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Lighting is the Key!

January 1, 2016

In the world of media production (unless a person is dealing strictly with audio) lighting is key. While the amount of light used can set a different tone for the scene you are filming or photographing it all basically comes down to the fact that you need a measure of light to start. Still and video cameras have improved over the last decade being able to capture usable (if not clean) images even in low light situations. I often come across astounding stats about the ability of certain cameras to captures “more latitude” or “greater dynamic range” and the price point of these cameras are ever dropping well past the $10k or even $5k price point. But you still need to start off with some light and sometimes I’ve found it downright difficult to get the right amount of light in the right places.

I’ve been working in the Production industry for quite a few years, usually with very limited budgets just using the equipment that we’ve had at our disposal, but we were always able to get very good results. Once I branched off on my own I realized certain holes in my knowledge that I needed to get filled and one of those holes is various lighting techniques for specific moods. Working in a TV studio with hundreds of hanging lights is rather simple compared to doing field work for a documentary. Going into people’s shops, or homes without knowing lighting situation can provide a video technicians with some unique opportunities to test his or her lighting skills. And let me not get started on churches; houses of worship (from synagogues to mosques to temples) usually have some of the worst lighting you can possibly imagine! As the sun moves across a huge stain glass windows it can create some interesting shadows and effects most of which will not enhance your interview. So, knowing that I lacked great lighting skills I tried to read up on the subject, watch training videos, even take classes in lighting techniques. I researched lighting kits from DYI to LEDs to expensive HMI kits. (I got an opportunity to be loaned a very nice kit from Fiilex that I would love to have on a regular basis but found that it was out of my severely limited budget.) I knew about 3 point lighting for years, got to see it in action and used it a few times in my work but my biggest issue I have had was finding the right kit to fit most any space I come up against, AND it not too expensive, AND is fairly easy for a one man run&gun type situation. So far I have not found the right kit.

My first kit was a DIY hodge podge of bulbs and Home Depot parts. I am a firm believer in starting out with more than enough light and then dimming down and adjusting my camera to suit the conditions. To that end I start with 3 500 watt tungsten bulbs in a reflector set with softboxes. Because this was a DIY certain important specs with not readily available with all the parts that were purchased. I knew enough to get ceramic housings for the bulbs to handle the heat from high wattage, however, I couldn’t find a ratings spec for the softbox no matter how much I searched. The phrase “I think something is burning” is not something you want to hear from your audio engineer minutes after you start your interview. One softbox gone.

Most of the next kits I looked at in a price range I was comfortable with used CFL bulbs. I quickly dismissed because of the potential health problems the bulbs can cause if they break and because you needs so many of them to get good light from one housing. Imagine the need for 5 bulbs in one fixture.CFL Lighting

With a 3-point lighting setup you would need 15 CFL bulbs per shoot! Not too much of a problem if you have a static studio but for the roving reporter, no way! So I moved on LEDs. LEDs have the best upside in terms of portability and post shoot cool down times. I don’t like to be in people’s houses too long after a shoot so being able to pack up the lighting equipment right away instead of waiting for the hot lights to cool down is a major plus in my book. LEDs do have some drawbacks, though. The lighting fall off is fairly significant so you usually have the place the lights closer to your subject. Also using LEDs in your production usually require a bit of post coloring to fix the hue that they cast onto the talent and the lights do cost a bit more than CFL kits. As my budget was tight (after all I did burn one out of my first set of softboxes) I started with on-camera lights but found myself very restricted when it came time for camera placement and it caused an issue or two with one of my interviews. So I stepped up to a lesser expensive LED kit from LimoStudio. It has a few quirks of its own (review coming soon) but once I take it onsite I will see how well it works during a taping and how it can improve my shoots. I have one mid level priced iKan LED kit that I have my eye one. It is part of my Documentary Wish List that I have on B&H for which I am raising money using GoFundMe. (Donations are welcomed!!) I believe that will be the best kit to suit my needs for the time being. If anyone has a specific kit they have worked with I would love to hear about it.

One big drawback is that the LimoStudio lights didn’t come with a bag to carry the stands and fixtures so now I’m looking for a good, sturdy bag that will last for a few years. Anyone have any suggestions?

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