An essential element in producing excellent video is correct lighting. Too much, too little or the wrong kind and you’re in for dissatisfying results.
Achieving correct lighting is an art form in itself and requires the right mix of knowledge, experience and equipment. Whether you confine your work to the studio or run-n-gun in the wild, there’s a lighting solution that’s just right for you. In this buyer’s guide we’ll explore several types of lighting options and their uses.
Tungsten lights have been a video and film lighting mainstay for many years. A tungsten filament, combined with halogen gas and enclosed within a quartz envelope, produces a constant output and color temperature throughout its life. They are affordable and produce large volumes of very bright, high-contrast light, producing sharp, crisp shadows. Fortunately, light modifiers are available to control and soften tungsten’s brilliant beams as needed.
If you’re on a tight budget tungsten may be the best way to go. Buy lights individually and build your kit over time, or you can purchase pre-made kits from most manufacturers. Kits usually come with several lights, stands, modifiers, diffusers, some gel holders, gels and a case to carry it all in.
Although they sell other types of lights as well, a very popular name in tungsten and kit lighting is Lowel. Their highly flexible, focusable, Omni Light list price is $220, including lamp, and comes in a variety of output ratings. The Lowel DV Creator 44 is an extremely versatile kit with four lights and stands, softbox, umbrella, light modifiers, gels, hard case and more for $1,920.
Chimera has designed a light fixture called the Triolet for use with its Lightbanks and other diffusion systems. Its base, with screw-in adapters, can accommodate three different lamp styles for maximum versatility. The Chimera Triolet Light Fixture 9930 retails for $325.
Another lighting option that is very popular with professional video producers is the Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide lamp, or HMI. Unlike traditional lights, HMIs are daylight balanced and produce a great deal more light than tungsten halogen lights of the same wattage. For example, a 600W HMI produces as much light output as a conventional 2000W unit with daylight filter and a 2500W HMI is equivalent to the output of 10,000W of traditional tungsten. Requiring less power, they run much cooler, and like their tungsten brethren, they can be modified to contain and direct all that awesome brightness.
HMIs are considerably more expensive to buy and maintain than conventional lights and each requires its own bulky ballast to crank the voltage up into the necessary range. Once switched on, they cannot be used immediately, as they require a bit of warm-up time before reaching the correct color temperature.
ARRI makes a variety of HMI lights in a number of styles and output ratings all the way up to a paint-blistering 18,000 watts. On the more affordable end of the scale, however, the ARRI Compact 125 Watt HMI Fresnel Light runs around $1,400 - bulb extra.
Fluorescent lamps produce a very pleasing soft light that wraps beautifully around the subject, making them great for portraits and other applications requiring more diffused lighting. The light-producing tubes are affordable, have long lives, consume much less power than tungsten, are cool to the touch and available in both 3200k and daylight color temperatures.
Fluorescents put out considerably less light than either tungsten or HMI lamps. Bank lights are available with multiple tubes and greater output but are larger, heavier and too bulky for easy travel. Newer designs, however, seek to resolve some of these issues. CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) are daylight balanced and similar in size to common household light bulbs with the same screw-in base.
Hong Kong-based Tokina Company Limited produces a variety of both spiral (CFL) and straight-tube fluorescent light banks as well as its Digital Studio Kits for shadow-free image capture of small objects. The full kit can be had for about $995. The Kino Flo two-foot Double Select provides a two-lamp remote-operated fixture with built-in barndoors. The KSH2057P-SB Triple Fixture Shooter Kit from Videssence provides everything you need for a great lighting experience for around $1,270.
Individual light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are very small and are commonly used as indicator lamps on electronic devices. Many LEDs, combined into single panels, however, have numerous advantages and are fast becoming extremely popular lighting solutions in the video world.
LEDs are daylight balanced, consume low amounts of energy and are very cool to the touch. The diodes have extremely long life spans, rated in the tens of thousands of hours. On the one hand, they can be very compact, perfect for on-camera use or hard to light locations, such as lighting car interiors. On the other hand, they can be bundled together into large multi-panels for a cumulative effect. The intensity of LEDs can be varied, without altering the color temperature, while the color temperature itself can be independently changed between 3200K and 5600K.
The primary disadvantage of LEDs are their cost. And while their output is less than either tungsten or HMIs they may well offer the best of each world. They have the compact size and light weight of tungsten; the low power requirements, cool operating temperatures and longer life of fluorescents; lower cost than HMIs and, on some models, variable intensity and color temperature.
At just 1.2 lbs. including battery, the ikan iLED312 provides an excellent on-camera light source with built-in dimmer and variable color temperature for $399. Further along the budget spectrum is the Litepanels Ringlite Mini. For about $2,300 it mounts around the camera’s lens and has fully dimmable top, middle and bottom segments for greater control. For a great kit setup, FloLight’s LED Video Lighting Kit includes three light panels, stands and padded carrying bags for $2,000.
Contributing editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.
Light modifiers have been mentioned throughout this article. Here are a few of them and their uses:
Barndoors - These attach to the front of the light fixture with two to four adjustable flaps for blocking the light from striking unwanted areas.
Flags - Non-reflective panels placed between light and subject to further prevent light from hitting unintended areas.
Reflectors - Highly reflective, light-bouncing panels for directing sunlight or lamplight, oftentimes to fill dark areas.
Umbrella - Similar to a traditional umbrella, these are attached to the light fixture to diffuse, or soften, the light output.
Softbox - A lightweight, collapsible housing, that fully encloses the light fixture. A diffuser panel at the front smooths and widens the light source.
Gels - Affixed in front of the light fixture (often with a frame) for color correction in mixed light situations, to diffuse or reduce light output or simply add a bit of color to the scene.
Gobos/Cookies - Any number of objects placed in front of the light source to cast shadows onto the scene or textures onto a plain backdrop.