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Old June 21st, 2010, 02:03 PM   #1
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Need help assembling a portable light kit

I need a light kit I can use for multiple purposes. I need to cover four bases:

1) Still photography. Studio: table top work (food), portraits.

2) Video. Studio: one person monologues, demonstrations, and two person interviews.

3) Video. Field: Classes (adding light on teacher), cooking demos, two person interviews. Also some documentary work.

4) I am, like many here, money constrained. I need to prioritize, and I'll be looking to buy what I can from the used markets. If this kit takes a while to finally assemble, so be it. IOW, I can't just go to ARRI, throw a bunch of money at the problem and be done with it. ;-)

I think I can distill the above into "I need continuous lighting that's also portable." I need sufficient flexibility to work with barn doors to soft boxes. Daylight color temp. should work fine; I don't see any reason to go the tungsten route (but maybe I'm wrong -- if so, please tell me why). And I need it to be fairly rugged and packable. Small enough it will fit in a car (not a full sized SUV or mini-van, something like a Subie Outback maybe).

Years ago I did some three and four light studio work (stobes). Never drug lights out into the field before, so I'm a complete newbie at that. I'm thinking I can perhaps get away with a three light kit. Perhaps key, fill, and hair lights. Maybe a reflector for the fill, and the third light for background (maybe with cookies to make the background less plain). IDK -- suggestions? People who regularly do location lighting please share some of your knowledge with me.

I'm thinking maybe fluorescents or LEDs because tungsten and HMI are too hot and too power hungry. Fluorescents tend to be very soft lighting. So probably LEDs. I'm thinking LEDs can be softened with a soft box or focused with a fresnel if needed. LEDs also might be better with batteries if I can't work near an electrical outlet. And I'm thinking (maybe wrongly) that LEDs will be easier to dim than fluorescents when it comes time to balance the lighting.

So... I'd appreciated any suggestions. Not just lights, but stands, accessories, cases, and all the misc. stuff one would need in a portable lighting kit.

Finally, what questions should I be asking that I don't know enough yet to ask?
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Old June 22nd, 2010, 02:27 AM   #2
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You have some conflicting points in your plan. Primarily, you won't find many used LED fixtures since the technology is so new. You also may have conflicting coloration if you piece together a kit from different manufacturers. Also, LEDs are not a hard light so they won't throw a distinct pattern through a cookie. If you want this capability, you will need some sort of hard light and only HMI or tungsten serve this purpose. You also might want to reconsider how relatively hot HMI lights are for the amount of light they produce. You are probably accustomed to high-power HMI lights that would certainly get hot, but considering a 150W HMI is as strong as a 650W tungsten, they are rather "cool" in comparison.

Even considering all these factors, your primary need is portability and LEDs certainly fit the bill. It seems that they weigh about 1/3 as much as a comparably bright HMI or tungsten fresnel and should pack more easily since they are relatively flat and square.

You, I, and many small outfits have similar needs in a light kit. I do not yet possess an ideal kit, so I am trying to work out the financing to get something which you might also find workable. I'm basing my purchase on Coollights.biz LEDs which seem to be of higher quality than the generic Chinese products but much less expensive than Western manufacturers. Here are my ideas for lights:

Two or three LED 600 5600K spot which are about as powerful as 650W tungsten.
One or two LED 256 5600K spot which are similar in power to 300W tungsten.
One or two Lowel Pro-lights with 250W lamps.

I figure that the spot versions of the LEDs have a bit more throw and can always be softened but it would be hard to focus a flood LED. The only Lowel light I like is the Pro-light and that I really enjoy. It has a similar beam to a fresnel but they are quite small, light, and affordable.

My purposes are to be absolutely as portable as possible. I would like the basic equipment to fit in a single large suitcase so my whole kit can be transported as a suitcase for lights and a carry-on size bag or backpack for the camera and audio gear. If I split the tripod legs and head and put the heavy head in the smaller bag and the legs in the rolling case, I should be able to get everything down to being portable with only one person and one checked bag of equipment. This also keeps the most expensive equipment in a bag that stays attached to me at all times or in a compartment nearby on a plane.

Additional items are obviously light stands and power. I have decided that a minimum height for light stands is 7 feet so that lights are above any regular person. I found some Smith-Victor stands that are affordable and seem adequate. The model is RS75 with a 7'6" height and a weight of 2.3 pounds. Their minimum packed length is 26" which would fit in a standard 29" suitcase. For power, the LED256 can use Sony NP-F batteries and obviously a few stingers are needed.

For my own purposes, here is a breakdown of weight to see if it will fit in two bags:

Two LED600s with their own carry case and gels - 5lbs each for a total of 10 pounds
Two LED256 " - 3 lbs each totaling 6 pounds
Lowel Pro-light - 3 lbs
4 RS75 light stands - total of 11 pounds
Tripod legs - 6 pounds

That's 36 pounds already without stingers and grip accessories. Most grip accessories like grip heads and clamps can go in a larger shoulder bag but obviously those things will be limited. I would probably bring a single grip head with an aluminum rod to use as a small boom for a back light and a single clamp with 5/8" spud for clamping a light in places a stand won't work. A few gells and lightweight/small clamps and a roll of gaffer tape and that's it for what would work in a single-case light kit (assuming a few heavy but small items go in the camera bag).

My camera is small, so I can fit it with four lenses in a carry-on along with some mics and the tripod head which would otherwise make the big bag go overweight.

Other things I would like to have would be the Coollights.biz folding softbox as well as the bar to mount two fixtures on one light stand. A folding 32" reflector is probably also almost a necessity to use as fill, diffusion, or even a flag to control spill. For safety sake, at least one sandbag should be taken along because there always seems to be one light that gets stuck in a traffic area. If I was working from a car, I would carry sandbags for all stands and probably bring a couple of beefier stands. In an ultra-portable setup, I would probably carry a single bag empty and maybe use hot water bottles as weight in the compartments. Even adding these few extras may be too much for a kit that one person can carry in one trip. I think that is a really important factor in how long it takes to get set up. If it takes multiple trips down to the parking garage to get gear, lots of gear ends up getting left behind. I think I would probably trim down to four lights with one softbox with four light stands and hope one never cuts out during a job. It is sometimes possible to use practical lights as background lights, so using four lights with no spares is probably acceptable assuming no more than a single failed light on any one job.
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Old June 22nd, 2010, 08:11 AM   #3
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Thanks Marcus. That was very well written and has helped me a lot it working out the logistics of LED lighting
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Old June 23rd, 2010, 05:59 PM   #4
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mixed kit

Marcus, I like the way you think.

If we use the LEDs for key and fill, and tungsten for hair and kickers, mixed lighting might actually be better than matched lighting. Most hair can use the "golden" highlighting to advantage, and kickers adding some golden highlights will most likely be attractive. Backlight will probably have to match key and fill however.

Interesting thoughts. Hmmm.....
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Old June 23rd, 2010, 07:23 PM   #5
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The only thing that Marcus HASN'T covered is that your number 1 above (still photography) will be POORLY supported by 'hot' lights, at least without MAJOR ASA cranking. Still life (food) will be fine because you can use a slow shutter but unless you have a FAST lens, portraiture will be a problem. Flashes still do photo work better.
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Old June 23rd, 2010, 07:56 PM   #6
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Shaun, what you say is absolutely true. But I'm using large format (5x4 film) for the table top work. Another couple of seconds on the tripod doesn't mean much to image quality there. And George Hurrell and company used to do pretty well with 8x10 cameras and hot lights in the heyday of Hollywood glamor portraits. Strobes are better, yes. But I can't afford both. I think I'll be OK with hot lights for most of what I do with still photography.
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Old June 23rd, 2010, 09:06 PM   #7
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Bruce: just "sharing with the class"...

As long as you understand the "limitations", you're fine. And Hurrell et al used a lot more wattage/lumens/footcandles than what we are talking about here... Mind you, film stock is also much faster at a given grain size/signature these days...

If you're shooting large format, I think I can SAFELY assume you know how to expose film...
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Old June 24th, 2010, 07:33 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich View Post
...Hurrell et al used a lot more wattage/lumens/footcandles than what we are talking about here...
Yes. I seem to remember some where actually using Klieglights to get that stage lighting look and feel. Carbon arc lights --- the good(?) old days. :-)
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Old June 24th, 2010, 11:13 AM   #9
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More important than the type of lights and the slow film stocks, Hurrell obtained that signature look by utilizing what would be termed today, "hard/softlight". The apparent hardness of a light source is constrained by the size of the source, correct? The lights that he and other glamor photographers used back in the day were also relatively huge physical size by today's standards. Back in the classic era of Hollywood, the lens sizes on fresnels seemed to commonly be huge in comparison to the lenses commonly used on today's sources. Larger lens would equal larger source. Larger source placed closer to subject equals softer quality of light. Not saying that they used softlight, it was definitely still hard light sources but it is oft overlooked that most hard sources today, short of 18-24k instruments, feature lenses that are significantly smaller than the lights of that classic era.

I have yet to see a still photographer using digital gear who can really nail that look either. Film responded to light in a way that is very different than how digital tools that are used today respond to light. I produced a couple of box set DVD releases for Warner Bros. Film Noir series and after watching and studying those films for quite a few months, I haven't see a "film noir" look shot on digital that I buy as "film noir". I have seen plenty of imitations and approximations, but nothing that strikes me as the real thing, except the real thing, shot on slow, fine grained B&W stocks with the huge instruments of the era.

Dan
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Old June 24th, 2010, 12:47 PM   #10
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Dan, I think you have something valid here. When I look at film noir and old Hollywood portraits, I think "soft box with a snoot". It looks like a fairly soft source with the way the shadows are soft, but the control of the light is very constrained unlike a soft box. It also appears that the lights are at least a few feet away because they don't suffer from inverse square issues where the forehead or nose would be noticeably more exposed than a facial feature further from the light like the cheek or jawline. This would require a fairly large light to be soft from a distance.
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Old June 24th, 2010, 04:09 PM   #11
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If you have ever been to the ASC Clubhouse or to some of the other places in Hollywood like Moletown, they sometimes have had really old carbon arcs and huge fresnels from the classic era on display. There were a lot bigger and heavier than the gear is today. I guess it was all relative though because blimped motion picture cameras of the era were almost the size of a refrigerator so what is huge today was just average sized back then.

I think this is why even when certain directors like Soderbergh try to do period B&W, it always comes off much more as homage than authentic. Without those lights, lenses and stocks and even processing that they used back then, all we are going to get is an approximation of what they had back then.

Dan
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Old June 24th, 2010, 06:51 PM   #12
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I find that I like the light from LED fixtures as it has that in-between soft and hard look. With the source being about 10 inches, it is just a bit bigger than a fresnel. I also like the beam spread of LED lights since there are less bright spots than some other inexpensive fixtures. I absolutely hate the light from an inexpensive open-face light with hammered aluminum reflector. I'm thinking that an LED fixture with large barn doors or a snoot placed just a few feet away from a model will somewhat emulate the classic Hollywood single-light portrait. I think some light diffusion near the panel might be needed to get it completely even, but not so much as to make the light uncontrollable. I think it's worth a try and would make these portable kits even more valuable if they can do nice portrait work.
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Old June 25th, 2010, 05:20 AM   #13
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Bruce, I like the idea that you have specifically identified your needs (what you are going to shoot) it really helps determine the term portable. At a maximum range of 10 to 15 feet from the camera it is very "doable" to put together a portable kit.
For many years and before CFLs and LEDs, I used a very small 250 watt lights from Lowel. They are about 5 or 6 inches and put out a focused or flood pattern simply by using a knob on the side of the fixture. I carried 6 or 7 of these in my kit with stands, dichroic filters and diffusers. If I need 500 or 750 watts I put 2 or 3 together as needed. I still had singles fixtures for hair lights, background lighting etc. Since the introduction of the newer CFLs and LEDS, I have opted not fight fight Mother Nature anymore and create my new kit with all daylight balanced fixtures. My main fixtures are rather well made grouping of 9 sockets in an 8"x8" box that has switches for either 4 sockets on, 5 sockets on or all 9. I simply filled them with Nuvision 100 watt equivalent CFLs (from Home Depot). The cost is about $80 or $90 without bulbs. I don't know if the cost has increased, I bought them 4 years ago.They also offer a 16 socket fixture. As far as LEDs, I have made many of the fixtures to save cost and because there weren't many available at the time. I fit everything including light weight stands, wires etc. into a large duffle bag for 10 feet and under. I have an additional bag if I have to shoot a larger area or more people. I also have YET ANOTHER bag for heavy duty shoots.
Gary
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Old June 28th, 2010, 09:43 PM   #14
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For me, it would be impossible to shoot stills of food with only LED's or flo's.

You need hard, directional light - which means big tungsten fresnels and small optical spots - along with a big soft source - like a 4x6 or bigger chimera for top/back light.

For general purpose video, I do a lot of news/run-n-gun stuff with a Lowel Rifa Pro kit. Pretty useful and compact, if not especially durable. Florescent banks and Arris start eating up your trunk space in a hurry, although I love my LED panel with a battery for real run-n-gun stuff.

Single subject interviews are pretty easy - one soft source, a somewhat directional rim/hair light for separation, and something hard for the background will suit you in most situations. Sometimes you don't even need a rim/hair light if the background is light enough and can be thrown out of focus.

For two-people interviews, especially if it's a multi-camera shoot, you need double of everything and it starts getting complicated and won't fit in a regular car.

Food is another animal. I'm not sure you could put together a general-purpose budget kit that would also do food.

I'm with Marcus when I have to fly. One LED600 and a Pro-light are what I travel with, even tho the LED is a pretty ugly light... it is definitely not Hollywood-like. I hate air travel for work.....

Used Arris and Mole lights are the best investments.... easy to fix, easy to resell at pretty much the same price you paid and will last the rest of your life if you don't resell them. Don't buy used Lowel lights, but new Pro Lights are pretty good bang for the buck. There were thousands of different LED lights at NAB this year and they all look pretty much the same. I'm happy with the Coollights LED 600 but it doesn't put out much light if you want to diffuse it - and it gives shiny shiny skin if you don't. For the best interview lights, I love Kino Flos but they're really bulky to transport. Everything's a tradeoff. Don't forget you need scrims, flags and diffusers too.

If you're on a really tight budget start with one used Arri 300 with barn doors, and a dimmer. Really really useful light.
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Old June 29th, 2010, 04:58 AM   #15
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Oops, forgot to mention that the LEDs are MR16 enclosed just like a halogen and I also have found 60 or so LEDs in a par format bulb. I actually have to use a diffusion filter to soften the focused light when used up close. I have never liked or use those multiple led things on a flat panel. I'd rather start out with a hard light (gives more distance) and then soften when I have.
Gary
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