Using supplemental lights can often take a video production from the realm of amateur to that of professional. Technically, a video picture is nothing BUT light, so the better your lighting, the nicer your shot.
The single biggest difference between professional video and amateur is the quality of the lighting. Professional use supplemental lights, most amateurs don’t.
There are two reasons for using supplemental lights.
- Bring the overall luminosity of the shot up to preferable technical specifications
- Create a mood artistically
Let’s begin by talking about the first reason. For a video shot to look decent, it has to have a certain amount of light. Today’s video cameras do well in low light, but you’ll also notice that dark video will look grainy. Grain, which is what you call the little white dots in the picture, is inserted into a dark shot in order to fake brightness. Some more expensive video cameras have what is called a “gain control.” This feature is to help you get usable shots in extremely low light. Gain control works by injecting grain into the picture. Gain control should only be used if it is absolutely impossible to add supplemental light.
In addition to graininess, dark video also lacks details and nice, bright colors. Dark video will look “muddy” and dull. Viewers will not be able to see details you are trying to show them.
You do not want dark video, even if you are taking a shot that is supposed to look like it is night time. A well done night time shot actually uses a lot of supplemental light.
Next time you’re watching TV of a nighttime scene, look closely. Even a shot meant to depict the dead of night will have some bright areas that are fully exposed and bright. The entire shot is not dark, just portions of it. Those portions will probably be DEEPLY dark. Black, even.
If a shot has some extremely dark portions mixed in with a few extremely bright spots, the overall effect will look dark. A viewer will interpret such a shot as a dark, nighttime shot.
If you are shooting outside at night, adding several supplemental lights will not brighten up the entire shot to the point where it looks like daylight. Not at all. It will only brighten up the objects within the shot and the space around those objects will remain dark. The light bounces off the objects in the shot but just fades into oblivion if there is nothing for it to bounce off.
The lesson from that is that well-lit shots look best. In professional video production, light that often looks “natural” to the viewer is anything but. More likely, the lighting director went to a lot of trouble to make it look natural.
Using natural lighting is a favorite technique of mine, but I usually do that mostly for reasons of expediency and saving money. If you open up all your windows and turn on all your lamps, you can greatly increase the amount of light in your picture.
There’s no doubt that going to the trouble of using supplemental lights has many advantages if you have the capacity to go to the time and trouble.
If you are going to use supplemental lights, they don’t have to be fancy. Go down to Home Depot and buy some shop lights on a stand. These are incredibly similar to professional photographic lights at a fraction of the cost. (It’s always infuriated me that video production supply companies charge more than something is really worth simply because they know they can get it!)
Shop lights from home depot will do the job. Look for a fixture that can handle at least 250 watts. If accessories like barn doors are available, grab them too.
The light should come with a safety screen or something similar that would both protect the bulb and contain the glass should the bulb explode. (Don’t worry, that’s not a likely event. I’ve never once had a lamp explode on me although plenty of stands have been knocked over and the bulb will break.)
When you put the lamp (bulb) in the fixture, make sure not to touch the glass with your hands. Use tissue or cloth. Oils off your fingers damage the glass and decrease the bulb’s longevity. The oily spots on the glass are also more prone to breaking or exploding.
The preferred bulb format for TV production is tungsten halogen. Tungsten-halogen lamps provide lots of illumination at 3200 degrees on the Kelvin color temperature scale. (If you don’t already know what color temperature is, my advice is to not worry about it. With today’s modern video camcorders, color temp is virtually irrelevant.)
When you set a shop light from home depot, point the light toward the ceiling. This bounces the beam and creates a nice, diffused light.
If your video production area is small, say a standard sized living room, using just one 250 watt shop light bounced off the ceiling will greatly enhance the quality of your video picture.
With today’s light sensitive cameras, adding even 100 watts makes a difference in the quality of your video picture. You can achieve that with a standard lamp that’s probably already sitting in your living room. Take the lamp shade off and move it closer to your subject.
Now, if you want to buy a professional light kit like the one pictured here, please do!
I can hardly wait until my budget allows me to get one. The light kit picture above would probably run about $1,200. Professional lighting includes so many fun and wonderful contraptions that provide absolutely gorgeous results. So let’s talk a little about what the light kit pictured above actually contains and how it all works.
First, what the heck are those two big square things that make the lights look huge? Well, I’ve heard them called a dozen different names but we’ll call them soft boxes, that’s the most common name. Soft boxes are cloth boxes that your light fixture sits inside of. The sides of the soft box are black cloth, the front is white and the interior is shiny silver. The shiny silver interior intensifies your light, the black sides keep the light focused to the front and the white panel allows the light to come through as soft, diffused light, which is perfect for flattering faces.
The light kit above has a total of four lights, two with soft boxes, one with an umbrella and one with barn doors. Umbrellas are used to bounce the light and diffuse it. Umbrellas do not diffuse the light quite as much as a soft box will. The recommended wattage for each of your four lights should be:
- One 1,000 watt
- Two 500 watt
- One 250 watt
Notice the extension pole on the stand of the tallest soft box. Those come in mighty handy for tight corners.
Other components of a well-stocked lighting kit for medium sized video production include:
- Photographic foils
- Photographic color gels
- Extension cords
- Two-pronged adapters
- Extra clips. (I use wooden clothes pins. Cheap!)
- Gloves for touching hot lights
- Electrical Tape
- Duct Tape
- Ceiling adapters
Pack all that fun stuff up into a good, sturdy case and go light the world on fire!
Thanks for reading Video Production Tips
Internet Video Gal