Light Source: Light Choice

Did you ever go to an art store and look at all of the different types of paint brushes and pallet knives? There are brushes for every conceivable style of painting, each with its own abilities and uses. A videographer has the same choices when it comes to lighting. There are lights that throw strong, hard shadows, lights to add a twinkle to the talent’s eye, lights for illuminating huge areas and lights to soften your talent’s face. In this column, we will look at the various types of lights available to the videographers as well as the types of lamps that go into the lighting instruments. We will also look at real-life situation uses for these lights.

Light Bulbs

If you talk to any professionals in the lighting business, they will probably not respond warmly if you ask them what kind of bulbs they use. A light bulb is something you screw into a socket in the living room; in production lighting, the light bulb is called a lamp. The lighting fixture that you put the lamp into is an instrument. There are many different styles of lamps. Specific lighting requirements establish the type of instrument you use, which in turn determines the kind of lamp you use. There are basically four types of lamps: incandescent, quartz-halogen, high-speed fluorescent (HSF) and HMI.

The light bulb you put in your living room lamp is an incandescent lamp. This lamp has a tungsten filament suspended in a vacuum. As the lamp burns, the tungsten slowly burns off until the lamp dies. This type of lamp also gives off a great deal of heat. Color is also a problem. The color temperature for this type of lamp is around 2,800 degrees Kelvin and that gives it a yellow/orange color. As the lamp burns, its color temperature reduces making it even more of a problem. Chances are, if you use incandescent lamps, your video will have an orange cast.

The quartz-halogen or quartz-tungsten lamp is the industry standard for indoor video lighting. This type of lamp has a tungsten filament suspended in halogen gas and encased within a quartz glass tube or bulb. The halogen gas helps redeposit the tungsten that has burned off the filament, thus giving the lamp a longer life span. These lamps have color temperatures of 3,200 Kelvin, which is the setting most cameras use for indoor lighting. This color temperature, unlike the incandescent lamp, is consistent for the life of the lamp. It also gives off less heat than the incandescent (although both are very hot when in use). These types of lamps come in many shapes and sizes with a variety of connectors. Your lighting instrument should have a plate on it that lists the type of lamps it uses and the various wattages available.

One of the newest types of lamps on the video scene is the high-speed fluorescent (HSF). In the past, fluorescent lamps were not of much use for television because their color temperature leaned towards the green and blue-green part of the spectrum. It was and still is a good idea to turn off the fluorescent lights in an office and light the scene with quartz lamps. The new HSF lamps have a consistent color temperature of either 3,200 Kelvin for indoor shooting or 5,600 Kelvin for supplementing outdoor light. This type of lamp has a number of advantages over quartz lamps. Fluorescent lamps use very little energy because they involve phosphors in a chemical reaction. Since they don’t use a lot of energy, they last longer. An HSF lasts about 10,000 hours compared to the 400 hours for a quartz lamp. It also gives off very little heat, so your crew and talent won’t feel like they are all getting suntans.

The final type of lamp is the HMI. This lamp has a color temperature of 5,500 Kelvin, which gives it the blueish color of outdoor light. It is mostly used to supplement outdoor light or in the studio to mimic the color of outdoor light. An HMI lamp requires a ballast unit, which is a high-energy power supply. The ballast enables the lamp to provide a consistent, flicker-free light. While this lamp is great for supplementing or simulating outdoor light, it is very expensive and usually out of the budget range for most videographers.


Video directors have a large number of lighting instruments from which to choose. These instruments range from the variable focus Fresnel to a large, soft light.

A Fresnel is a variable-focus spotlight that shines its light through a step lens. This lens helps focus the light forward and dissipate the heat of the lamp. The lamp itself sits in front of a silver reflector. To change the intensity and spread of the light, you can move the lamp and its reflector forward and back, usually with a dial on the side or back of the instrument. When the lamp is all the way back, the light focuses on a tight, intense spot. When you move the lamp and its reflector to the front of the instrument, the light spreads out and becomes less intense. Fresnels comes in a variety of sizes from little 3-inch spots to very large 29-inch Fresnel instruments used in films. They are primarily used as a key or back light, although you can use them for any type of light you need, with some help from diffusers and reflectors.

There are also lighting instruments that do not have a lens on the front. These instruments work on the same principle as the Fresnels in that they have a lamp with a round reflector behind it that moves back and forth. These instruments are called reflector spots. This type of lighting instrument is very popular because it weighs less without the heavy glass lens and is a lot less expensive. Lowel lighting makes a reflector spot called an Omni that is very lightweight and versatile. You can use this type of lighting instrument, as with the Fresnel, to handle any of your lighting needs. Because it can adjust from a tight spot to a wide flood, it is ideal for use in three-point lighting setups. Keep in mind, the Fresnel and the reflector spot are hard-edged lights. They must be diffused to produce a softer light.

The pan light is another instrument found in a videographer’s arsenal. This instrument consists of a tubular quartz lamp fixed over a flat reflector. Each side has reflector wings that can open and close to increase or decrease the size of the light. Because these lights are not extremely easy to control, they are primarily used for lighting sets and back or fill lights in a three-point lighting setup.

A scoop is a half globe reflector with a fixed lamp. These lights create soft, smooth lighting for large areas.

A broad light is a rectangular instrument that has a tubular quartz lamp fixed in place within a rectangular box-like reflector. Although the sides of the box spread out, this type of instrument is not focused. It actually gets its name from the broad light it provides. Broad lights can light up an entire set. A cyc light is a type of broad named after the cyclorama, a large curtain or set piece that spreads out as the back wall of a set. Cyc lights join together in a long row to light the wall. In this formation, they may also be called strip lights.

Soft lights are large, rectangular lighting instruments that illuminate large areas with soft, diffused light. These instruments are ideal for interviews. Recently, Lowel Lighting introduced a soft light whose carrying case is actually part of the light. This instrument, called a Caselite, features HSF lamps rated at either 3,200 Kelvin or 5,600 Kelvin, depending on your needs. It also has the added advantage of giving off very little heat (you can actually touch the lamps) and using little power.


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Lights Out

Always keep in mind that you have to know what you want to accomplish to know what tools you will need. Choose the lighting instrument that best fits your typical lighting situation. Your choice of lamp and lighting instrument will determine the feel, mood and style of the videos you shoot.

[Sidebar: More Choices]
There are other types of lights available to video producers that we haven’t yet mentioned. For the guerrilla approach, you can use reflector spots from the hardware store, fluorescent workbench stickups, work lamps and flashlights. Keep in mind, these lights all have unconventional color temperatures and your video may not play back the right colors. Professionals in the crowd may notice that we did not mention the ellipsoidal or the leko. These specialized lighting instruments are ideal for focusing light in very distinct hard-edged patterns and for projecting cookies.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.