Lighting is the key to great looking video. In this article we will look at the various features and capabilities you should take into account when choosing a light kit. We will also examine the reflectors and diffusers available on the market and identify their unique features.

Video Light Bulb Types

Video lights have four different types of bulbs or lamps. They are incandescent (tungsten), fluorescent, halogen (or quartz) and Hydrargyrum Medium Arc-length Iodide better known as HMI.

  • Incandescent – The incandescent or tungsten bulb is just like the bulb in your living room lamp. It burns with a yellow/orange light. Lights with this type of bulb are inexpensive, have a short burn life, relatively low wattage and do not produce a great deal of light.
  • Fluorescent – The fluorescent tube has become more widely used in the video industry over the past few years. Lights with fluorescent tubes give off very little heat, use a lot less power than their incandescent or halogen relatives and provide a soft, even light. One extremely important breakthrough for the videographer is that you can switch the tubes in a fluorescent light between indoor color temperature bulbs rated at 3200K (Kelvin) and outdoor color temperature bulbs rated at 5600K. This enables the videographer to use the light in any situation without having to break out the color correction gels.
  • Halogen – The halogen or quartz lamp is the most prevalent light source used in video production. This type of bulb burns hot and bright and comes in high wattages. This lamp provides an intense, steady, white light that is rated at 3200K (for indoor shooting). The halogen lamp also has a long burn life, which makes it economical. The disadvantages of the halogen lamp are its intense heat and high power consumption. When using a light with a halogen lamp, you have to build in time for the light to cool down before you put it away. Whatever you do, do not touch the light while it is on. It will be very hot.
  • HMI – The film and video industry uses HMI lights to create outdoor light on an indoor sound stage, or to supplement the light outdoors. Though worth mentioning here, these very intense lights are also very expensive and beyond the scope and pocketbook of anyone reading this article.

Light Features to Consider

Lighting instruments come with a variety of features. Here are some important things to consider when shopping for a video light or light kit.

  • Adjustable Beam Spread – Some things to look for in a light are whether you can adjust it between spot – a very focused, intense point of light, and flood – a wide, less intense, more even dispersal of the light.
  • Stand Height – The height of the light stand might also be a consideration when buying a light. The light stand must be durable and have an adjustable height that will fit your needs. If you shoot a lot of scenes with people standing and moving around, you will need light stands that take the lights over their heads. If you are always shooting seated interviews, this might not be as important.
  • Portability – Another important feature is portability. Light kits should have a well-organized carrying case. If you do a lot of traveling, it is important to know that everything you need can be stored in your light kit and that it will withstand the abuse of baggage handlers. Keep in mind that weight is also an issue. If you have to lug your light kit all over the place, you will definitely want to find the lightest, most adaptable kit possible. If you travel a lot doing interviews, one relatively lightweight solution is to combine a couple of lights into one kit. If you have a soft light that comes in a case, there should be room in the case for a small reflector spot or pan light and an extra stand. This is an ideal interview lighting kit that won't slow you down as you travel. A padded shoulder strap on the case is also a big plus.

Lighting Accessories

Lighting instruments come with a vast array of lighting accessories. Some of the more prevalent and important accessories include barndoors, scrims, mounting accessories, gels, reflectors, umbrellas and softboxes.

  • Barndoors – Barndoors are a system of two or four metal doors that control the spill of the light. You can open these doors or close them to prevent light from spilling out the side of the instrument. You can also use them to create shafts of light, focus the light on a smaller area or flag the light off of a background.
  • Gel Frame – Look for a light that has the capability to add gels, scrims and other lighting accessories.
  • Scrims – A scrim is a metal screen that you place on the front of the lighting instrument to decrease the intensity of the light. If you need to light a scene but can't get the light far enough away from the subject to create the desired intensity, you can use a scrim to reduce the intensity. Scrims come in various densities that enable you to control how much you want to decrease the intensity of the light. Half scrims cover only half of the opening in front of the light. This allows you to create two intensities of light from one instrument.
  • Gels Gels are the artistic tools of the light designer. Every light kit should have color correction gels, diffusion gels, neutral density gels for reducing the intensity of the light coming from your instruments and some deep color gels for use in adding color to the background or the surfaces of objects in the scene.
  • Umbrella – An umbrella can turn a small, intense reflector spot into a soft eye-pleasing light. When you shine the light through, or bounce it off, the umbrella, it spreads out the light and decreases its intensity.
  • Softbox – A softbox, like an umbrella, can turn a small, intense spot into a large, soft light. The softbox produces a light that is more even and softer than an umbrella, making it ideal for lighting faces. The softbox gives you the capability to use one type of lighting instrument and get two different types of light. By adding a softbox to your lighting gear, you double the use of your lights because they can now be either soft or hard lights.
  • MountsMounting accessories are a very important part of a light kit. You have to be able to get the instrument where you need it and often this means putting the light somewhere you can't use a light stand. There are door hangers, mounting clamps that can clamp to tables, chairs or countertops and scissor clips that slide over the metal strips in a drop ceiling.

Reflectors and Diffusers

You can use reflectors to change the direction of the light coming from a light source. This comes in handy when you want to use the sun as a light source for both your back light (the actual sun,) and your key light (provided by the reflector). Diffusers spread and soften hard light as it passes through.

When buying reflectors and diffusers you need to look at their size, shape, color and portability. Both reflectors and diffusers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These are all considerations to take into account when you shop.

  • Size – Large, stand-mounted reflectors or diffusers are often more expensive than our pocketbooks will allow. Smaller reflectors and diffusers need to be positioned closer to the talent than larger ones. But larger reflectors and diffusers are more difficult to manage. If you are using them outdoors, large reflectors and diffusers make great kites, so be very aware of the wind.
  • Shape – The shape of the diffuser or reflector is important in terms of the ability to manipulate the light. While both types do their jobs, round reflectors typically collapse for easy storage and transport. Square ones are typically rigid. Rectangular reflectors or diffusers may offer a wider spread of light than their round cousins.
  • Surface – The surface of the reflector is very important. A reflector has one of two surface types: smooth or pebbled. Smooth reflectors reflect the light source without decreasing its intensity. This is important when using the sun as your light source. When using smooth reflectors, you are bouncing the sun in a new direction but with the same intensity. Pebbled reflectors soften and diffuse light as they reflect it.
  • Color – Reflectors typically come in three colors: white, silver and gold. The white reflector reflects a diffused white light that is easy on your talent's eyes. It is ideal for providing a soft diffused fill light. You would use the silver reflector to create a sharper, more sparkling light on the subject. Silver lights are well suited to reflecting light from a lamp. A gold reflector is ideal for warming up the skin tones to your talent. Gold reflectors work well when reflecting sunlight. You might use a gold reflector to simulate the warm colored light of the early morning or late afternoon.
  • RigidityPortability is another concern when looking at reflectors and diffusers. A number of models fold down into small, easily carried units. If you are driving a compact car, a 4X6 solid frame diffuser is probably not a good idea.

Determining Your Needs

There are many lighting tools available. Which ones you'll buy will depend on your needs. When shopping for a light kit, consider bulb type, features, optional accessories and portability. Looking for a reflector? Shop based on size, shape and color.

Whatever you do, start lighting your productions. Once you start lighting your productions, you'll see a big difference in the quality of your videos.

Sidebar: How Many Lights?

Whether the lights come individually or as a kit might also be an important consideration. If you want to use three-point lighting, you will want to look for a kit that provides at least three lights that are very adaptable for use in the three positions. But you don't need three lights to get started. You can create fantastic-looking setups with a single light and a reflector.

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