diy variable output soft light under $50.00

Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews Forums Technique DIY diy variable output soft light under $50.00

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    • #49791
    • #203692

      Neat idea – but low power, low heat and ……. dim. Move it just a few feet away and the light levels drop to almost candlelight. What kind of space can be lit with such low levels of light? Soft though it is, it’s not really that useful. A 1K or a 650W source means your camera won’t have the lens wide open, making focus tricky.

      I like the neatness of it but those types of CF are always over estimated, light wise – 60W equivalent always makes me laugh. I love your idea, but it’s too dim to be used as a soft light, which we normally use to soften the shadows from a key – and at such a low light level, it cannot compete with a proper key light.

    • #203693

      I beg to differ….
      first of all I am using 4×23 watts = 400 watts equivelent.
      second of this is lightweight and cheap…. lightweight means, you can move it around to keep it close to your subject… cheap means you can make more than one…

      also….. many a d-slr shooter out there knows that when working with smaller lights sources (portable flash) you always have TWO sources of light… the ambient (already there) and the artificial (you add it) therefore you can use either lightsource as your main and then use the other lightsource as your fill…

      I chose daylight balanced bulbs for this project because there ia always windows in the locations I tent to use it… that means daylight coming through windows…

      problem solving revolves around having a “whan can I do with this” attitude, not a “Cannot compete with…” attitude…


    • #203694

      I like your ideas, I was using the same lights but and splitters but did not think of the way you use them and I will now. I use 23 watts bulbs most of the time and some smaller ones but while I was looking for more light I found a bulb that equal 500 watts at one of the home centers, I tested it and found that the light was more like sunlight in it color while 100 watt equal lights were more like stander lights in color but your idea solve the problem for me.

    • #203695

      I factored both the availability, and cost per bulb into this project and getting 400 watts eqiv output cost less than a single 200 watt eqiv cfl bulb… and being able to use one, two, three, or four 23 watt bulbs gives you variable output.. so that was why I dropped using the big cfls in favuor of this set up…

    • #203696

      Great stuff Don. I really like things like this and the frugal filmamker. Innovative and interesting.

    • #203697

      Don, thanks for the tutorial. I’ve been using cfls for lighting interviews. I have picked up vintage super 8 movie camera light holders for cheap at garage sales, ebay, shogoodwill, etc. They are built to hold 2 to 4 (300 watt) bulbs sowattage limitations are not a problem.I will look into adding the splitters like you used to add flexibility/increased output. Thanks again.

    • #203698


      Good compact fluorescent light is Home Depot or Home Hardware check the Phlilipps Bright light or Daylight on box you can read 5000K thats means 5000 Kelvin scale temperature. You can build your own softbox.



    • #203699
    • #203700

      Nice, Don.

      For a slightly more sophisticated (not necessarily better) version of this take a look at Serena Steuart’s
      Nano Light, based on producer/director Victor Milt’s Nano Light. You’ll find complete instructions at

      Ms. Steuart is an Australian cinematographer and engineer, given to very snazzy solutions to video and film maker’s problems. What makes her light special is that it is quite durable and, perhaps most importantly for some, it folds flat. The metal edges allow it to take quite a beating in the course of production.

      We’ve used a variation on your solution for some time. Our “box” is made from four sheets of Foam Core, taped together at the corners and held rigid by soft iron wire running diagonally from corner to corner to form an open box. The wire hooks over a light stand to hang the box; diffusing gel is taped over the front. Light is provided by a 400w photo flood in an aluminum clip-on reflector. It’s primitive but effective. It too has the advantage of folding flat.

      It’s really great to see all these ideas for guerrilla lighting.


    • #203701

      Sorry for being negative, but I bought a pair of softs each with two of these CFL, and as a fill source they’re so dim They’ve lived in the box they came in for over a year.

      The colour rendition curve for these things is terrible – varies greatly between batches, and while I appreciate that maybe you may have to shoot in ambient light that is far below what the camera needs, and this can add a little more – these kinds of thing are just not bright enough for me to even consider. That said, I guess we’re working in different areas. I assume you don’t use key lights at all? I do, and the smallest I have is 650W, so the soft kit I bought means using green CTC on the key to attempt to match the colour temps. Mine – with the same total wattage just can’t compete. I want light levels high enough to allow me to select apertures and shutter speeds for control – I’m also not a DSLR man, so maybe I’m just not used to working wide open and having soft pictures.

      I admire the concept, and when you can get CFLs that are actually bright – I may give it a go, although we are no longer able to buy lighting Y splitters for domestic use – we could import them, I guess – but we have issues here in the UK with approvals.

      I also think people have very short memories as to what lighting levels in their homes were? I always considered a room lit my a single 100W in the centre as only just bright enough, now we have in the shops CFLs claiming to be 60W equivalent – I’d rather have a 150W equivalent. 4 of those in a softie I could really live with.

      My world is bright, white and colourful. CFLs are dim, cream and murky – so far. Maybe the US 110V version are very different from the 230V ones we have here? I don’t know.

    • #203702

      nothing to apologize for Paulears. There are downsides to everything.
      the most “temperamental” camera I own in terms of poor low light and performance and color balancing is the old go-pro, my hdr-hc1 also not caring for low light… but my sr12 and Pentax d-slr both shoot well in low light…
      so I have lighting units some with serious power…. but the cheap stuff gets used right along with it and sometimes instead of it… I like to think it is cheap insurance, if my studio lighting is broken or lost, I can hit a hardware store with $100.00 and come back ready shoot in under an hour.. it is about knowing what you can do with what’s available.

      in terms of lighting..
      I”m an available light shooter.
      meaning I use any light available.

      I’ll use anything and everything from elinchrom studio lighting, to halogen work lamps, to flashlights, even glowsticks and fireworks…lol if it makes light and I think it will work, it gets used.

      here’s one lit partially with a sparkler… lol!

    • #203703

      Like that!

      Re-thinking, I like the idea that if you had to – you can produce usable light with these. Maybe I was just wondering about using them as an ‘intended and planned’ source.

    • #203704

      Stanley Kubric used candle light, when everybody else said it was impossible… now anybody with a newer d-slr and a fast fifty (I use a Pentax 50mm 1.4) can do what Kubric had to hack a used NASA hasselblad lens (f .07 I think it was..not sure) to do.. Stan was a hacker too…lol!

    • #203705

      Sure he could, Don, and so can any of use under certain conditions – but there are physics here, so for special effect we can do almost anything, but we still need brightness for everyday use. We could watch the news on TV produces with each newsreader having a candle a few inches in front of their faces, and bring the cameras in very close – it would look lovely, orange and gorgeous – but they wouldn’t be able to read their notes and the autocue words would be brighter than the candles!

      I will agree that light level requirements have come down hugely from the 70s and 80s, but we can’t change the inverse square law, can we?

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