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Old March 15th, 2007, 08:37 AM   #1
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I have 5 work lights and a small bag of tricks, how do I use them?

Hey, we're working on a virtually no-budget feature-film production and we'll be shooting with the Sony PDX-10P with a modified Letus35A so we need a whole lot of light because both our camera as the adapter are pretty bad in low light situations.

The limited lighting setup we have is: 3 work lights on stands, 2 'normal' work lights that you can place on the ground or on a table, simple plastic foil shower curtain-like screens that I can easily place in front of the lights for diffusion, 3 car windshield covers for light reflection and a bunch of plyers and tape etc to mount all these things in a useable way.

I am also a complete lighting noob (other than having read a bunch of articles on low-budget lighting and traditional lighting methods). And while I have gotten some great images out of this setup while testing, I found that it's still quite hard to do proper consistent lighting throughout a scene and to make everything look really natural.

So... Any tips and ideas on how to use this setup to do natural and consistent lighting are welcome!
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Old March 15th, 2007, 05:00 PM   #2
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Hey Reese,

It's a bit difficult to answer your question, as every lighting setup has different requirements, and it all depends on the "look" you're trying to achieve. A "natural look" can mean something totally different from room to room in just one house.

Your main problem is that all your lights are what a DoP I did a workshop with the other week calls "blurters". That is, they just pump out a large amount of direct, uncontrolled light.

Diffusion is a good start, although using a shower curtain near something that puts out as much heat as those worklights (I'm assuming you mean the 500w halogen ones) is something that would concern me on a busy set. Major fire hazard.

My recomendation would be to have a look at Ebay and try picking up some cheap 5 in 1 flexifills. The core part of the flexi can be used as a diffuser. They're not too expensive, and really, if you're planning to shoot a feature, and want it to look good, you should expect to spend a little money.

While the silver windshield covers can be handy, what you really want for reflection is a white surface. This will give you a softer, much nicer looking light. Go to your local art store and see if they stock sheets of foamcore. This is cardboard with a sheet of polystyrene sandwiched in the middle.

White foamcore is a great reflector. A sheet of black foamcore makes a great "cutter".

A bunch of cutters, or "flags", are essential especially with the limited lighting you have. You can use the cutters to block the light from a certain direction, similar to using barn doors on the lights, but with more control. This lets you cut out hotspots, or illuminating through spill areas that you would rather leave dark.

So, finally, I'd experiment with using soft reflection and diffusion to get a decent look from your lights. Just pumping those sort of lights directly onto your subject will rarely look good.

Have fun.
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Old March 15th, 2007, 10:57 PM   #3
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i would try to add a roll of black wrap & wooden clothes pins to your tools ...
use the black wrap to help shape & take away light ( attach with clothes pins) ...
the lite kit you have would be difficult for any of use to use ...
they do have limitations ...in pre production you think/plan/practice/take in advice then when you start shooting you do the best you can with what you have at the time ....

i try not to use tape on walls, prefer push pinns...
have you thought of using china laterns ( balls) ? they are light weight , you can buy #14 cord attach a light socket - screw in 100-250 watts bulbs ..
you can hand from ceilings or hang off a boom pole ( move it as actors moves) or set on floor/table ....
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Old March 18th, 2007, 07:23 PM   #4
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I'd really get some Lee 216 white diffusion instead of the shower curtains. It's not that expensive and it won't burn or melt. Instead of blackwrap you could use black aluminum foil - it's not the real thing but it's really cheap and useable.
You can also use the aluminum foil as a cookie: place it in front of the light with at least a few inches of distance. Then punch random holes in it (the aluminum, not the light!) with a screwdriver or knife. This creates very natural patterns on backgrounds.

I always use white foamboard as reflectors - there's one type of thin, flexible foamboard with a shiny white surface. It reflects pretty well (and softer than a silver reflector) and you can fix it right on the lamp with clothespins. Look at the picture to see what I mean (okay this is not a worklight but a 1kW open face - but it also kind of works with a worklight, I tried it!). Looks pretty crappy especially when the reflector looks as bad as in the picture, but it works great (though the light spill is pretty uncontrollable)

If you want to use a china lantern I'd get a 250W halogen bulb with E27 socket - these are pretty nice bulbs that fit everywhere, not only in china lanterns, and they are really bright. Though they get very hot...

I'd also get some gels, especially color correction gels and ND. If you have a piece of 1/4 CTB, 1/2 CTB, 1/4 CTO and 1/2 CTO and some ND3 and/or ND6 for each lamp, you're far more versatile with any kind of lighting conditions, plus you can bring a little color into your lighting - from very subtle up to really orange or blue (if you stack the ctbs or ctos you can make them 3/4, full and so on). You could get other colored gels of any kind, but what you really need is a stash of conversion gels because with them you can add color without getting an unnatural look. The NDs are useful for reducing the amount of light by one or two stops.
The tricky task with the worklights is how to fix gels on them without burning them immediately. If you put them right on the lamp they become clear/brown in a matter of minutes...

Last edited by Heiko Saele; March 18th, 2007 at 07:58 PM. Reason: adding information
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Old March 23rd, 2007, 03:29 AM   #5
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Thanks everyone for the great advice thus far... I've been adding some stuff to the kit while keeping it extremely low-budget: 5 150W spot bulbs and a bunch of aluminium foil that I use to aim them properly, it works awesome and does miracles for the lighting and it cost me close to nothing.

I don't know if we'll need gels because we're going for a pretty warm look throughout the entire movie (sorta like Amélie Poulain).

Also, I think we can get the same effect as the china lantern by taking a work light and just bouncing it off a wall or ceiling from a distance, or would this be completely different?
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Old March 23rd, 2007, 01:58 PM   #6
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A china ball just gives you more options than bouncing an open face instrument (like a work light) off of a wall or ceiling. They are mobile, so you can keep an even illumination on your actor in a moving shot with a minimum number of light sources. You can use some of that aluminum foil to mask off portions of the ball to control spill to some degree. You don't have to fight the color shift that you get when you bounce off of surfaces that aren't white.

There is a noticable difference in the quality of the light from a china lantern vs. a bounce off the wall. Which source you'd prefer for what you are shooting is your call.
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Old March 23rd, 2007, 04:30 PM   #7
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could you post some example frames from shots you are trying to emulate the lighting style? Having concrete examples along with the list of equipment would let us recommend non-random lighting setups.
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