections may be loosened or pulled out altogether.
If a wire becomes frayed or broken, you should repair it immediately. Unplug the light and cut the broken or frayed wire with your wire clippers. Carefully trim back about a half-inch of insulation from both sides of the break. Twist the two ends around each other, making sure that the two ends of the wire have a solid contact. Wrap electrical tape around the twisted wire starting with the tip and moving towards the insulated wire. Fold over the newly taped tips and firmly tape the folded-over tip to the insulated wire, covering all exposed wire. If you repair one side of a pair of wires, tape the newly repaired wire to the unbroken piece. Loop the unbroken wire to make it the same length as the repaired wire and tape them securely together.
If you need to replace switches or plugs, write down what color of wire is connected to which terminal on the switch or plug. Then, when you replace them, it’s easier to determine which wire goes where. To make certain the repair works, firmly screw the terminals down with the wire wrapping in the direction the screws turn. That way, as you screw down the terminals, the wires wrap tighter around the terminal posts.
Often, electrical repairs are easy as long as you follow a few simple rules. Unplug anything you plan to repair, and make sure that any wires you work on are solid, secure and well insulated. Remember the placement of all the screws you take out of your lighting instruments or connectors, and firmly replace them. As long as you observe these rules and respect electricity, you will have no problems keeping your sets lit and your lighting instruments in good repair.
Completing the Kit
To complete your lighting kit, you will need a few other accessories. Gaffer’s tape may be the accessory you reach for most often. This specialized tape was designed to stick to walls without peeling off the paint. It also sticks to itself extremely well and, unlike duct tape, it seldom leaves nasty gunk all over your cords.
Gaffer’s tape is useful for taping down lighting cables to keep them out of harm’s way and hanging lightweight lighting equipment. You can also use it to attach bounce cards or flags to light stands and repair anything and everything that just needs to stick together for awhile.
Gaffer’s tape will not, however, deal well with water (it just won’t stick) and extreme heat (it will melt the sticky back and make a real mess).
Other things to consider for your lighting kit include spare heavyweight extension cords, a six-socket power strip and ground-to-two-prong adapters. Also, consider a screw-in light socket with a grounded plug adapter to supply an extra place to plug in, extra lamps for all of your lights and a variety of clamps and hangers to help mount your lights as needed (see Mounting Accessories sidebar).
Lighting is one of the most challenging and exciting aspects of video production. With the proper tools and accessories at your fingertips, you can make all of your lighting experiences more enjoyable and hopefully, more successful, too.