The best tutorial you will find on lighting is Lighting for Film and Television, which comes from Barry Green, David Jimerson, and the other folks at ever-increasingly misnamed DVXUser.com. True, you can buy a cheap photoflood kit for roughly what this DVD set costs, but good luck using that light kit without knowing what you’re doing. If you are serious about making your movie look professional, scrape together some change and pick this up. If you’ve seen their Sound for Film and Television DVD, you know how informative these videos are.
Two short movies were made specifically for this DVD, including David Jimerson’s A Little Mouth to Feed, which played on the opening night of Slamdance in 2009. In the video, they break down the lighting in the movie and teach you how to achieve what you’re looking to accomplish. Here’s A Little Mouth to Feed:
“Should I buy or rent lights?”
Both. You won’t know what kind of lights you’re going to need until you know what you’re shooting, so with that in mind it’s a good idea to rent the specific lights that you’re going to need. On the other side of that is the fact that certain lights will work in most situations. So if you shoot a lot, you’ll save money in the long run by owning certain lights, but you’re better off renting more expensive and specialized lights.
The kit that I most often rent is the Arri Softbank IV Plus 5 Light Kit (120V AC), which you can pick up for about $250 per day at the rental house here in Atlanta. If you’re like us and you mostly shoot on the weekends, you can usually rent equipment on Friday and return it on Monday and it counts as a 1 day rental. That’s 2 ½ days of light rental for the cost of a single day. But if you shoot a lot, you might save money in the long run by just breaking down and buying this kit, which is surprisingly affordable through places like B&H.
“Yeah, but I’m shooting this web series, like every freaking weekend and sometimes at night during the week and I need lights for it to look good, right? But I don’t have the cash to rent lights that often, let alone drop $2800 a fucking light kit. What now, Einstein?”
No. Not really. What’s your web series about?
“Oh man, it’s like about this post-apocalyptic war –”
Yeah, anyway, there are a ton of low budget lighting alternatives. Google “low-budget movie lighting tutorials” and you will find yourself with so much fucking reading material and YouTube videos to watch that you will never actually get around to making a movie. Which is probably better for humanity based on what I know about your web series.
Before we get into the tutorials, here are some low-cost lights that that can find at your local home improvement store and ordered online or through a local photography supply store (provided any still exist).
When I was in college, I took a photography course and picked up a Smith-Victor photoflood kit, which came with 3 lamps and stands. They work for video as well. Over the years my kit dwindled from 3 lights to 1. Keep your eyes on these things when you’re on set because they apparently get up and walk off on their own. In addition to the standard 3 light kit, Smith-Victor offers a variety of umbrella kits at very low prices.
A great kit to own is the CowboyStudio 2275 Watt Digital Video Continuous Softbox Lighting Kit/Boom Set. The name says it all. It comes with 3 softbox lights and a boom kit. Each light has 5 sockets, and switches to turn on/off each individual bulb so you can adjust your lighting on the fly. At $220.00, you can’t beat what you get for the price.
Getting away from more traditional lighting gear, you can get amazing results from work lights and clamp lights as long as you use them properly. Before you roll your eyes, take a look at the video tutorials below after the pics and links and check out what you can do with a Home Depot gift card and little creativity.
Clamp Lights – these are insanely cheap and versatile. Keep plenty of them on hand. Along with a bunch of bulbs.
Random Tip: Pick up some low-wattage bulbs to use in practicals. Practicals are lights that appear on camera as set pieces but don’t actually light the scene. You don’t want that living room lamp messing up your lighting scheme, so make sure you replace the bulb with something like a 45-watt bulb.
Shop Lights – very affordable, but you have to make sure that if you’re using halogen bulbs that you keep your light matched.
Another Random Tip: You’re going to hear the term color temperature thrown around. Temperature refers to the color of the light, especially as the camera sees it. Your eyes might see a CFL bulb and a fluorescent bulb both shine white, but when you view the light through the camera you’ll see one appears more yellow-orange (warm temperature) and the other blue-green (cold temp). Some bulbs become warmer with age, so be careful – an old bulb might turn your scene much more orange than what you wanted.
China Balls! Cheap and you can put them at the end of a boom for a portable fill light. Check out the Film Riot episode below for an excellent illustration of how these things punch up your production. Best of all, you can buy them dirt cheap from a hardware store or online from places like Filmtools.
One More Random Tip: Lights are hot. Like, really fucking hot. Act careless and you will burn the shit out of your hand and you will set things on fire. So be aware of your lights, what’s near them, and how long they’ve been left on. When not using them, turn them off, and when moving a light, wear gloves.
Okay! Now that we have that out of the way, let’s watch some tutorials.
“It’s about fucking time.”
Go to hell, bitch.
Our first video is the least exciting explanation of 3-point lighting that you can find on the interweb. While very informative, and thankfully short, watching this video more than once might send you slipping into a catatonic state or taking up scrapbooking.
The guy who made this next one shows how he’s lighting a scene as he goes along. You don’t get to see the actual lights that he’s using, but he explains where they are in relation to the actors, and you can see how they change the scene as he adds each light to the setup. Check out his YouTube channel – he offers all sorts of useful tutorials.
These next two are brief overviews of those hardware store work lights and how to use them. The second one, from Chappy McKenna, shows you how he used 3 work lights from Home Depot to shoot an unplugged music video. The video came out looking pretty good. It’s even more impressive when you realize that he owns a professional light kit and has access to other lights, but chose these $60 lights anyway.
Finally we have my personal favorite web show, Film Riot, Don’t worry Indy Mogul, I still love you, and you still put out just like I like it, but Film Riot is just so damn sexy with their fancy production value and all that funny shit they do to make me LMAO and LOL and whatever one means that I piss myself laughing. Here’s how to use that China Ball:
And another informative episode where the brothers Connolly walk you through lighting tests for a short they produced earlier this year.
You’ve had enough sitting at the computer watching videos. Get up off your ass and go make your movie or that web series that I’m going to mock but continue to watch anyway because I’m insecure.
Since I promised sex in the title, I’ll end this with some Kate Beckinsale.
Ting-a-ling, you sons-of-bitches!