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Old May 29th, 2006, 01:29 PM   #1
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Cheapest way to properly light a subject?

I am looking for the cheapest way to properly light a subject. I am going to shoot a few short documentaries this fall with indoor locations and I am looking for a cheap and dirty method to light my subjects. I am not thinking big brand AAA here, but more in the lines of Walmart. So which types of lights are recommended and what do they cost? I do not mind if I need one, two or three lights as long as I have a cheap but compelete kit.

Obviously, the type of light must look good when on video.

I hope there are some true indies here or people who started with something in line with what I am looking for. Thanks!
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Old May 29th, 2006, 02:44 PM   #2
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I've actually gotten some pretty good results from the cheap halogen worklights you can get at Home Depot. They work very well as fill-type lights. Your best bet is to bounce them onto your subject, as they tend to look a bit harsh directly.
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Old May 29th, 2006, 03:05 PM   #3
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If you want to go for a cinema verite or news feel, you may not even want to use any lighting at all. Or you may prefer to interview your subjects in the midst of some action happening. Even if it's not a live event, you can interview them as they are walking through some location of importance. You may or may not prefer that over sit-down interviews.

Anyways, the cheapest way to light subjects is not to bother. The majority of footage in many documentaries don't have any lighting in them, because they can't add lighting in situations they can't control (i.e. outdoors).

And because there's really no "proper" way of doing lighting (or doing a documentary), you could just go with whatever makes sense for your artistic goals/vision.

2- If you do want to use lighting:

A- Outdoors sit-down/stand-up interview. The only cheap solution that will do anything is to use reflectors.

The cheapest reflector you can get would be to take a piece of cardboard and tape/glue crinkled tinfoil onto it. If you get the cardboard from a box, you can tape the four sides together in a way that folds up easily. You'd have to figure out how to hold that piece of cardboard... maybe tape it onto a upright case of some sort.

You'd use the reflector to get rid of shadows that you don't like.

Another option would be to use a reflector that folds up into a disc... Photoflex is one manufacturer that makes these. They have stands to hold them. You may find this more convenient.

With any reflector, wind can cause problems.

B- Indoors interview.

This is a lot more open-ended if you want to use lighting creatively (like in editorial photography). And unlike outdoors, you will have a lot more lighting control possible and the sun won't overpower your lights.

If you just want to do 'technical' lighting, then you'd just make sure there's enough light to avoid noise. The better cameras can shoot in darker situations.
And you'd light to avoid mixed color temperatures or nasty shadows.

To add illumination to a room, a quick way to do that is to bounce a lot of light off the ceilings (they have to be white-ish though). Any light will work, although open-faced lights will output more light than fresnels or other kinds of light.

To light subjects, it's hard to go wrong with soft light. Ways to do this:
--Reflectors as mentioned previously. If you're reflecting sunlight, be aware that the sun moves.

--You could also build yourself 'nanolights', which Victor Milt explains in his lighting DVD.
http://vasst.com/search.aspx?for=268...&sort=priority
One version is a bunch of (dimmable) fluorescents (the kind that fits into normal light sockets) inside a Chinese lantern. Because fluorescents run cool, you can get a bunch of Y-adapters and stick a bunch of them inside a lantern.

--You can bounce light into a reflector. An open-faced light would give you more light output, although any light would be fine. The advantage of this is that it's easy to gel the light to match color temperatures. When you don't match color temperatures, tungsten lights will usually appear a little orange in relation to everything else.

--You can also use a chimera (see Chimera Lighting) or a softbox. These are a little more expensive.

The low budget lighting thread in the lighting forum has information on how to get lights cheap. To get gels cheaply, you may be able to snag some for free. A lot of shoots just throw gels away once they wrap. If you go to an equipment rental house, you may be able to snag some gels.

For lighting backgrounds creatively, you have a huge range of options.

If you want backlight, then you want a lightweight light that you can easily grip onto the ceiling. The focus should be narrow, and the light doesn't have to put out that much light. The Lowel Pro lights are good for this purpose, and reasonably cheap (esp. compared to LED lights).

If you want to travel light, the Lowel lights are great for that purpose. Their stands aren't that great though... some people like to replace them.

A reasonably good kit might be:
A few reflectors + stands or some other way of holding them.
2 Lowel Pro lights.
An open face light like a Lowel Tota or Omni.
A soft light source like a Chinese lantern or softbox.
Misc. - Gaffer tape, gels, clothespins, gloves, stands, knife, extra bulbs etc.
Grip equipment - stuff to mount lights off various things
Power cords, dimmers
A good bag/case to hold all your gear.

If you don't have that much money, maybe try something like:
Reflectors.
A chinese lantern.
A third light for background or backlight or kicker. i.e. Lowel Pro or cheaper.
Gels + other misc. gear.

3- Lights that are good for film/video usually aren't sold at walmart, but film/video/photographic retailers like B&H (bhphotovideo.com) or EVS or some of the other sponsors of this site.

If you don't have that much money, then go to a supermarket, buy some tinfoil, and take some of their cardboard. Reflectors give great light and cheap, but don't necessarily work the best in every situation.
If you want more lighting gear, then read the sticky in the lighting forum.

4- Like I said before, there's no "proper" way to light something. It comes down to taste and art. And depending on what you like (or what you think everyone else likes), you may prefer different lighting instruments.

And sometimes you can use natural light. Move things around into good light... if there are white drapes, close them so you now have a very soft light coming in. Things like that.

5- Good books on the subject are John Jackman's book (this is quite practical and useful) and Ross Lowel's book (this one focuses on art more). John Jackman's book is the one I'd get first, because it has technical/practical information you need to know (i.e. how not to blow a fuse).
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Old May 29th, 2006, 07:43 PM   #4
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honestly, go get two china ball lanterns (24" or so...) and two 150-200W lightbulbs.

Use one as a key and one as a backlight. No, it is not perfect, but for time, money, and your skill level (not an insult), it will be your best bet for around $20.
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Old May 29th, 2006, 07:54 PM   #5
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sun and a bounce card...put the sun over their shoulder to act as a hair light, then use a piece of foamcore spray painted silver or gold for key light and some white for fill on the other side. Basic three point lighting with no lights or electricity. $15 for a 2'x4' sheet

Indoors, same thing with light through a window...play with different looks by using the sun as key instead of the hair light (assuming the background color is complementary to the subject) and bouncing for fill.

As far as lights go, I'm using AC Delco clamp lights as they have clamps that won't fall apart after 10 minutes of use. I'm putting GE soft white flourescent screw in bulbs in them and getting really nice light that takes 1/3 the power of halogens and doesn't create any heat on set. If you need softer light, throw 3-6 of these at the back of a white bedsheet draped from a microphone stand or something. $15 for a light and bulb.

I use black spring clamps from home depot to attach all my extraneous stuff to stands. You can get a big set of them for $20ish.

Play with it, get books on still photography lighting. If you need to have folks moving through a scene, have them land in pools of light (put their marks in the place where they are correctly lit). You can then light their marks through out the scene and overlap these pools of light to have them not pass through darkness between them (unless that's what you're looking for of course).
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Old May 29th, 2006, 10:32 PM   #6
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So what wattage are you talking here Cole? Right now I'm playing with 250 watt bulbs, with a little diffusion.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 02:17 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cole McDonald
sun and a bounce card...put the sun over their shoulder to act as a hair light, then use a piece of foamcore spray painted silver or gold for key light and some white for fill on the other side. Basic three point lighting with no lights or electricity. $15 for a 2'x4' sheet

Indoors, same thing with light through a window...play with different looks by using the sun as key instead of the hair light (assuming the background color is complementary to the subject) and bouncing for fill.

As far as lights go, I'm using AC Delco clamp lights as they have clamps that won't fall apart after 10 minutes of use. I'm putting GE soft white flourescent screw in bulbs in them and getting really nice light that takes 1/3 the power of halogens and doesn't create any heat on set. If you need softer light, throw 3-6 of these at the back of a white bedsheet draped from a microphone stand or something. $15 for a light and bulb.

I use black spring clamps from home depot to attach all my extraneous stuff to stands. You can get a big set of them for $20ish.

Play with it, get books on still photography lighting. If you need to have folks moving through a scene, have them land in pools of light (put their marks in the place where they are correctly lit). You can then light their marks through out the scene and overlap these pools of light to have them not pass through darkness between them (unless that's what you're looking for of course).
Thanks man. Great information everyone. I have plenty of books on lightning but I just wanted to see specific examples of which types of lights to use. Maybe you can take a picture of your lights? I live in The Netherlands and there is no Walmart or Home Depot here but there are other stores of course, but things are named differently here so a photo would be nice.

I also have to note that I am having a more purist approach of documentary filmmaking at this moment. So I try to shoot everything as natural as possible, only when I really have to, I want to use lighting. For example, with key interviews when I want the face of my subjects to be perfectly lit.

So I suppose I can do with like 3 small lights and maybe one bigger.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 08:01 AM   #8
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The bulbs are equivalent to 100-150 wattbulbs for lumen output. But 3 of them take the same power as one normal bulb, so for the amperage of 1-100 watt bulb, you can get 300 watts of light. This makes location lighting much easier. I run a cigarette lighter power inverter out of my car with long extension cords, so I can get more light this way with out having to rent/hire a generator.

bulbs: http://genet.geappliances.com/LightP...ted_SpiralŪ_T3

lights: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...453?n=15684181
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Old May 30th, 2006, 11:46 AM   #9
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The link to GE seems to be having problems. I think GE may have redesigned their site.
Are you talking about the GE Soft White spiral T3? If so, which wattage, etc. (there appears to be several pages of them).

Thanks again Cole!
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Old May 30th, 2006, 12:13 PM   #10
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I'm using the highest wattages I found in Home Depot - 23(?)

The best thing about them is that if you run out of lighting stands, they are cool enough, I had my AD hold one in a doorway hidden on the other side of it as a hiarlight...no gloves or anything. Worked marvelously!

<edit>I got to the GE site through http://www.ge.com </edit>
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Old May 30th, 2006, 05:30 PM   #11
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Another great light to use as a hairlight is one of those auto lights you store in the trunk for emergencies. The kind that are about a zillion candle power.

$20.
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Old May 31st, 2006, 12:21 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Gregory-Browne
Another great light to use as a hairlight is one of those auto lights you store in the trunk for emergencies. The kind that are about a zillion candle power.

$20.
I am not sure which light you are talking about. Do you have a photo?
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Old May 31st, 2006, 07:40 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Floris van Eck
I am not sure which light you are talking about. Do you have a photo?
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...lance&n=228013
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Old May 31st, 2006, 09:11 AM   #14
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Thanks! Now I can be a smart shopper and do my lighting experiments without breaking the bank (or burning off my hands).
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Old May 31st, 2006, 09:46 AM   #15
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If you can back that sun gun up a bit and let the beam widen, you could blast that onto a sheet and get some pretty bright soft light from it...not sure how much the beam will grow over distance. For $20 it wouldn't be that expensive to experiment with though.
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