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Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures

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Jon FrostLighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 9, 2012 at 5:29:30 am

Having read some of the recent postings, I thought it might be nice to offer some guidance to those beginning to acquire their fledgling G&E kits.

It seems that some folks get stuck on "what lights should I buy first." I would suggest that Lighting Control is more important than the number and type of light fixtures to purchase first. A fixture is nice to have, but if you can't control the light coming from the fixture, you are going to be frustrated from the start.

A simple 3 point lighting kit from a manufacturer like Lowel is a great place to start. You can often find used fixtures, stands, or even full 3 or 4 light kits on Ebay and Craigslist at reasonable prices.

Look into a simple lighting control flag kit from one of the Grip Manufacturers like Matthews, Advanced, Modern, etc. Again, you can find some nice deals used on the Internet.

Remember that a good part of a lighting plan is shaping and controlling the light you have on hand or need to add via additional fixtures. Sometimes it takes multiple light control devices, each on their own C-stand with a sandbag/shotbag to control the light from just one fixture.

You can light with fixtures from Home Depot for truly budget conscious gaffers, but that light still needs to be shaped and controlled.

Once you have your simple light kit and lighting control kit... set up one light on your subject or scene as a Key. Move the key light around your subject/scene and see how it changes as you move it. Next, set up your Fill. This light can be about 50-60% of your key light wattage.

Next set your Back or hair light.

Move back to your Key and apply a 1/2 scrim in front of the fixure. See how the light changes. Do you notice more detail and less blow out on your subject/scene.

Keep moving your lights around and watch how the light and shadows change. Try out your lighting control kit on the 3 lights.

Experimentation is the mother of invention. Have fun!


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Scott SheriffRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 9, 2012 at 8:50:38 pm

[Jon Frost] "It seems that some folks get stuck on "what lights should I buy first." I would suggest that Lighting Control is more important than the number and type of light fixtures to purchase first. A fixture is nice to have, but if you can't control the light coming from the fixture, you are going to be frustrated from the start."

Well, I wouldn't really agree with that. Light control pieces aren't much good without lights and the first and easiest control is the pin-flood control on a real light.
I suppose this is really dependent on what type of work you do, the size of the crew, and what your budget is. And by budget, I mean time and money. Deploying a large amount of light controls is often out of the question due to the amount of time and warm bodies this requires. Sure it's nice to have a grip truck full of flags, etc, but people have been doing decent lighting for years without using film style light controls. Lots of folks can get by with 3-4 lights with barndoors, C47's, a little Cinefoil, and it your really on a budget hardware store metal screen in place of scrims.
Give a limited budget that only allows for "home depot" lights, but some light control items vs a adequate number of proper lights with barndoors and no extra light control items, I'd go with the real lights every time.
My minimum list would be:
4 basic lights with barndoors, stands, sandbags, alternate wattage lamps and spares.
A light meter, probably a Sekonic L-398.
Basic grip supplies-gloves, cinefoil, C47, ND, booster, etc.
Once you acquire these items, then purchase light control items as needed, probably starting with a Cimera for one of the lights, or maybe a couple of C-stands and sandbags and go from there with flags, reflectors, etc..

Scott Sheriff
Director
http://www.sstdigitalmedia.com


"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." ---Red Adair

Where were you on 6/21?


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Jon FrostRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 9, 2012 at 9:14:57 pm

Scott:

Thanks for your input. There are so many ways to put together a basic lighting kit on a budget. I have been reading recent posts where the poster has a budget of say, $500.00... How would you spend that $500?

I've seen folks using Home Depot Worklights with 500 watt bulbs and similar fluorescent fixtures. There was an immediate problem since that light could not be controlled other than On/Off.

Most of the jobs I work on are no/lo/deferred jobs produced by students with little or no budget and no real idea of what is necessary to mount a production, feed and water the cast and crew, etc.

I often bring my flag kits and some C-stands to help them out, limited by the available space in my car.

A soft box of some sort would be a nice addition to a light fixture. Next to that, some foam core for flagging, which probably needs a way to mount and position (ala C-stand with a Lowel foam core mounting plate...)

C-47s are always on my list along with some gel/diff.

Welcome any input that helps out the newest graduates from the film schools with mounting their first 'real world' production.

Jon


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Scott SheriffRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:04:01 am

[Jon Frost] "I have been reading recent posts where the poster has a budget of say, $500.00... How would you spend that $500?"

That would really depend on what you are lighting. You could target that budget differently depending on the gig.
But...In a generic kind of way what can you do with 500 bucks?
Two trains of thought depending on if you are somewhere you can rent, or not.
If you can rent, spend the money on light meter, and having your own basic tools and supplies. You don't get that stuff when you rent, and you will need it. Spend the remaining money on renting what you need. Then buy as you go along, once you know what you will use most often.

Don't want to rent, or can't rent? Think used, open face lights. Fresnels like Arri's are cool, but Lowel open face lights are simple, easy to field repair, travel well, and are reasonably priced. The accessories are reasonable too. Despite all the LED, Kino and other advancements in lighting, these simple open face lights are quite serviceable, and combined with some basic control devices can produce great results. If you find you need 'better' lights in the future, buy as needed.

[Jon Frost] "A soft box of some sort would be a nice addition to a light fixture. Next to that, some foam core for flagging, which probably needs a way to mount and position (ala C-stand with a Lowel foam core mounting plate...)"

A Lowel Tota and a Chimera work pretty good for a softbox, even if the Chimera and speed ring are a bit pricey. Or use the traditional Lowel umbrella with the Tota, or bounce light it off a foam core. People might laugh at the Tota, but they have some uses that you don't want to waste a better light on, and can make your lighting kit go farther.
I'm not a fan of flagging hot lights with foam core, but for reflector/fill, I use it a lot. A foam core holder and a couple of C-stands are really must have basic items. A couple of china's are good to have also. A Wescott Scrim Jim kit is pretty handy too.

Scott Sheriff
Director
http://www.sstdigitalmedia.com


"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." ---Red Adair

Where were you on 6/21?


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Todd TerryRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 9, 2012 at 9:16:04 pm

[Scott Sheriff] "this is really dependent on what type of work you do, the size of the crew, and what your budget is."

This is really true. We don't have a gigantic inventory of instruments, but we usually have what we need... tungstens, flos, and HMIs (haven't ventured into the LED territory yet, but it's coming). Every now and then we might rent an additional HMI or two for some special need, but not usually.

Same for grip equipment... we don't have 9 tons of grip stuff, but we have most of the usual gear you'll see on a grip truck.

That being said, when I light I rarely use most of what we have, because I just don't need it.... at least not with the way that I learned to light. I put a double scrim in a little tungsten fresnel last Friday, as the instrument was too hot. I can't remember the last time I did that. I literally had to think "Now where do we keep those?" As for flags (and fingers and dots and all that), they are rarely used either. I couldn't tell you the last time I broke out a real flag...literally. It's probably been months... maybe longer.

It's just the way I do things, and have learned to make it work for me. Then again, there are other DPs that couldn't live without the flags. Conversely, there's probably gear that I use and rely on every day that others rarely, if ever, even break out.

Back in my previous life before I moved behind the camera, I used to love to watch the DPs (which is how I learned most of what I know). I always found it amazing to see two different guys light a scene, both get beautiful and fairly similar results, but go about getting it in very different ways.

Just depends on how you work. But, it's not math... there are no right and wrong answers. It's just gotta look great.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Dennis SizeRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 9, 2012 at 10:32:04 pm

Well said Todd!

DS



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Sunday BejideRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 6:15:12 pm

This is my first promo production independently, and i would like advice on a lighting scheme. I'm looking to have an "apple" look with a white screen back ground such as;








In order to get this crisp detail look I have order a lighting kit : http://www.borrowlenses.com/product/lighting_kits/Lowel_DV_55

Is more lighting needed? or should this work to get the job done???

Thanks


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 6:34:17 pm

What are you shooting? A talking head? A product? If a product, what?

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Sunday BejideRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 6:38:45 pm

yes, a talking head same frame to the video I referenced, when the Talents were speaking.


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 7:46:53 pm

That kit seems to have 4 lights, though the text leaves out the tota light. To get an even white behind the speaker you will probably want two matched lights for even illumination. (See below.) The speaker has a very soft key, a very soft fill, and at least one scratch light, and probably a light back light though you may not need one, depending on the shirt and hair color.

Balance is the issue, as well as control. I see no scrims for any lights, nor any c-stands and grip-scrims. So the short answer is you will have a hard time achieving that look with only the kit. Add at least 4 c-stands and 3 sets of grip 18x24 scrims, and a 4x4 piece of foamcore. Try to also get wire scrims for the lights.

Key with the Rifa. Fill by bouncing some of the key light with the foamcore. Set the tota flood on one side of the background, the omni on the other in full flood. Move the lights until there is even illumination across the background visible in the shot. A light meter would help. If your camera has a waveform built-in or a histogram, you can do it that way. Otherwise use Zebras -- set to around 85-90, close the iris and then slowly open it. If you get even zebras across the white field the field is lit evenly. Use the pro light with scrims as a scratch.

You still have to find the right balance between the whiteness of the background and the intensity of light on your subject. Place a Caucasian in the shot. Set zebras to 70%. Adjust iris until you see just a hint of zebra on the hottest spot of the face, usually the forehead and/or nose bridge. Lock the iris there. Now set the zebras to 85-90%. Adjust the intensity of the background until at the given iris you found for the subject you just get even zebras at 90 across the background. (Probably more efficient to start with the key and iris, and THEN go for the background, instead of starting with the background.)

It would be easier to have two omnis or two totas instead of one of each.

Also, try to set the speaker at least 10' in front of the white background so that you can keep the two lights on the background from hitting the speaker. The greater the distance, the easier to control, but the bigger the background white surface has to be -- and your two little lights may not make even illumination of sufficient intensity.

How crisp the image is will depend a lot on your lens and camera. That Apple piece was shot very high end.

I'd say your kit is on the ragged edge for what you want to do, but with time and a lot of patience and a huge amount of adjustment you might pull this off.

Alternatively, instead of trying to cram a 50-pound box into a tiny bottle, come up with a different and creative idea that works well with what you have.

I'm sure some of my colleagues here will have other ideas for you.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Sunday BejideRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 8:14:03 pm

Ok lets back up a little.

If you were shooting this production, what camera, and lighting equipment would you use personally? Scratch the kit.

Sorry for the confusion


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Jon FrostRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 8:56:02 pm

I so glad this thread has taken off.

I often work with students and it seems that many are not thinking about using scrims and the like that might come in their kits. Most often Lowel 3 or 4 light kits, but without all the suggested accessories. Imagine shooting without scrims, gel frames, etc.... So this is why I suggest that light control devices are another solution. The students seem to know about scrim kits and the occasional 36" silver/gold collapsable reflector.

I just wrapped on a student project shot below deck on the USS Salem in Quincy, MA. Picture 6-7' ceilings and all sorts of stuff hanging lower than ceiling height. one Tota omni light or maybe two. No soft box, no hair light, no flags, one reflector... They did have some gel sheets... you get the idea.

On the second day of shooting I brought my 18" x 24" Flag Kit and some 20" C-Stands with grip arms, and a Rifa 66 soft box w/ Lowel Pro light and some gel frames/gel.

What a difference having these few accessories made in shot lighting and shaping of the available lighting.

Thanks for all the insights... I hope the students out there are reading.

Namaste,

Jon Frost


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:00:59 pm

What is your budget?

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Jon FrostRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:10:56 pm

Rick:

Most of the projects I work on are the no/lo/deferred student projects where any and sometime all the budget is spent renting a RED camera system and maybe not even having 2 HDD backup of the footage...

Some projects are equipped by the school or college/university program, and the students have to come up with an equipment list and often don't get everything on their list due to the number of students shooting at the same time.

I am primarily providing location audio and possibly media wrangling/DIT. Since I have a full HD production system that I rent, I can fit some small amount of G&E in my car. Often the students are so happy that they come up with some cash to cover the extra gear since it adds immensely to their production quality.

Jon


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Sunday BejideRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 9:12:36 pm

Approx. $900-$1,500

On lighting alone, $500-$700.

Will (3) flood lights to light up the white-screen, (2) soft boxes for Key/fill lighting, and a foam board reflector give me the quality i'm searching for?

Please give me all the advice, knowledge, and recommendations you have. Thanks, I want tis done correctly.
Any links to brands and websites would be great also

-S.B.


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 10:57:54 pm

Jon, sounds like your students are extremely lucky to have your support! My budget question was for S.B.

S.B. I think the answers are in my original reply to your query. Two or 4 "flood" lights for the background - an equal number for each side. Maybe get 4 totas, and end up using either 2 or 4, depending on the spread you need. You might end up with one on each side, one above and one from the floor -- or just two altogether. A soft key, such as a 1K through both 4x4 opal and 6x6 1/2 grid cloth, a small raking light such as the pro light, and/or a small back light dosed so that you'd miss it if it were not there but don't really see it. For fill, use the foamcore to bounce part of the key. 3-6 c-stands as mentioned with sets of singles and doubles. Get at least one sand bag for each c-stand. Wire scrims as well for the key and back lights.

Camera: If you can, rent an Alexa. Next step down, a Red. Or, An F3 or c300. Sticks. Audio.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Sunday BejideRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 11:38:52 pm

Thanks for your help Mr. Wise. I will for sure sned you a link of the final production once done.

CHEERS!


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Mark SuszkoRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 11, 2012 at 1:41:09 pm

Rick, I probably know this by another name, but what do you mean when you call it a "scratch light"?


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 11, 2012 at 5:32:18 pm

Mark, a raking light, usually placed on the fill-side of the face but sometimes on the key and even sometimes on both sides. It kisses part of the cheek, creating a highlight. Usually the light is placed at the same height as the head and carefully placed to add a sort of side rim.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Sunday BejideRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 10, 2012 at 10:57:50 pm

Approx. $900-$1,500

On lighting alone, $500-$700.

Will (3) kino lights to light up the white-screen, (1) kino for Key lighting


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 11, 2012 at 5:36:49 pm

What size? 2 bulbs? 4 bulbs? 2' or 4'? I'd get the larger size for all -- you can always cut down the number of illuminated bulbs, but you can never boost the light of a small unit except by moving it closer, which creates its own problems.

In general, you still need a fill light (use a 4x4 foamcore held by a c-stand). You also need lighting controls -- those c-stands, scrims. You still need a small back light -- could be a small 2-bulb 2'kino flown into place at the end of a c-stand. You may well want some diffusion for the key kino. You might want some light (1/8) CTO or CTB for the back light, depending on hair color.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 12, 2012 at 10:27:42 pm

A note of caution. It's pretty much impossible to light well trying to follow a "recipe" from some one else. It's been my experience that every time I followed the advice of another more experienced DP I did not like the results. It's only when you find your own eye that you start to fly. Fortunately we learn a lot from our mistakes.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Jon FrostRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 12, 2012 at 11:41:50 pm

Certainly this thread wasn't meant to devolve into words of caution:

The whole idea of this thread was to promote the sharing of ideas, methods, materials and experimentation. Every lighting job I have ever worked has been a collaboration between the camera department, gaffers/grips and others to fine tune what the DP is looking for. This involves the sharing of ideas, methods and materials.

Those who are just getting started can learn to appreciate the wisdom of those who came before them. With all the technology ( i.e. Kino-Flo and Cool Lights, RED Camera Systems, Arri Alexa, DLSRs, etc.) related to digital cinema, today's students have huge opportunities to try out new ideas and rely on tried and true methods decades past.

Thanks for everyone input... Discourse is a wonderful thing!


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Rick WiseRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:02:55 am

Devolve? I hardly think so. The word of caution comes from experience: don't think that trying to follow my "recipes" is going to work as well for you as it does for me. There are no recipes, in fact, just general guidelines. It's up to the shooter to develop the eye along with the technical skills to tackle any and every opportunity.

I agree about the terrific opportunities for today's students.

Note: my "caution" was directed at SB.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Bill DavisRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:46:20 am

[Rick Wise] "Devolve? I hardly think so. The word of caution comes from experience: don't think that trying to follow my "recipes" is going to work as well for you as it does for me. There are no recipes, in fact, just general guidelines. It's up to the shooter to develop the eye along with the technical skills to tackle any and every opportunity.

I agree about the terrific opportunities for today's students.

Note: my "caution" was directed at SB.
"


It strikes me that what Rick is saying is not just true it's pretty universal about all the "creative" skills.

Take cooking for example.

Better yet, take two forms of cooking. Meal preparation - and baking a cake.

Cookbooks are legion. Good "recipes" are accessible to all. But we still have a relatively small number of people who truly excel at the arts of cooking.

I mention both, because they require subtly different skills. The chef works largely in the realm of flavors, textures, spice balances, and even eye appeal. The baker, on the other hand, has to have a deep understanding of food chemistry and the effects of temperature over time on ingredients. Not all great cooks are great bakers and vice versa.

In the video realm - having a "recipe" for lighting is not much different in my mind.

A lousy cook can take a perfectly good recipe and turn out pretty lousy food. Not because they don't know or can't follow the recipe, but because they lack experience in how the recipe relates to the real world of cooking. A talented chef can take that same basic recipe, and using their decades of knowledge of tastes and presentation and turn out something people will pay serious money to enjoy.

The baker has to approach things differently. They need to work within very strict guidelines in order to achieve success. If the temp is wrong, the yeast isn't handled correctly of the timing or heat is off by a narrow margin of error, things can go very wrong.

The important thing is to understand that buying cooking equipment never makes anyone a good cook - buying an oven never makes someone a good baker and, of course, buying video production or editing gear, never actually makes anyone competent in the skills of video making. The equipment merely enables your ability to start learning.

All "recipes" are just a set of procedural guides that even if followed very closely - are a beginning point.

You need to add your own special ingredients to make things really special - and that takes a lot of trial, error, and constant learning in order to achieve consistent quality results.

FWIW.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Connor


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Dennis SizeRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 13, 2012 at 3:13:04 pm

BILL: Congrats! You win the award for the best advice given in a long time!!



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Bill DavisRe: Lighting Control vs Lighting Fixtures
by on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:11:35 am

Oops, double post.


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