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How to light a garage for video

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Cassidy Hilton
How to light a garage for video
on Jan 23, 2014 at 3:33:17 am

MY QUESTION: I need help figuring out how to light garages without, if possible, breaking the bank. There aren't a lot of good resources out there for how to light a garage for video. I know--shocker.

BACKGROUND INFO: The company I work for makes very high quality storage products, and I want the video to reflect that through a high quality aesthetic. The problem with garages is that they usually don't look pleasing in the first place and there's hardly any light or an effective way to light it. Opening the garage doors does let a great deal in, but the falloff is pretty stark--the front of the garage gets flooded with light, but the back is dim and dingy, making the corners look like trash. Getting a wide shot of the the entire garage ends up looking very amateur and uninteresting. If there's a large window in the garage, that can drastically improve things and work out very well (I worked in one with a great window, hung some visqueen outside it, gave us a beautiful soft key bathing the whole garage and talent). But by and large, garages are shadowy and closed off. The company I work for is growing, but still not willing to shell out the money for HMI's and the like, which would be a huge help. I'm looking for solutions that can add some great lighting dynamics to these garage setups, and that hopefully aren't crazy expensive. But I'm all ears for any solutions, regardless. It's a huge, empty space to fill, and finding lights powerful enough can get expensive.
So far what I've been doing is setting up a 4'x15' reflector outside the garage to bounce some light in and highlight certain sections of the shot. This works OK, depends on the weather, and isn't enough to really fill the space. In addition, I've been using cheapo studio softboxes to fill in light wherever I can, but those are weak and are easily overpowered by the light let in from the open garage doors. Obviously ineffective for wide shots of the whole garage, just used for mediums and close ups of products.
I've been looking for economical solutions that will give me a ton of light, but the only thing I know of would be something like an HMI (I've used Joker 800s and 400s a few times on personal projects and loved em). I've also been looking at some Lowell 1K RifaEX 88s, but I'd have to buy a lot of em, and that adds up. I thought of buying a bunch of old Mole 2Ks off eBay and used lighting sites, but I'm skeptical as to how long they'll last and how effective they'll be since I've never used those.
Also, I've been looking at the Linco Floras, does anyone know much about them? They seem to put out a good amount of light, could easily be used for interviews/studio shots (which we do frequently), and if I purchased multiples, might do a decent job filling garages with light. Never used them, so I'm going off online reviews.
Sorry for the novel. I've been working to figure out garage lighting for video for awhile, and have a lot of questions.


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Erik Anschicks
Re: How to light a garage for video
on Jan 23, 2014 at 7:19:04 am
Last Edited By Erik Anschicks on Jan 23, 2014 at 7:19:34 am

Yes, lighting garages is always a conundrum, for all the reasons you described! Despite the "novel" of a post, there are still some key questions to answer:

In my opinion, your instinct about HMI's is correct, and that's indeed the route I've gone when I've lit a garage. The question is do you absolutely have to buy, or can you rent? A couple 1200 pars, a 575 and a kino or two would run around $400-500 per day, and unless you're doing a TON of these projects, that may well be your most cost-effective option.

Lighting-wise, are you going for a more stylized, "filmic" feel or are you content with a somewhat more flat look by simply having enough fill to light up the whole garage?

What type of camera? Some are much better in low-light, for example, than others. Are you locked into anything specific?

How long do you have to set-up and shoot each of these? Power concerns?


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Mark Suszko
Re: How to light a garage for video
on Jan 23, 2014 at 3:21:38 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Jan 23, 2014 at 3:24:12 pm

Lighting up the *entire* space may not be what you really want. You can get more of an "art gallery" effect in the garage, by spot-lighting in visually interesting and important areas, and letting the less interesting areas go with whatever fill you have. Spotlight the drill press and bench, the tool crib, and funky car art signs on the wall, but not the floor, for example. You really seem to stress that you want an "artful" look, and flat light filling the entire space does't do that for you. Don't light what the camera won't see, DO light what you want to call attention to.

A lot depends on the ceiling height of the garage, and if you need to show any of it, but my instinct here would be to fly a section of truss or an auto-pole, with small but powerful tungsten lights on it, some even with color gels maybe, aimed to hit those special areas. You could also hang some go pros up there for a quick cut-away shot later in post! Truss could also handle larger banks of flo lights for a soft key, while keeping the floor and shot clear of stands, so you can work almost 360 degrees. Pre-hanging instruments on the truss, then walking it into the space, could perhaps be a time-saver.

If you're working with daylight from windows or skylights, renting HMI's and using bounce surfaces makes a glamorous look. The big silks or bounce cards can add a specular along the contours of car bodies and large pieces of chrome, pipes, glass, sheet metal, defining their shape and making them more visually appareling as well. This gets to the more "high end motor art" look you seem to be aiming for. The problem is finding the room in a garage for all that, plus the grip gear to hold it up.


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Cassidy Hilton
Re: How to light a garage for video
on Jan 23, 2014 at 7:05:39 pm

You bring up some awesome points. I think the spotlighting idea is right on the money, I'm going to be trying that out more. And I like the truss idea, but I'll have to see when time would allow for that. We don't always have time to set that up the night before (or the day of with a longer shoot), but it's a solid idea that would allow the 360 work area.


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Cassidy Hilton
Re: How to light a garage for video
on Jan 23, 2014 at 4:44:36 pm

Some more background info: Right now, the way these shoots work is very run n gun. We have our own big studio floor where we have all the time we need, but we also go to real client garages, where we have as much time as the resident allows (sometimes only a couple hours, sometimes they don't care and will let you take all day). Power has not yet been too much of a concern, each person's house is different, and we'd just have to be careful to not overload their breakers. Our studio gets a lot of things done--we can arrange and install anything we like however we want it, but it's easy to make it look staged, and it's by no means a legit "studio". Just a few walls we erected in our warehouse, we're still under-equipped as far as adequate lighting and the like goes (I run into a lot of problems with getting approval for purchasing sufficient lighting. It's too bad you need high end lights to make a garage pop).
I'm shooting on a 5D mkII, DSLRs are nice to use for the run n gun environment, but I'd love something more. I've been looking around at other cameras we could spring for, so I'm not locked into anything per se. I've shot with and loved the F3, but that seems a bit out of reach.
Which brings me to rentals. I live in southeastern Idaho right now (where this company is located), so production resources are scarce. The closest "hub" is Salt Lake, which is 4 hours away. I've rented plenty from online renters like BorrowLenses and others, but for higher end lighting like HMIs, it's not very practical or economical. We shoot often--at least weekly--and renting that much would quickly out weigh the price of an HMI.
A lot of this comes down to justifying price. This company is still young and hesitant to spend money on video when they think it only takes a dude and a camcorder to do the job, know what I mean? So wanting to invest in Kinos, HMIs, and so on gets difficult. As I'm sure is common with lots of other companies.


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Mark Suszko
Re: How to light a garage for video
on Jan 23, 2014 at 8:54:07 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Jan 23, 2014 at 9:54:30 pm

If you have a vehicle with the room, the truss or auto-pole might sometimes be a time saver, since you pre-load and pre-wire it at your home base, then just walk it off the truck, into the garage, raise two stands, or hang two clamps off a roof truss, plug in, and aim the lights. Striking the lights is pretty fast, since you can get the whole mess out and onto the driveway for packing-up, in one go.

Too bad you're that distant from a rental shop... but maybe that's an indication to one of the more entrepreneurial production folks in your area that one is needed closer by? What if you knew two other non-competing video producers in your town, maybe members of ITVA or whatever they call themselves now, who would split the cost, and time-share the usage? I bet you could get a couple of wedding video makers interested in sharing your HMI's on weekends for outdoor gigs....?

Meanwhile, you've already made a case that you can now present to the bean counters, to whit:

"To get the level of quality needed to make our brand look good, I need x number of these HMI lights. Yes, we can rent them, but after n number of rentals, which we WILL exceed, it is cheaper to own them than rent, and they last a long time and depreciate slowly. We can recover probably 75 percent of their cost if we ever try to sell them. We could also try renting them out to other local users to earn back some of their cost over time. Meanwhile, we save x dollars overall if we own them and use them at least six times this year."

The argument you have to make as a marketer is: what percentage of the expected profit we want, is it worth to us, to invest in making that profit actually happen? If we're trying to make 1 million in new sales this year, is investing one percent of that amount in the tools for the job worth it, to achieve that goal? This is not unlike the sales pitch your company makes to it's customers for your high-end shop product, whatever that is.


If overloading breakers is a concern, going with flo-driven lighting might have to be considered. Personally I think LED's are eventually going to be the right choice for a lot more situations, but right now, today, I find the price/performance ratio still a bit steep. Is audio a huge part of these shoots, I'm asking because maybe you need to get a generator for the HMI's.


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