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Old July 8th, 2003, 08:46 PM   #1
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What's so bad about work lights?

I just want to throw a bone out and see who chews on it.

I spent months deciding on what type and brand of lighting I would invest in. It's a well-documented journey within these pages.

I'm still torn on building my own fluorescents or just buying a Diva light, but as far as tungsten, my shopping is probably over.

For fresnels I decided to go with the Moles because of reputation and since they were so close in price to the Arris. I am pretty happy with them, but I will say that for anybody reading this with a really low budget... Don't be discouraged from lighting your shoot with ordinary lights. Especially if you can flag, net, scrim, and/or gel them if needed.

As far as I can tell the benefits of pro lights are:

1. "Looking" professional.

2. Portability, versatility, and ease of use. i.e. it's very easy to get a pro light aimed, flagged, gelled, and focused quickly... when you have all the accessories and the proper stand... but realize at that point you're pushing $500-$600 PER LIGHT... depending on selection.

3. The famed "beautiful fresnel quality of light" is true, albeit with some exaggeration. I'll bet that if you actually TAKE THE TIME to seriously consider what you're doing and monitor the results you could mimic the effect with household "worklights" and some cheap gels.

Basically I'm posting this to encourage you guys with little to NO budget to NOT GET DISCOURAGED by the cost of all this stuff. I've driven myself to the edge of insanity all for the sake of "that next piece of gear" that I thought I so desperately needed... In fact I do this almost every month.

I will say that you do get what you pay for, but I used to think that I couldn't get similar results with ordinary lights... that is where most people, myself included, are WRONG.

As you progress into a higher level of production you will automatically want pro lights for a lot of reasons... but if you are at the stage where you want your videos to look professional but you don't have the budget for "professional equipment" you can still get satisfying results with proper TECHNIQUE... even though it may be a little more work to set up.

Last tip: Don't get the 1000w worklights... try for 300 or LESS for dv unless you plan to gel/net/scrim them to DEATH. 300w of tungsten/halogen bounced off a white wall will give you a WHOLE ROOM of softwhite lighting.

If there is any flaming to be done... go ahead and do it. Don't my MR fresnels protect me from that? (Just kidding) If you think I'm giving stupid advice please state why...
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Old July 8th, 2003, 08:54 PM   #2
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I'm with you...

The only advantages I see with "professional" lights are the professional look of them, and the fact that they are easier to setup and stuff, however, I notice that a lot of the stands are cheap (atleast on the lower end lighting kits and stuff), and if you knock them over they will break, not with work lights, you can throw them things around and beat them to crap, they aren't as portable though.....but they do get the job done.
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Old July 8th, 2003, 08:56 PM   #3
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That's good advice Matt. Too many people get stuck on buying "name" gear because someone else has it, or some magazine said "this is a must have item", most likely because they were paid to.
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Old July 8th, 2003, 09:19 PM   #4
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One word of caution. And it primarily applies to people who have to make money with this gear.

The pro lights, as noted, set up fast. In pro work, since time is the ultimate limiting factor to how much money one makes (we all have all the talent that will ever be necessary, right?) then fast setups are important.

Labor is always the most expensive item. The difference in price between an inexpensive lighting setup and a pro setup will disappear in a heartbeat if the lights are used very much at all. Because not only does it take longer to set up the lesser lights, the crew is either standing around or you call them later and you don't get as much accomplished per day.

That said, as was also said, don't let a lack of pro lights stop you from amateur productions or from bootstraping your way up the pro ladder.

Don't overlook the joys of renting not only the lights but the guy who knows how to use them. Around here, a truck full of lights, the guy who knows how to use them, can help the DP get the desired lighting, and can even help (light) balance the camera costs only $800 per day. Not much more than a single Arri and stand plus spare bulbs, barn doors, scrims, flags, etc. And I don't have anything in my kits that seems to take up more storage space than lights.

I do use the odd shop light when necessary. I like the little clamp-on jobs that go anywhere and can be used to hammer nails.

Adrian, most magazines would not be in business very long if they took pay for their editorials. That isn't to say that advertisers don't get preferential treatment, but the editors and evaluators don't push bad gear. They may not say anything but they won't tell you it is must-have or good equipment when it isn't.
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Old July 8th, 2003, 09:25 PM   #5
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I've got my 500watt work lights from Home Depot and I am proud of them, well maybe not proud, but i don't do anything for money anyway, just for fun. I always go by the rule that light can be eaisly munliplitated to look ok regardless if its 20 bucks at a home improvement store of 1000 of some website. Maybe later I can buy some good lights, if fact if anyone wants to send money to the "I want to buy more equipment" fund, just e-mail me :)
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Old July 8th, 2003, 10:03 PM   #6
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I guess the point I really wanted to make is that I've used worklights and if you put a 300w worklight with a round head across the room and I set up one of my Moles next to it... I'll bet you $5 you can't tell which one is on as I switch them back and forth... pop a $3.95 diffusion gel across that work light and it'll take the edge off... 'bout the same as a fresnel lens.

As I previously mentioned in the opening post... There are OBVIOUS reasons to buy pro lights... once those obvious reasons become clear you won't need any encouragement. Until you reach the point that you're saying to yourself, "I NEED pro lights", you don't.

I will say that if you have spare cash that you WANT to put into pro lights you'll have more FUN with the lighting then you are now, but the frustration of learning how to make budget tools work isn't in vane... it makes it even easier to setup pro lights... once you do get them.

Also Mike R. I owe you a personal thanks... as I've been experimenting with the new lights in different situations I kept asking myself, "I put off the dvx100 for THIS?"... I guess I was expecting "magic" and I do need to reaffirm that I AM pleased with my new lighting kit... it's just that people seem to place pro lighting in some ethereal category of film-making.

I imagined that pro lighting would automatically make my videos look like the latest feature film... they are powerful tools, but no more so then anything else in the chain.

But you are right about one thing... which I hinted to earlier. They are FAST (and inspiring due to the ease).

It's so easy to get the size and quality of light where you need it that I come up with new ideas on the fly. Worklights with unlimited time can do the same thing... but you all get my point.
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Old July 8th, 2003, 11:14 PM   #7
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Matt:

Regarding the Diva light as you mentioned earlier: I strongly recommend you take a look at the Gyourylight. Uses essentially the same tubes as the Diva, much more flexible unit in terms of configuration (it can be made into a softbox or China ball) and is overall a great tool. Not cheap, but neither is a Diva.

(following is general response to this discussion):

Comparing a worklight to a "pro" light; the very last thing I would prioritize as the differences is the appearance. Rudimentary control of the light (barndoors), beam control (spot/flood), ease of aim (pan/tilt), and intensity control (scrim slots) would be at the top of the list.

A fresnel gives a more controlled pattern and sharper focus than an open face light, and is thus used for a different purpose. Adding substantative diffusion to a fresnel brings its performance closer to a similarly equipped open face light, which is a cheaper unit. If you always diffuse fresnels, you can probably save money by getting "pro" open face lights and still have the convenience of the above factors. Also you get more intensity and spread per watt from an open face, which makes them great for Chimeras and bounces.

Learning how to light is an endless and magical journey. While it can be frustrating at first, trying to achieve the effects one has seen on the big and little screen, it is extremely satisfying when one does hit on a "look" that delivers. And it takes a lot of trial and error to get to that point.
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Old July 8th, 2003, 11:31 PM   #8
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<<<-- Originally posted by Charles Papert

A fresnel gives a more controlled pattern and sharper focus than an open face light, and is thus used for a different purpose. Adding substantative diffusion to a fresnel brings its performance closer to a similarly equipped open face light, which is a cheaper unit. If you always diffuse fresnels, you can probably save money by getting "pro" open face lights and still have the convenience of the above factors. Also you get more intensity and spread per watt from an open face, which makes them great for Chimeras and bounces.


I agree with Charles. I for one simply could not have lit my recent short film the exact way I wanted it to be lit with basic worklights.

The Arri fresnels gave me the flexibility to concentrate a direct beam of hard light EXACTLY where I wanted it in a dark area. Also, the quality of the light is beautiful, - much better quality than halogen work lamps, which I have used before.

I would suspect that people who say that pro lights are only pro because of their outward appearance simply have never worked with pro lights before.

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Old July 9th, 2003, 05:41 PM   #9
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Guys... I guess I was tired as I started this thread. Sometimes I also listen to music through my computer while I'm reading posts and posting threads... so...

I realize that there are significant differences between pro lights and work lights. I bought two Mole Tweenies so far and I got the barndoors, 3 snoots, scrims, etc. as well as Manfrotto combo stands... all together I have about $1500 in only a two light kit.

If you read into my own replies you'll see where I comment that newbies will discover the moment when they realize that they NEED pro lights... Comparing pro lights to work lights is like comparing apples and apple-flavored oranges... but an apple-flavored orange can be tasty also.

Perhaps I'm in the minority here but I used to think that it would be impossible to get the look of pro lights without pro lights... all I wanted to convey is that after buying some of the best fresnels out there I no longer think that. I love the Moles... but I'll bet I could mimic many of the various lighting effects that they've given me... on the cheap. I never meant to imply that worklights = pro lights... I just wanted to encourage people to experiment with whatever lighting they can access.

This thread was started to boost the confidence of some guy with less then $1k total in his a/v setup... or even sub $2k... As I've read this forum I've come to the conclusion that at least 40-50% of the readers are operating on a VERY tight budget doing unpaid work. I'd bet that percentage is actually a lot higher if all the readers were honest.
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Old July 10th, 2003, 12:50 AM   #10
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Matt, you are correct, and perhaps I wasn't clear when I delineated my specific response to you vs my response to elements of the different posters here.

You would probably be amazed at the "homemade" lights that show up regular on the biggest feature sets. Most gaffers build their own custom units for specific applications.

The gaffer I'm working with currently (who is a big fan of the Gyoury lights, he's the guy that turned me on to them) described a unit that he uses all the time. It involves taking a cardboard filing box (like the ones you can buy at Staples to keep your tax returns in), spraying the interior with contact adhesive, crumpling tinfoil and applying to the interior walls and papering the open side with 250 diffusion. An aluminum waffle grid like the one used on industrial office-type fluorescent fixtures is added over the 250 to control the spread of the light. A baby plate is bolted through the bottom to a matching piece of aluminum for mounting. Finally, a standard porcelain socket is mounted inside and a 500w incandescent mushroom globe fitted to it. The globe is sprayed with black Streaks 'n Tips on the end to cut down the direct light. Voila, a lightweight softbox, for maybe $75 (the baby plate and the grid the only real costs of note).

I've seen even simpler low-tech fixtures in use on big features and TV series. The DP I'm working with right now is using "battens", long sections of 1x4" with a row of porcelain sockets all wired in series sporting mushroom globes. The electricians hang them up by the corners of the room or on C-stands. They look sort of like theatrical make-up lights, but much more punchy. You can screw out individual bulbs to mold the light. They give a really unique light quality. The DP told me that Harry Savides uses them a lot (check IMDB.com for that gentleman's credits, he's one of the best).

So the point is, homebuilt and homegrown can definitely have a place. It's all about controlling and shaping the light, and if you are working with a small crew and limited equipment, control because an elusive commodity. I should point out that the above battens require substantial amounts of grip materials such as duvateen and foamcore teasers to keep them from spilling onto the wrong places, which requires ladders and manpower and the right gear.

And as always, knowing just where or where not to place a light is more important than whether it was purchased from Mole-Richardson vs Joe's Hardware Emporium.
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Old July 10th, 2003, 01:06 AM   #11
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I just have say that Brian Wood's signature quote slays me (in a good way). What prompted that, Brian??! All I can say (sorry for the off-topic) is that it athleticism is not a requirement for being a "freakin" Steadicam operator, but it couldn't hurt...there are guys that can easily run faster than me with a rig, but some guys who look like full-on musclemen who I can potentially beat from a stamina standpoint when it comes to flying the rig through long takes. (and I ain't no muscleman, I assure you).

I do know this, and I've said it before: for a 4 minute shot, I'd much rather fly my 75lb Steadicam/Panaflex combo than a 12lb XL1/Glidecam 4000(or equivalent). Those handheld stabilizers are inhuman with cameras over 4 lbs. Body mounting is the way...

Sorry gang, back to th' lighting thang.
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Old July 10th, 2003, 01:20 PM   #12
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I'd have to add that the reason I like owning "pro" or what I call "standard" gear is that I work with different crews from shoot to shoot. I myself want to be up on the tech, as well as I don't want to have to coach (or apologize) for the gear I bring to the set.

A standard G&E crew will use pro gear well and fast. They can also figure out and build (as Charles pointed out) most anything you might want or need (given time and money). Rigging is all part of the game, but I want to work with a solid base to start with.

Good Gaffers will ultimately come with their own set of tools and creatively do the job that creates the look you want. I leave it to them to set the tone of how they want to structure their equipment needs. But I can tell you, if a home depot light shows up on set, and it's not doing the job (and I know I can get any other light to do the job I need) than I'm going to kick the gaffer's butt for wasting set time.

Many people here are starting out and feeling their way around their working method. That's awesome, that's how I started. But personally, I want to get my hands on the most common and the latest stuff (you don't have to own it to get a chance to use it) and put it to the test. That makes for a better working knowledge for future shoots. This also comes from the fact that I work as a Gaffer and an AC with different types of crews. They tend to hire you if you don't know the gear (or not willing to learn-which isn't the case in this forum).

Regardless, if your film looks great, than more power to ya.
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Old July 10th, 2003, 05:57 PM   #13
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I know no one cares, but I agree with the pro-pro light people. I almost bought work lights, and then I thought--hey it's the rest of my life here, I'll spend a little. I plan on getting paid for this, both as a camera op and to some degree, a DP. I can't show up for a gig with my home depot halogen work lights.

Also, I am a terrible engineer. If I wasn't I probably would make everything. As it is, I rule, because I will have two fresnels, two tota lights, gels, stands, and a few other things for just around a thousand dollars.
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Old July 28th, 2003, 12:30 PM   #14
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Believe it or not, your local hardware store or Loews/Home Depot has clamp lights with highly polished reflectors which can accommodate up to 300 watt bulbs. Buy some aftermarket clamp-on 12" barn doors and you "own" your own lighting kit. The clamp lights go for about $8.99 a piece and the 12" barn doors (pair) are 24.99 each ($16.99 for the 6" barn doors) at B & H Photo/Video in Manhattan (my home away from home). I use them and they are great, especially if you want to duplicate ambient lighting in a room with existing tungsten table lamps.
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Old July 29th, 2003, 06:18 AM   #15
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Hugh, just one question on the aftermarket clamp-on barndoors at B&H. I was looking through the B&H lighting source book and could not find them. Could you tell me who makes them?

Thanks,
Dale
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