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What lighting is best for my needs?

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Joe Martino
What lighting is best for my needs?
on Feb 12, 2011 at 3:06:43 am

Hi

I am new to lighting properly but have been doing film work for a bit. We have made a couple short films and a feature documentary using a 2 light set up of very basic affordable stuff from home depot. Basically a reflector pot with household bulbs plus whatever other lighting is in a room.

We are looking to put together some better lighting options as we are going to be producing another documentary and probably some more films.

We aren't looking for major pro result but something that is still of good quality. At this point our budget is about $600 - $1000 and we are ok with buying used equipment to cut costs. We are basically looking for ideas as to what would best fit our needs. What types of lights, brands, how many etc.

Any advice would be great.

Thanks
Joe


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Mark Suszko
Re: What lighting is best for my needs?
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:56:04 am

That's not a lot of money, even buying used. The more detail you can give in defining everything you need to do, the better the quality of the advice you'll get.

One of my default responses is that generally you can rent better and more lighting gear than you can afford to buy, for the same dollar amount. Do you have a good AV rental shop near you where you can set up an account? If so, this can be great for getting used to working with various brands and types of gear, as well as getting stuff specific to a particular job on a one-time basis, and not having to spend a year paying off a piece of gear you only used for a day or two. You'll learn what you really want and need, and you won't get stuck with something you hate.

Another default response of mine is that quality lights and mics and tripods are very cheap in the long run, as you only have to buy them once, they will last and last, yet retain good resale value, and most of all, because they are pro units, they are fast, flexible and consistent in ease of use and control. Yes, you can keep getting by using home depot lights, but you're spending way more time fiddling with them because they don't have the precision and consistent control of pro lights. You can buy junk cheaply, then buy better ones again later, paying twice. Or you can buy the right thing, once.

Used lights on Ebay, from B&H and similar sources, can be a great value. Build your main kit a piece at a time as you can afford it, and rent what you can't yet afford to own, always building that cost into your client billing, plus a little extra, to save up and eventually own it.

I find that as a loose rule of thumb, rental prices work out to 10 percent of the purchase price. So if the gear, whatever it is, is going to be rented more than ten times in a year, for sure, it makes more sense to own it than rent it. That's just a very loose rule, it also depends on how much extra you bill the client over the cost of the rental, and a few other factors. But I can say that you'll never regret owning a real 3-light basic kit.

For sit-down interviews, I would suggest 3-point lighting for each person. Sometimes you can cheat when you have two people next to each other, and use crossed keys as crossed fills, that means getting 4 lights to do the work of 6. Those kinds of tricks generally also start to impose limits on other aspects of how you can shoot, so there are always trade-offs to be made.

The popular thing for the past decade has been to use large soft light sources as keylights for interviews. They make anybody look good, by de-emphasizing bumpy skin and wrinkles, reducing visible texture. Elderly women in particular look very good in this kind of wrap-around light. You can achieve it various ways, with hot halogen sources as well as cool Fluorescent or even LED-based lighting, with soft banks of tube-shaped bulbs, or conventional bulbs shooting thru a large diffusion screen, or even with a hot spotlight bouncing off of a reflecting panel. If I start telling you which way to go before we know what you are shooting and in what kind of environment, with what other needs and resources unknown, my advice could be right on or really off. So I won't tell you what to buy yet, and (subliminal ad for Lowel here) try to give you the most balanced advice I can.


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Nick Griffin
Re: What lighting is best for my needs?
on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:51:31 pm

[Mark Suszko] "So if the gear, whatever it is, is going to be rented more than ten times in a year, for sure, it makes more sense to own it than rent it."

Mark is, as usual, right. The only minor disagreement I have with this one statement is that you have to factor in the value of your own time. Going to and from the rental house could easily make five times seem like it's time to buy. If you have to pay to ship to/from a rental facility the number of rentals versus purchase also goes down.

One of the things that I find rental houses particularly good for is out of town jobs. Often times I can rent in a city I can't drive to for less than the two-way cost of shipping. Well... almost. It's just so much less hassle to have local crew pick-up local gear.


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Mark Suszko
Re: What lighting is best for my needs?
on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:43:08 pm

Thanks Nick, your check is in the mail:-). One other reason to own versus rent would be if you need to have a very rapid response to sudden requests out of the blue. Rentals are stuck to schedules, and if you have a business where you need to run-and-gun on an hour's notice, on odd nights, holidays, or weekends, well, then rental is not always going to be responsive enough for that kind of demand.


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Joe Martino
Re: What lighting is best for my needs?
on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:08:01 pm

Thanks for the advice in that post! I understand that with out limited budget its tough to get good lighting as each pieces can pretty run the cost of our budget in some cases. I will describe a little better what it is that we plan to do and maybe you can work off that a little better.

Our documentary will mostly be shot indoors in rooms where natural light can be blocked out if need be to make all light from one common source. Some of it will be shot outdoors mainly in the day time using natural light. I have seen that fluorescent lighting tends to be fairly cheap for pots, stands and daylight bulbs all in a package.. is this because fluorescent simply isn't good lighting at all? Also saw some Tungsten pots for an affordable price as well, is that bulb difficult to work with?

The other thing I understand is this is a very professional website in terms of those who respond work in professional settings. We would like to get a nice looking scene absolutely but aren't concerned with that perfect movie look for this project.

Thanks again for the responses, any more advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks
Joe


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Mark Suszko
Re: What lighting is best for my needs?
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:08:20 pm

Fluorescent lights are used a LOT in high-end film and video production, you should look up Kinoflo and Videssence brands.

Some penny-pinchers who are doing "prosumer" work on a micro budget make-do with consumer household fluorescent stuff from a home improvement store, and you *can* get some good results this way, but you give up a lot of control, precision, and speed.

The advantages of flos are low power draw and litle heat generated, thifty power consumption, long life, and a soft, broad kind of light. Disadvantages include that soft light is about all you get and it is hard to get any different kind of light from it other than soft. The real kinoflo bulbs are pretty expensive too, because their color output is more accurate.


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