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Old October 9th, 2006, 11:11 PM   #1
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I need lights. Where do i start?

Hey everyone! I currently make short films and I wanted to up the 'look' of upcoming productions with lighting. (YEah, I only use natural light for now) I have no idea where to start though! I don't even know what I need. Can anyone put together a list that is economic and practical. Something that would work for a new indie filmmaker! HELP!!
Michael Rapadas is offline   Reply With Quote
Old October 10th, 2006, 08:39 AM   #2
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Newbie mistake #1 - Not knowing what you need.

What is your total lighting budget? Now take that and cut it in half because realistically you need to spend about 40-60% of your budget on grip, not lighting. Too many newbies buy a lighting kit and think that they are set to shoot. What about C-stands, sandbags, reflectors, gels, diffusion, grip clips, Cinefoil, Duvetine, flags, silks, booms, C-47s, etc.? You can buy all of the lights you want but without grip gear, you have no way to position, control, mold and create with light.

What are you shooting? Interviews? Narrative scenes? If so, with how many actors in how big of a location? Music videos? Commercials? Corporate? There is no all purpose panacea lighting kit, that's why I recommend assembling your own. Most people buy a kit and think that they are set. Then they end up hauling around a bunch of junk that they never use, while wishing that they had the correct tools to accomplish what they are trying to achieve as far as lighting. Which typically means grip and rigging equipment. See how it works? Post a typical set plot (an overhead simplified illustration of your scene) and we can then light it on paper, then you will know what you would need, equipment-wise, to actually light the scene effectively. You will find in about 80% of cases, a kit would not have had everything that you need to effectively light a scene. You would have to compromise.

Don't break out the Visa until you know what you are doing and why.


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Old October 10th, 2006, 08:42 AM   #3
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First of all "Search" is your friend. LOTS of good threads on the board, on everything from pros and cons of various 'kits' to how to do it yourself with hardware store shoplights.

You might give people a hint, by telling us what your budget is, and what your priorities are.

For myself, I prefer to use lights that are made for film/video... and I chose the ebay/craigslist route. Over time, a piece here, and a piece there, and I've got a full kit. 3 Lowel DP light, 2 Omni's, 1 tota - a 1k Fresnel, a 650 frenel, a 250 frenesl - a nice scoop... c-stands, sandbags, scrims, 2 softboxes, umbrellas reflectors... and stuff I can't remember. I've probably got less than two grand in the whole kit. But like I said, that was over time... And it's sometimes easier to spend 100 dollars this month, sixty the next, etc. then to shell out a couple of grand all at once.

(Yup, ditto what Dan said. That's why I'm not a big 'kit' fan. I'd rather acquire what I need as I see it.)
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Old October 10th, 2006, 09:08 AM   #4
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The advice given is really sound - don't think about lighting purchases until you know what you wil be using it for. In fact, the best advice really is probably to just get yourself a small portable kit, for interview style work, and hire in anything else. I'm lucky that I have a large inventory of theatre style lighting kit, but despite having it all, very little of it it much use for video work.

One of the biggest problems is scale. Once you start shooting in larger rooms, you need a lot of light output to make a difference when the distances start to creep up. A redhead a couple of metres away, moved to 4 metres is really quite dim, a 2K blonde just about makes the level up, but you need more. Then the light levels get better. Mind you power supply requirements have gone up too, and the heat output is pretty unpleasant. Now - you can just about go fluorescent - heat and power consumption vs light output is much better - but cost is higher. The other point - storage. If you buy kit, where will you keep it. Lighting grip equipment is pretty big - luminaires are heavy and breakable -and cables are amazingly heavy and a real pain! Add in a few mains distros and switchgear too, don't forget.
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Old October 10th, 2006, 09:31 AM   #5
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before buying - try out some lights/kits ..
in your area Film Arts Foundations has low rental rates ( rent weekends) ...


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Old October 17th, 2006, 04:20 PM   #6
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Renting is always a great idea, but I think people sometimes forget that it can be difficult to impossible to rent without insurance. Most people would rather spend that $1,000 (the cheapest I've found, for any length of time) on actual lights than an insurance premium. I always tell people you need at least one 650w fresnel, probably two. You can't go wrong with Mole, Arri, and probably LTM, although I've never used peppers. Anyway, the 650s are the most useful lights I've found, although I usually keep mine lamped down to 300 watts.
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Old October 17th, 2006, 08:41 PM   #7
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Michael - If you've been comfortable up till now doing natural lighting, why not expand your knowledge of natural lighting in order to use it more to your advantage? You could go out and get a full kit of Briese lights, which are some of the finest lights ever made... but your knowledge of lighting wouldn't be any different. Nothing looks worse than lights used unnecessarily or improperly, seriously. I'd MUCH rather look at a poorly shot naturally lit clip, for the reason that the light IS natural. It may be brutal, but at least it has motivated direction and balance.

Figure out what it is about your current look that doesn't work. If it's a matter of balancing background exposure to foreground exposure, there are a number of tools you can use that don't plug in at all. You can scrim the background with something like a scrim-jim, or fly a butterfly overhead to diffuse direct sunlight. Indoors you can bounce light around with white foamcore, or ND gel and CTO gel the windows to match the tungsten practicals.

Lighting is less about throwing watts than controlling shadows. Think it all through before you invest or even get your mind set on a specific piece of gear. A lot of times we get too wrapped up in the gear-love side of things that we forget that we can more effectively solve problems without sexy gadgets at all. Buying lights without knowing how to use them is guaranteed to create more problems than solutions. Maybe you absolutely need lights for what you intend to do, but if you don't absolutely need them, try to find simpler and more natural solutions. It takes a gentle touch to make lights look natural.
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Old October 18th, 2006, 11:00 AM   #8
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OK, for my 2 cents:

1) Hiring stuff is a great way to learn what does what, what you like/dislike, what you need/don't need and how many of X you want, before shelling out for your own kit. A lot of rental houses are very good to young/inexperienced filmmakers (needless to say, that's not intended as a slur!) and may well help you out for cheap/free a couple of times.

2) Try to find a friendly DP in your area (most DP's are a nice friendly communicative lot, but not all!) who'll give you a couple of hours of their time. Give them some examples of the kind of stuff you do - videos of stuff you've shot before and/or diagrams of stuff you're going to shoot (preferably both), tell them what camera system you're using, and ask them what they'd hire - they'll probably tell you a bunch of stuff you can't afford, but that's where this board could come in very handy. It's far more useful, in terms of getting good precise answers, to ask "I want this stuff, but it costs X and my budget is only Y - what can I do for cheap that's similar" than "What do I need, period" - it just gives everyone a starting point and defines your requirements more...

Good luck, and have fun!
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