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Susann Kovacs December 19th, 2006 01:58 AM

Backpack lighting - budgeting space & $$
Hi guys..

Firstly, yes I've read the cheap lighting article (which is fabulously helpful). I'm looking for some advice from experienced, impoverished videographers on assembling a highly portable lighting solution (sounds good eh?)

Basically, I'm using a canon xl2 and will be operating out of a backpack - I need to be a one (wo)man band. My lighting situations will be both indoor and outdoor, often offices or hallways etc. For these purposes I'm only concerned with supplementing natural light, not lighting a set from scratch.

What I'm thinking I'll need to squish into my pack is:
2 small lights
1 collapsable stand
1 reflector
some diffuser

How does that sound?

I don't need extremely powerful lights - this is very much run and gun, so the smaller the better. Since price is very much a limiting factor (i'm looking to spend maybe 200 all up), I'd be happy with 2nd hand or non-professional lights. Worklights, or whatever.

I need something small, cheap and versatile...

any suggestions? (bearing in mind I live in Australia...but I'm happy to purchase online).

Dominic Jones December 19th, 2006 09:07 AM

Hmmm... Well, for exteriors you're not gonna get any lights that'll really do you any good, so reflectors it is - get at least one, maybe a couple of flex-fills (sometimes called lastolites over here, all brand names I think - not sure what the Aussie jargon is!).

As for lighting interiors, well...

Worklamps are cheap and relatively small, but a pain in the you-know-where to work with. Dedo's would probably be the best bet, but price-wise they're probably out of your range. Might be worth seeing what you can find 2nd hand/ex-rental though, you never know...

A friend of mine (who's also a DP), uses a couple of collapsible photo-floods (I'm not sure the brand name) that come with soft boxes - if you're using a bigish backpack then you might fit 1 or 2 of those in there - they run @ 1k or 500w and provide very nice light - I think he got his new for 150, so 2nd hand they may well be a grand option...

Hope that helps!

Michael Wisniewski December 19th, 2006 09:11 AM

The lowell tota-light is very portable and squishes very well into backpacks. They can sometimes even fit in the side pockets. Useful accessories; a reflecting or shoot thru umbrella and a clip-on attachment (Lowell Large Spring Clamp or Tota Mount). You might also check out the lowell pro-light depending on your needs.

Keep in mind, if you're a one woman or man band, you'll probably need a second stand for the reflector, preferably one with a boom.

Kevin Randolph December 19th, 2006 12:07 PM

I'd go with the Lowel Tota-lite for your key and a Prolite for your hair/rim with an umbrella on the tota and a snoot on the prolite. Two stands and a dimmer for the prolite and you'll be set for indoors. As for outside, I second the idea for the reflector with a stand and boom arm. There's a kit a B&H by Photoflex that's great. Here's the link for the 42", but they come smaller to save on price. And you could use the stand that comes with this to support one of your lights for the indoor shoots.


Hope this helps somewhat...

Bob Grant December 19th, 2006 03:37 PM

for small and cheap, incandescent lighting is the best, while fluro is better, per watt the units are way bigger. From memory Miller Australia are the local agents for Lowell, buying from them means you get the correct voltage lamps and correct 3 pin plugs plus (hopefully) they've had the units given a C Tick rating. The later can be no small issue, we've gone a bit nuts over electrical safety down here after at least one guy got fried on a shoot. All equipment is now supposed to be tested and tagged regularly. 90% of the time no one seems to care and then you go into a venue and run into the safety guy and all hell can break loose so it can pay to make certain all your electrical stuff has current tags.
Things might be different in Queensland but I think the standards have been made national.

Susann Kovacs December 19th, 2006 06:31 PM

Ok so sounds like the Lowel Tota-lite is fan favourite. If I can find one in my price range (possibly even second hand) then that's a definite.

My brother works in the music industry and was suggesting a cheap set of par stage lights, just to get started...I'm thinking they would be very 'spotty' though?

In the meantime, a decent set of reflectors sounds like the way to go.

I'm going tripod shopping in the next day or so and will see what I dig up!

Seth Bloombaum December 20th, 2006 02:41 PM

Well, the tota is the most light per weight and volume, no question. The reason for this is that it is basically a bare-bulb fixture with minimal small reflection surfaces behind it.

But it's the only 1000w instrument that will fit in your (large) pocket! And certainly your backpack.

Please note that everybody who reccommended the Tota also said "with an umbrella" or "with diffusion". Without these controls, IMHO the tota is only suitable for lighting backgrounds. Of course, there may be applications for an extremely hard light for people... single-source b&w horror films come to mind, but I'm sure there are others.

The Lowel pro is a very small very versatile light, but beam spread is pretty narrow. Don't know why a snoot was recc. above, maybe to control lens flare.

I built a suitcase kit for an overseas shoot about a year ago, it consisted of:
2 little moles, apx. equivalent to Lowel Omni,
1 Lowel Rifa 55, loved it, highly recommended compact soft box,
2 lightweight stands,
32" 5-in-1 flexifill style reflector/diffuser,
24" flexifill-style diffuser
2 Lowel tota clamps
2 Lowel scissor clamps (for t-bar ceilings and big foot)
1 Lowel big foot
1 Lowel lobo with arm
a large piece of tough spun, a couple small pieces
some CTB gel, which I didn't use
A couple small pieces of black wrap

If I had to slim it down for a backpack, the Rifa would be in, so would the flexifills. Maybe I'd add a Pro, and a tota, 2 stands, tota clamp (subsitutes for a stand), tough spun and clips... Apologies, this is way over your budget, but starting with a good soft source like the Rifa is a good thing.

Mark Zaller December 27th, 2006 07:51 PM

Int'l power for lighting kits?
Seth or others,
How does your overseas kit handle 220 volts?

Do you have:
- a 110/200v power supply
- a 2nd set of 220v bulbs and power-cords
- inverter
- separate light kits for here and there

I too am a one man show needing a flyable light kit for America and Europe. Weight is important, but power is critical. I've been wondering about going with batteried lights, and using a 110/220 power DC powersupply or buying a car battery (maybe borrowing it from the rental car) wherever I might be.

Any suggestions would be appreciated, thanks.


Seth Bloombaum December 28th, 2006 11:14 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Umm... I'm not an electrician in 120v land, much less 220v. Use at your own risk; what I've described below worked for me.


Originally Posted by Mark Zaller
Seth or others,
How does your overseas kit handle 220 volts?

Do you have:
- a 2nd set of 220v bulbs and power-cords...

A set of 220v bulbs (about $24-35 each), and power adaptors to use on my existing cables.

Be aware that for the most common european plug (two parallel round blades) there actually is a grounded version, which you want, which has a round plug body with a grounding contact in an indentation in the plug body. This grounded version also has thicker blades.

However, I've not travelled all over europe with these adaptors (my last trip was to Turkey) - and different countries can have different systems.

I purchased bulbs at a local grip & lighting supply and online. My adaptors came from Fry's. I probably spent a little over $100 getting the kit described above onto 220v. (BTW, some countries are 235 or 240). I used all US-style extension cords and cube taps.

There are online sources that will tell you what plugs & voltages are in use in what countries - sorry, I don't know of one that is authoritative.

If image attachments work for me (first time), see the photo below and click on it for a larger size. The two adaptors on the left are the beefier, grounded version that you'd want for lights. The black ones on the right have thinner pins, and are great for your battery charger & other small stuff.

Jim Schweer December 28th, 2006 11:34 AM

a cheap choice
Susann, you did say you'd consider non-professional equipment and that you were supplementing existing light. This was my cheap solution. For stands I use cheesy tripod-based mic stands. For lights, a couple of clamp lights, that can be nested to save space when stored, and some spiral fluorescent bulbs that run cool enough that I can use a handkerchief to soften the light. Foamcore for fill. I did splurge for a colapsible reflector, my one extravagance.

If you're in offices and hallways, I assume you're working at a close to medium distance from you subject and can use walls and ceilings to reflect your light, too.

Of course, with this setup you have to act very professional to compensate for your obviously non-professional equipment.

Guy Cochran December 29th, 2006 02:16 PM

I'd go with two Lowel Pro lights with barn doors and two large spring clamps.

If you decided to go all out - two of the 2nd generation Litepanels mini's would be even better.

Watch the two videos in the DV Gear Talk link below. The one on Litepanels shows the large spring clamp and ideas on clamping the light to a door etc.

Then watch the video on the Lowel DVcreator Kit. You'll get an idea of what the Pro and the Tota can do.

I'd also toss in a 5n1 32" Photoflex (or similar) reflector - use the "translucent" when you need to soften a 250W Pro light.

Jaron Berman January 3rd, 2007 12:05 AM

Great topic Susann. This is really one of the most difficult challenges I've personally encountered lately, and I'm sure a lot of people agree. While my standard light kit is great when transportation is readily availably, things get annoying VERY quickly when it comes to traveling light. If it were up to me, I'd roll with a truck at all times....but that's not so practical.

A show I've been working on recently made me do exactly this: create a backpack carry-on kit. They rented my kit from me, but at the same time, I'd rather profit off what I already own than go spend it all on new lights.

For daylight, the suggestions of bounced sunlight are basically the best you can do without spending upwards of $5000 (and sacrificing LOADS of flexibility). Get a nice collapsible reflector. White and silver. In sunlight, the silver tends to be VERY bright, usually too bright for your talent, though it can be ok for very brief periods. I usually stick to white bounce as close to the subject as possible. Looks flattering and doesn't cause them to squint too much. To hold it, I use a compact bogen light stand with a reflector arm on it. They're cheap and kinda flimsy, but do the basic job of holding and aiming the panel. Then I gaff tape the hell out of it, so when the wind picks up, it won't twist or re-aim itself. Finally, I use a bogen superclamp with a J-hook, attached to the trunk of the stand. I hang whatever leftover gear (Light kit, batteries, anything heavy) in its bag on the J-hook. This is CRUCIAL, acting like a sand bag to keep the stand from tipping over, or into the talent. You're traveling light, so insetad of dragging extra weight along (sandbags), use your gear. If possible, have an assistant keep a hand on the stand as well...extra security. Reflectors act like sails, and can put a LOT of force onto a stand.

For indoors, run and gun doesn't have to mean ugly. As mentioned by a lot of people, the Lowel Totas are cheap and unbelievably versatile. To supplement available room lighting, put one on a stand and bounce it off the ceiling. For fill, use an umbrella, and place it above the camera. For soft key, put it into a cheap hotlight softbox. Photoflex makes some great boxes.... 24x32" is a really nice size, especially for travel. A softbox with speed ring, tota, and stand will cost less than a Lowel Rifa anywhere near the same power...plus you can use the tota outside of the box. The difference in setup time is about 2 minutes.

For hair/kick light, you can get away with a lot of tricks. Simple, small lights are fine, even open-face lights like the lowel omni. Cheap too! Make sure to get barndoors though, or you'll be fighting flare. I like Dedolights, but you can buy 4-5 Omni's for the price of a single dedo. Make sure to get a lot of spare lamps for all your lights though - nothing worse than lugging all your gear to location, only to find that you have no working lamps. You spent the money and effort on the lights, don't skimp on the cheapest things!

For stands, make sure to get the biggest you can comfortably travel with. Small stands are cute and light, but they tip and bend easily. Go and play with any and all you can get your hands on to decide which will work for you. And don't forget - if you have to check something, check your stands! You can pad them with your softbox, extension cords, and gels, and just trust that they won't get too banged up.

The temptation to use light panels is pretty great these days. A lot of people are using them with a lot of success. However, they are very fragile, very expensive, and don't put out a whole lot of light. Compared to tungsten, they remain very cool, and can even match daylight. BUT - they aren't anywhere near bright enough to use against true sunlight, and they're daylight balanced - meaning you'll have to gel them to match indoors...and lose even more light. Stick to the simple, cheap classics, and get creative with how you control the light. A clever gaffer could make some incredible setups with some clothespins, black-wrap and regular household lamps. Expensive lights make your job easier, but that's not to say you couldn't get the same effect with a little creativity.

So, on your budget (stretched a liiiiiiitle bit):

Lowel Tota
Lowel Omni
Photoflex Medium Silverdome and Speed Ring (for Tota)
Westcott 30" Illuminator Square Reflector
Bogen Superclamp with J-hook
Impact telescopic reflector holder (allows you to mount OVER the stand not to the side like most)
2 x compact light stands
2 x router speed controllers (from harborfreight.com) to dim lights
Extension cord
Triple tap for extension cord - both lights should be fine on the same circuit

Brian Standing January 3rd, 2007 11:20 AM

I recently did a shoot in the Ukraine, where I was shooting in everything from dark, smoky nightclubs to full sun open grassland. I had no idea whether or not I would have access to an electrical outlet, and knew I'd have to shlep everything around myself.

I started looking at some of the on-camera, battery powered lights. I ended picking up two Sony consumer models (Sony HVL-20DW2) that switched from 20W to 10W and used the same batteries as my PD-150. Since these are self-contained, rather than fed from the camera shoe, you can get an adaptor to mount them on a light stand instead of on the camera. On the plus side, these are as cheap, light and small as it gets, run for a good long while on a Sony NPF-970 battery, and make a decent hairlight, fill, or if working in very close quarters, can do for a key in a pinch.

The down side is that these are pretty flimsy, so you have to treat them pretty carefully, and they have no light controls whatsoever. I brought along some blackwrap, diffusion material and gaffer's tape and managed to improvise barn doors or snoots as needed. I also brought along a couple of grip heads, a diffusion frame, and some of these great "umbrella flash mounts:"
so I could mount these little lights wherever I needed them (such as clamped at a 4' offset from my tripod). And, as has already been noted, lots of collapsible reflectors.

Looking at the B&H site, I see Canon makes something similar (VL-10LI) that looks like it might run off your XL2 batteries.

Kevin Randolph January 3rd, 2007 01:43 PM

Brian... unbelievable... really. I never would have thought of such a setup on my own. Small, totally mobile, and I'm sure extremely compact - practically perfect for a backpack kit. If you stop and think about some of the other possibilities along these lines (other battery powered on camera lights that are a bit more powerful) the possibilities for this kind of kit seem (at least to me) pretty fantastic.

Thanks Brian for blowin' my mind...

Brian Standing January 3rd, 2007 02:38 PM

Thanks, Kevin.

The thing that really makes these lights ultra-compact is to use the same battery you're bringing along for the camera, anyway. My goal was to not only save weight, but also to minimize the number of chargers I had to set up each day.

If there's interest, I can post some pix of the tripod-mounted jib I rigged up with one of these lights on it for shooting "run 'n' gun" interviews in a dark night club. It wasn't perfect, but at least gave a little more definition then you'd get with a camera-mounted light.

I may be able to show some pix of the resulting footage, too, although I would have to pull that off a DVD, since I no longer have the original tapes.

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