My first lighting kit is shipping to me... tips?
I just bought my first production lights. They're set to arrive tomorrow. I went for a kit with 3 Arri 650's, stands, scrims, barndoors, and two softboxes with speedrings.
I've never owned lights before. I'm aware that you need to wear gloves when you handle the bulbs. But besides that, I'm a totally newb. If anyone has advice I'd love to hear it.
I've never set up a softbox before. I'd like to hear tips on that. All tips appreciated!!
I bought them because I have some video work I want to do. I'm mainly an audio person, but I wanted to get a kit so I have a full blown production set.
[Sam Mallery] "If anyone has advice I'd love to hear it. "
Best way to learn the kit is to hire the best lighting person (be he/she a DP, grip, gaffer, whatever) in your area to set up your kit, show you around its features, and help you figure out a list of the little things you need to add. In fact, you could reasonably ask this person to bring a few accessories to your session. If you're planning to shoot interviews, make sure you line up a suitable person to sit in for your practice session.
I've seen an audio guy make the transition to a camera guy before. It can happen, but it isn't automatic.
Reagarding the soft bank, the rule of thumb for setup I learned was that you position it around twice whatever the diagonal measurement of the front of the soft bank is. Just a rule of thumb for intial setup, you'd expect to adjust from that point for specific needs, obviously. I actually go a little further than 2x the diagonal myself for first setup in actual practice, myself. More like 2.5x the diagonal for larger banks. Depends to an extent how hot you need to flood the talent, or if you want something more even and subtle.
Other tips: absolutely right about handling bulbs with gloves. I have seen bad things happen when you don't do this. Also don't move or bump the lights right after you turn them off, the filaments are delicate as they are just starting to cool. You want to be a little careful adjusting them while hot.
Thanks guys. The kit just arrived. I'm going to take my time reading through the manuals and stuff before I plug anything in.
Mark... what you're saying is to position the softboxes two times the length of their diagonal size away from the talent? So if my softbox is twenty inches wide, I should place it forty inches from my subject, and adjust from there?
Bob... that's a good idea, providing the lighting person is the type who likes to share information, and is a good teacher. The trouble is that I really bought the best kit I could afford, and I won't be able to hire anyone anytime soon. I'm not an audio guy who wants to transition to other fields, I just want a complete set of equipment to make my own productions.
Thanks for your words.
It's too bad you can't afford to hire a "teacher"; you've purchased an excellent lighting kit and it'd be a shame not to use it effectively.
You should contact area TV studios, especially with location ENG news crews who are "running and gunning" lighting all the time. If you can convince someone to allow you to "tag along" you'll learn a wealth of tricks and techniques -- especially in handling your great gear. (Most lighting cameramen and shooters will be jealous when you tell them what you own!)
Perhaps you can convice a local commercial shooter to provide some "lessons" in return for allowing him to use your gear "free" of rental.
You could also buy a book or two -- but that's that same as listening to me or anyone else bullshit about gear in this forum. You're never going to learn how to swim if you only read about water.
If you do want some books, check out http://www.focalpress.com.
LIGHTING FOR DIGITAL VIDEO & TELEVISION by John Jackman, LOCATION LIGHTING FOR TELEVISION by Alan Bermingham, or LIGHTING FOR TV & FILM by Gerald Millerson (way above your level, but the "bible" for lighting)
are some good choices.
Dennis, great advice. I'd add Blain Brown's book on Lighting to your list, but it too is for more advanced shooters. (I use Blain's book in my grad school lighting class, in spite of a significant number of text errors which I hope will be corrected in the next printing.) Your "reading about water" analogy is just terrific. Nothing beats doing it.
I suspect "I can't afford" is a false position. If one can afford such an expensive kit, one can afford at least a day's time of a good gaffer. In the SF Bay Area, one of the highest paid in the US, Gaffers go out for up to $650/ 10 hours, but I know you could find a very good one willing to guide and advise for $450-$500. This would be a very low-stress job for him or her. Or, you could make an arrangement to go to his place for, say, 3 mornings. The suggestion of access to your gear for free in exchange for "lessons" is surely another possibility. There are so many different ways someone with some get-up-and-go can get good help learning to light.
In short, the poster needs to get his feet and mind in gear, and start lighting.
director of photography
and custom lighting design
There are so many great books available ..... Blain Brown's is also one of my fav's -- despite errors, which makes it even more "fun" :-)
You guys should petition to have Creativecow shut down this forum. Your attitude about not being able to learn anything from an internet forum unless you pay a stranger $500 doesn't really seem to suit this place. Why post here if your craft is so exclusive and the possibilities of shared information on Creativecow is so futile?
That's a good point, Sam.
But in defense of the point, which I only partly agree with, is working with lights that have lots of electricity running through them is not the same as working with, say, an After Effects plug in. There are legitimate safety issues. Just recently, for example, I had a photo flood bulb explode. Thankfully no one was hurt because it was a bare bulb, and it was before any actors were on set, but had it been in a china lantern or someone standing near it...whoa. (Note: I also had $1,000,000 insurance liability policy.)
When it exploded, there was literally a 6" white hot flame shooting down, which lasted easily 5 seconds. The pieces of the bulb were burned into the carpet and scattered in literally in infinite directions. I was hit by a small shard that burned my arm.
What caused this? I think it was a dirty bulb and the finger prints and dust on it heated it up and it exploded.
Having said that I too am a annoyed with the "hire a local gaffer if you want to learn" approach to lighting. However it was their tip, an answer to your question, and it's essential nature is about safety.
Sam, the people on this forum generously give their time to questions posted here. You seem to expect each of us to hold your hand tightly through thick and thin without lifting any of your own fingers to help your self. Everyone here has learned his or her craft and art through a combination of doing and mentorship. You seem unwilling to do that. You have been given tons of great advice. Don't want to accept it? Fine. Stop whining. Go out and do your job. Learn by trial and error. It's a great teacher, at every level. Otherwise, find a good film school, and take some beginning classes. This forum cannot be a complete school. But it is a place of learning, for those who are willing to hear even what they don't want to hear.
director of photography
and custom lighting design
Wow... I was holding my own tongue waiting to hear what others' reaction was to that, as I was too dumbfounded to type.
Well said, Rick, very very well said.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Yeah, I have to second what Terry says. Very tactfully put. The skill to that and not get ruffled makes for a great DP or LD.
I wanted to address this but haven't found the time this week. NAB I glad Rick did
Very well put.
[john sharaf] "The skill to that and not get ruffled makes for a great DP or LD. "
right on. The hotter the lights the cooler the DP/LD.
(metaphorically speaking, in the LED age)
Get color and diffusion gels, blackwrap, and spring clothespins - all of these are your friends.
I still think you should seek out hands-on instruction. If you can't afford to pay for it, Dennis made an excellent suggestion to barter for use of the kit with an established expert.
Okay, here's my Debbie Downer routine:
If you have to learn on your own, focus on safety. It's a great kit, but you and others can get severely burned, blinded, etc. by exploding bulbs, light stands falling over, etc. Use all precaution, gloves, sandbags, safety harnesses, safety screens, etc., and assume something will go wrong because it certainly will if you do this long enough.
Consider delamping before putting this kit on an airplane, especially with open face fixtures (and when you relamp, obviously don't touch the lamps with your hands).
Along with all the great books on lighting that have been advised Bob brings up a great point,
Yes you can get hurt even placing the bulb into the lamp, this should be done with safety glasses on and you must clean the bulb with an alcohol wipe to remove any grease from your hand before you try using it, or it may explode.
A book on basic ohms law is also in order when use professional lighting gear. You must know basic electrical priciples . I wouldn't advise more than 2 of these units to a single 20 amp circuit. You may get away with all three on one 20 amp circuit but then there is always someone else who will find that same circuit and suddenly it trips right when you are shooting. If you do run all 3 units from one circuit make sure to use an extension cord rated for 20 amps (#12/3) and not any of those Home Depot orange cords.
Also start coiling these extension cords the same direction (Clockwize in 2' circumference coils) as this will make it easier to consistently lay them nice and flat so people won't be tripping on them, never coil them around your elbow or use those construction coiling knots your framer friends use. Chances are you will need to find dedicated circuits from rooms up to 150' away and you will be responsible for this. Always run these cords to the side of the hall and tape them down when crossing any paths.
These lights get frikken hot and they WILL set off fire sprnklers and they can start fires when set to close to ceilings or walls.
And you will want some sand bags to secure them to the ground when someone does trip over the cord.
I'm sure you will learn a lot from these units and it will inspire you to purchase even more lights.
[Michael Palmer] "These lights get frikken hot and they WILL set off fire sprnklers and they can start fires when set to close to ceilings or walls. "
I work with a producer who must have had a memorable experience with that. If one of my lights is within five feet of a sprinkler I have to gaffer tape a styrofoam cup around the sprinkler head.
Just one more darn thing to remember to REMOVE when I leave....
Seen it, he's right. Another good book is Ross Lowel's, Matters of Light and Depth you can get it on the Lowel website. If you can find the "Power of Lighting" stuff, it's gold; well-illustrated and easy to follow.
On the free side, visit the digital juice DJTV web site and look for the lighting tutorials by Perry, several pages back from the front of the video gallery.
He does a lot of setups similar to what I learned to do, making one light do the work of 2 or more, and making something out of nothing using just lighting and framing and junk hanging around. All the digial juice tutorial vids are very nicely done. Watch them all and learn a lot.
Don't forget a light meter!
There's three things to remember:
-- It's an art
-- Contrast Ratio
-- Plan to take an hour per setup
An audio guy I work with a lot (James) is now a fine lighting guy, and a lot of our conversations compare the similarities of micing a drum kit to lighting a room.
A light meter is to lighting as an EQ is to audio.
The best money you'll ever spend: http://www.ascmag.com/
I second that p.s. !!
Dennis, I thought you were going to respond about the light meter.
I've wanted to ask this for awhile, and this is as good an opportunity as any, because I can ask Richard too:
I haven't used my old Spectra light meter since film days, except for early on when I set up green screens. (and now, I tend to use zebras in the camera for that too). Dennis, do you eschew (like that?) a light meter because you have a good enough eye and experience not to need it? Would you recommend a light meter for someone with less skill/experience? Richard, in what circumstances do you find a light meter helpful, and why?
That's a hard question to answer, in sum: to capture the image in such a way to manipulate it in post.
It's somewhat subjective, so I hope this makes sense. Price is definitely a factor. Light meter v. monitor v. zebras--they're all tools, but regardless there needs to be some way to measure the light. In my opinion, anyone who takes photography seriously will carry a light meter around with them, for a while, because it'll fit in your pocket, just to see what's going on. I learned a lot one day walking around Muir Woods, in the dappled light.
I use the Panasonic AG-HVX200, so it's somewhat limited in its capabilities: 8-bit DVCPROHD. So there's almost zero margin for error (or rather, there's a lot of places it can go wrong!). Here's how I construe it: The manual says the HVX200 needs a minimum lux of 100, which is 10 foot candles (on my Sekonic L-398A) @ 325 ISO -- an f-stop at 1.4. I set the aperture at 2.8. (If I have to open up more than that, I boost the gain instead due to the lens causing a fuzziness.)
Unfortunately anything between "no light" and 10 fcs gets gunky. I get the room ambient light to 10 fc = 0 IRE = f/1.4, which to the naked eye is actually kind of bright.
Using Apple Color to manipulate the image, my goal is to get a clean "gradient" from black to the second stop (f/2.0). I use the luminance curve in the first room of Apple Color to achieve this, almost mimicking a log curve.
I also shoot a lot of golf, and I hate it when they wear hats. I meter under my own hat, and set the aperture accordingly. Pretty straight forward there. As the sun moves, I check the meter, now and again.
Your post on using a meter with your HVX200 is so thoughtful and clearly comes from lots and lots of experience and thought. As an old film guy (I first started shooting exactly 50 years ago) who became by necessity also adept at video, I find I almost never use a meter for the latter. Here's why: I cannot find a consistent "ASA" for video. At low light levels, cameras respond with different sensitivity than at high light levels. What I do use extensively, when I don't have the luxury of a video tech with a fully calibrated monitor, are zebras. When shooting Caucasian faces,I set the zebras to 70, and adjust exposure so that there is just a tiny bit of zebra on the highlights of the face. If the subject has dark skin, I "borrow" a Caucasian to set exposure. If shooting landscapes, I set the zebras to 100 and make sure most of the image does not have any. A lot here depends on the shot: lots of sky with white clouds? Then I'll adjust the iris so that those clouds will have significant zebras. Just a dark, grungy street? Much harder to evaluate. Best to put a Caucasian face in the shot for a moment, adjust exposure as above, remove the face, and shoot.
I agree that moving around with a meter the way you do is a terrific way to get your mind thinking about exposure. The part I find difficult to impress on my film and video students is to find your base exposure, and then light the rest of the scene to your eye. Trial and error, a long learning process.
director of photography
and custom lighting design
One quick point: Cost.
The latest Panasonic monitor costs $5,000.
How much does a video village cost?
Bang for your buck, a light meter is a great tool. Especially for people who have recently purchased their first light kit.
Sorry Bob I must have missed your asking for a reply. I'll try to explain my eschewal; but please don't be mad that I'm not as detailed as Richard (who impressed the shit out of me with his reply!) I frankly just don't give light meters any thought.
When I first started in television (which wasn't as long ago as Rick Wise, so I defer to his experience) I did soap operas. Since I came in out of theatre, I always relied on using my eyes to compose a scene and "paint pictures with light". I did have a still photography background, so I was aware of the importance of contrast ratios and the need to meter for film. During my transition I lit a soap opera called RYAN's HOPE -- which (if anyone remembers it's early days) had a very theatrical look. I lit the show with the same "source lit", yet slightly heightened reality approach I would do for a stage show.
Since I learned early on to work very closely with the video shaders, I always determined my exposure via the highly calibrated monitors they were working from, which I still do to this day. Any show I light, once I determine the f-stop I want to work with, I make sure the video shader has properly set-up the cameras, and then finalize my levels/cues using the shader's monitor.
As I began to light in other venues, especially sports arenas (doesn't everyone just hate arena lighting) and chromakey studios, I became aware of the importance of having both a light meter AND a color meter. I also worked with other DP's and LD's, and after observing their total reliance on "the meter", I thought I should buy my own so I would at least LOOK professional (and perhaps not have to guess as much).
Props are everything after all!!
I bought both. To this day I still occasionally pull out my Minolta digital color meter. Unfortunately, my comparable Minolta digital light meter was confiscated by the Secret Service during a security sweep at President Clinton's first big television special, which I was lighting. It was never returned. Having lost -- or had stolen -- several analog meters previously, and now losing an expensive digital meter, I vowed never to waste money buying another meter again. (I guess it's the stubborn Irishman in me!)
The few times over the years (twice ??) that I actually felt I might need a meter, I just included it in the rental package for that project.
Many of the LD's in my company swear by their meters... and actually make fun of my refusal to use one. I, in turn, make fun of their reliance on such a "crutch". I've found that after all these years of lighting in studios, I know what a 2000w fresnel is going to do from 16 feet ..... or 25 feet. I know exactly what focal length leko I need to get the necessary intensity at 10 feet or 40 feet. A 4kw softlight at full intensity will always provide a relatively predictable intensity level at 10 feet.
Since I do next to nothing without using dimmers I always have a certain amount of latitude in my intensity control. Even then I'll set my leight levels/cues before even looking on camera.... and I very seldom have to rebalance. My eye -- and "the force" -- has always properly guided me.
I was recently doing a studio relight in Dubai. While I was hanging all the lights (on an unusally low grid) I felt that there was something wrong with the fixtures (predominently Source 4 zoom elliposidals). They just didn't "feel" right ... and as I was setting dimmer levels that should have been correct, the overall intensity level didn't look right, nor did the color temperature.
When I set up the chip chart and had the shader balance all the cameras he told me there wasn't enough level, which "the force" was telling me all along. I was using equipment that I knew, from distances, that I knew, with dimmer levels that always work. What could be wrong?
I told my gaffer to recheck everything in the system -- the wattages of the fixtures, the dimmers and their trims, and the power. We discovered that there was a major power problem coming into the dimmer racks. In a 220v system, the dimmers were putting out less than 200v when set at full intensity -- which was wreaking havoc with the output of my fixtures. A light meter would have told me my level was too low (which I knew) but if I relied on it totally I would have just set my dimmer levels higher or brought the lights closer -- instead of digging deeper to discover a larger, more important, problem.
Sorry...I just realized this reply is turning into a thesis.
signing off -- hope this was enlighting
WOW! An hour??? I must be slower than I thought!
Just a personal observation about how I typically work...
Light meters were of course a necessity when shooting film, and back when we were cranking out countless feet of 35mm every week I was never without a light meter.
We primarily shoot HD now, and our film cameras rarely see much use anymore.
However, I still never ever travel without two light meters. I'll also add that I never ever even take them out of their cases. I literally can't even remember the last time I used one of them, just don't seem to need them... but I'm still glad to have them around (force of habit, I guess).
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
I ain't so bad at judging EI with my eyes. Actually, I use my hand. I can tell 'round about the EI based on what my hand looks like. I got good at this trick shooting film stills, with that little button on the side where you can preview.
The light meter is for "measuring" light, especially when designing contrast ratios in a scene/frame.
For example, the past weekend I installed baseboards. Yeah, I can eyeball it to about three feet, but I need a tape measure to get 36-1/8", or even better, I need the board itself and a pencil to tick it off. And then what happens? I cut it long, walk to the saw, shave a bit and test till the board fits.