The line that separates professional and amateur video production is becoming more and more obscure. With the introduction of digital camcorders and the increased availability of affordable nonlinear editing systems–systems that are chock full of special effects and titling applications–the average video hobbyist can crank out a broadcast-quality production in his back bedroom. But the greatest camcorder and the cleanest edits cannot save video that was shot in poor lighting conditions. Lighting remains the biggest difference between professional and amateur-looking video.

While many videographers neglect lighting, those who have seen the difference will attest to its importance. A single video light will add color and definition to a shot. A three-light kit can make home video look as rich as a Barbara Walters special. Additional lamps can be used to add light to your background or set.

What’s in a Kit?

A typical lighting kit includes several lights and a few essential accessories. Adjustable stands are an absolute must. Most allow you to position lights anywhere from one to seven feet off the ground. Use caution with lights on stands, as they tend to get wobbly when extended to maximum height. Sand bags are recommended to anchor light stands safely.

Many lighting kits include a variety of accessories that allow you to control or alter the shape or intensity of the lamp. Barndoors allow you to pinch light into a narrow beam, or block off a section of the illuminated area. This is very helpful if you are attempting to light just a portion of a scene. Scrims are screen-like accessories that are attached on the front of the light to direct the beam forward. Some kits include reflective umbrellas to spread and soften light, and may also include frames that can hold diffusion material or color-altering gels.

All these lights and accessories can be bulky and heavy, making them difficult to transport. Many lighting manufacturers have designed compact, heavy-duty cases that make their light kits easier to store and transport. A case that includes a padded interior, wheels and a handle can be, quite literally, worth its weight.

A Source is a Source of Course of Course

The heart and soul of any video light kit are the lamps themselves. And while they may all look alike from a distance, there are quite a few variables worth noting. One of the most obvious differences is in the type of bulb that is used. The three most common are incandescent, quartz-halogen and fluorescent.

Incandescent kits use common household bulbs. They are generally the cheapest kits available, and while they may be better than garage lights, their potential for video is limited. Because of the limitations of incandescent wattages, these lamps put out less light than other kits, and tend to provide less control over the quality of the light they do put out. These lamps usually have some mechanism for tilting the light, but barndoors and other accessories are rare on kits at this level.

Until recently, the bulk of video lamps employed quartz-halogen bulbs. Halogen bulbs are very bright and, as such, work well for video. These lamps have been a favorite of video producers and lighting manufacturers alike. Most mid- to upper-range kits use quartz-halogen. Many halogen video lamps feature adjustable settings from spotlight to flood, and most kits in this range include barndoors, scrims and gel- or diffusion-holding frames. The worst thing about halogen lights is the heat that they generate. If they are used carelessly, these lights can cause nasty burns and start fires if you’re not careful–even several minutes after they’ve been turned off.

Fluorescent lights have gained in popularity in the past couple of years. These lamps have a few things going for them. One of the most popular aspects of these lights is the soft, even light they cast, without the need for diffusion. While they tend to be bulkier than their halogen counterparts, many manufacturers include louvered accessories that allow the user to direct the beam, and unlike halogen lights, they generate very little heat. They can be broken down and packed up immediately after a shoot.

Lighting instruments like these can take your productions to the next level. And there is a wide variety of lights available to suit your needs at a number of different price points. You can buy a fully configured kit, or assemble your own, one lamp at a time.

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