Posts Tagged ‘lighting’

LED Panels: My new favorite lights!

Hello, beautiful.

For years I have been lighting my video contest entries with a pair of giant, 1,000 watt halogen lights with enormous “soft boxes” attached to them.  But frankly, those lights suck.  The bulbs get so hot that the lights have fans inside of them!  The fans are so loud that I’m always worried the mic will pick up the whirring sound they make.  And anyone who has ever put together a soft box can tell you, they’re a pain to set up and move.  Worst of all though, 1,000 watt bulbs aren’t easy to find.  The ones I used cost about 16 bucks each and I used to break them all the time.  Since you can’t just pick these bulbs up at your local home depot, I had to order them special online.  But recently, the company that sold me my light kit stopped carrying the bulbs!  They sold me their last two and said they don’t even know where I could find more of them.

So I took that as a sign that it was time to get some decent lights.  I did some research and decided to spend a little cash and buy my first .  And let me tell you something…these things are pretty sweet.  In fact, I used my new LED light on one shoot and the very next day I ordered a second one.  Here’s why these things are so amazing:

1.  The panels put out the equivalent of 500 watts of light but only use 50 watts of energy.  So you’re probably not going to be tripping any breakers with these.

2.  The light is so simple you could set it up in seconds.

3.  The LED panel is so small you could stick it in a back pack.

4.  The light emits pure white.

5.  The LED bulbs stay cool to the touch.

6.  There are separate switches on the back for different sections of the panel.  So basically, it comes with a “dimmer.”

7.  They’re so small you can fit one in a back pack.

8.  The look pretty cool.

And yes, “looking cool” is an important feature.  When you’re working on a low-budget video project, I think a professional atmosphere is good for the moral of the cast and crew.  So I really like these lights.  But they do have a few problems:

1.  They’re not cheap.  These lights cost me $179 each.  You can order them , BTW.

2.  The light they emit is incredibly STARK.  They have zero warmth to them.  You’ll need to carefully white balance and color correct your footage so it doesn’t look like you shot it in a prison.

3.  The lights I ordered didn’t come with stands.  You’ll need to order them separately.  works fine.

4.  Even on the lowest setting, the lights give off strong shadows.  You’ll need to diffuse the light somehow.

To be honest, at first these lights were kind of frustrating  Sometimes they would work great and sometimes the looked like crap.  It took me a little trial and error but I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of them.  I’ll throw one more numbered list at you.  Here are some tips for getting better footage out of your LED panels.

1.  Buy two of them.  Trust me, they work better in pairs.

2.  Set them up far from the subject.  The farther away the lights are, the better.  If you put them to close it will look like you’re shooting a horror movie.

3.  Use to diffuse the light.  Wax paper or Parchment paper should help too.

4.  Crank the lights up as bright as they go and then bounce the light off a ceiling or wall.

5.  Use them with natural sunlight!

I’ve found that these LED panels work great when you have some natural sunlight in your scene.  If an open window is your main light source, you can use the light to fill in the shadows.  Seriously, it works like a charm since the sun and the LEDs are the same “color temperature.”  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  Below is my entry for Home Run Inn Pizza’s Halloween video contest.  People were supposed to create scary stories that involved HRI Pizza.  I lit this whole scene with 2 LED panels and the sun.  And I mean every shot in this video was lit with the LED lights; even the wide shot of the exterior of the house:

Click the image to watch...if you dare.

To a causal viewer, the lighting in this video would probably seem totally natural.  But trust me, without the LED panels it would have looked like garbage.  Take the shot of the ghost for example.  You can see that the sunlight is coming from behind him.  So without an LED light shining right on him, his front would have been totally dark.  But I didn’t need to bathe the guy in artificial light.  I only had the LED panel on at about 30%.  And check out the shot of the skeleton in the kitchen.  Most of the light in that scene was coming from the kitchen window.  But the LED was able to fill in the shadows that the sun created.

Ok, sure…I know that there are a lot of lights that could yield similar results.  I could have stuck a 300 Watt bulb in a paper “china ball” lantern and the effect would be about the same.  But the LED panels are a lot more precise and you can “sculpt” the light since the panels have barn doors on them.  Plus, a gigantic China Ball can’t fit in tight spaces like the LED panel can.  So if you have a few hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket, I suggest ordering an LED panel and trying it out.  After you get the hang of it you’ll want to stick it in a bag and bring it to every shoot you do.

Oh by the way…did you see what I did there when I used my Home Run Inn pizza video as an example?  It was my crass attempt to get a few votes for my entry.  Voting in that contest runs until the 27th and to vote, all you have to do is log in to facebook and click the vote button.  So please do vote if you have 15 seconds to spare.  If I get in the top 15, I’ll win free pizza for a year!  Also, be sure to watch the video.  Views don’t matter, I just think it’s pretty funny.

Low Budget Lighting Part Three: Putting it all together

Beardy’s Note: Here now is Part III of Cinematographer Jeremy Applebaum’s Three Part Low Budget Lighting guide.  In case you missed the first two installments you can read them here:  (Part I) (Part 2)  Big thanks to Jeremy for creating this very handy guide.  Remember, if you have an idea for a Guest Post of your own, be sure to send me an e-mail at .  And now, on to Part III…..

First here are the answers to the questions from Part II:

1: 4.16 (dived by volts = 120) or 5 (dived by volts = 100).  2: 2.  3: Yes.  4: No, Around 3.74, largely depending on how you round (dived by volts = 120) or 7 (dived by volts = 100).

In the first part of this series we went over what gear you should invest in for low budget lighting and in the second part we went over some basic electrical safety. This time I’ll explain how to put everything together to light a simple scene.

It should be noted that while stingers, multi taps, and surge protecters would be used in order to power our a lights, a lighting diagram as well as amperage calculations (per circuit) wonʼt be presented here. You should always take note of your amperage draw and be calculating your total draw on the circuit before plugging anything in. With that in mind lets get to work!

Let’s say that we are shooting a commercial for a contest and our script involves two actors; one sitting in a kitchen and the other standing in front on him.  It is to be assumed that our kit contains*:

– 2 Work lights, 1 500 watt fixture, one 1,000 watt fixture (a stand with 2 500 watt fixtures)
– 1 China Ball
– 4 clamp lights
– 5 Pony Clamps
– Clothes Pins
– Tin Foil
– 2 Sheets of each white and black foam board
– Gloves
– Various Bulbs
– Various Stingers, Multi Taps and Surge protecters

A rough diagram of our scene would look something like this:

Note: For these examples the exact wattage of the lamps doesnʼt matter

So were do we begin? The first light that we will need for a our scene is a key light. This is probably the most important light you can place as it determines were all the other sources will come from. What I would do here is take my 1,000 watt work light, place in right hand corner and bounce it off some white foam board (or tinfoil, depending on your tastes) onto the subjects. This would give me a large, soft, directional lighting source that I can then build off for the rest of scene.

While it should be assumed stingers/multi taps would be needed to power our lights, the exact amount needed/used isnʼt important

The next thing I would do is to start adding some fill light. I would proceed by taking my paper lantern and hanging it overheard. This would give me a more even, all around, soft light while not canceling out the effect of the key. It would also help light the background.

I made these images using Google SketchUp and its 3D warehouse. Special thanks goes out to who ever created the templates that I used in creating these diagrams.

So now that we have a strong key light, and a multipurpose fill light it is time to start adding some highlights and more focused fill lights.  While the paper lantern provides overall fill, we will still have a little too much contrast between the key light and the non key light sides.  To remedy this I would then take two clamp lights, and place one at each the opposite side key of our talent.

A china ball is hard to make in that program!

At this point our scene should look good enough that we could go ahead and shoot the commercial. However there a few more things you could do to make our actor or some of the props stand out. One would be to take your clamp lights and use them to highlight certain objects in your scene. You would do this if there was something in your scene you wanted to call special attention to (like the product or something important to the story).

The other thing that you can do would be to place backlights on the talent. The backlights would provide a nice shine to the back of your actors heads and makes them pop out a bit. Be careful though, if your backlight is too bright it can make your whole scene look cheesy.

Yep, that's a lot of clamp lights

Remember that this is just a sample lighting diagram and won’t work for all angels or shots. You may very well have to tweak or move lights out of the way for a different angel. Furthermore this example, while very broad and general may not work for all circumstances and is just to give an idea how these lights can be used.  When on your own shoots you may very well find that you like the look of the scene with only the paper lantern and clamp lights or you may not like the look the paper lantern gives at all! The best way to learn is to go out there and shoot something. Donʼt be afraid to experiment and mess up, itʼs the best way to learn.

If you liked this article, have any questions, or think I missed anything please speak up below.

* This is not to be considered an end all be all kit, just a basic kit with several options to light your scene with.

**You may want to use parchment paper attached with c-47s to soften the lights or a dimmer to control the brightness of the lights. If you do choose to use parchment paper please allow the lamp some room to breath.  You should not allow the parchment paper to directly touch the lamp. CFL (compact fluorescent lamps) lamps wonʼt dim.

—     Guest Post by Jeremy Applebaum. Check out Jeremy’s “Virtual AD” app    —


Low Budget Lighting Part Two: Basic Electrical Safety

Beardy’s note:  It’s Friday which means today we’re running Part 2 of Cinematographer Jeremy Applebaum’s excellent Three Part Guest Post about the basics of Low Budget lighting.  And today’s installment is extremely helpful.  If you’ve ever tripped a breaker during a big shoot, now you’ll know why.  In case you missed it, here’s Part 1 of the Low Budget Lighting guide.  And now, on to Part 2:

Part One: Calculating Amps:

Remember, a "Stinger' is an extension cord on a film set.

In the first installment we went over the tools and gear you can pick up in order to build yourself a DIY, low budget light kit.  This time we will go over some basic electrical safety.  Before plugging anything in it is good practice to know where the fuse box is.  And if  it’s an older fuse box you’ll need some replacement fuses in case you trip a fuse.  Even if you closely monitor your power draw, you never know when a refrigerator, furnace, tv, etc will kick on and blow the fuse.  Any standard wall socket socket (circuit) can handle anywhere from 15 – 20 amps.  In order to make sure you donʼt blow a fuse (or trip a breaker) you should always keep track of how many amps you’re plugging into the socket.

The formula for calculating amps is:  Amps = Watts / Volts.

In America we use 120 volts.  However, when calculating amps for my own shoots, I divide by 100, not 120 for a few reasons.  One, itʼs faster: Itʼs a lot easier to and quicker to divide 500/100 (5) as opposed to 500/120 (4.16).  Two, it keeps my amperage on the circuit down, further reducing my chances of blowing a fuse.  While itʼs important to know that the formula for 100% accuracy, you can almost never go wrong with diving by 100 instead of 120.

Part Two Stinger Safety:

Something to keep in mind when handling power distribution for your scene is that stingers have gauges, which tell the amperage they can handle.  Most off the self stingers will have gauges ranging from 12 – 16.  But the longer the stinger, the less amps they can safety hold.  Below you will find a chart explaining the differences (for America).  If you are not careful your stinger can melt, causing a potential electrical fire.

Beardy's note: I went to college with a guy named Max Amps. True story.

As you can see it can get quite complicated if you’re running long stingers.  You can never go wrong buying a higher gauge cord. In fact, unless you are really strapped for cash, you should never buy anything less than a 14 gauge stinger for film work.  The same principle applies to surge protectors and to an extent, multi taps.

And now, some Bonus Questions!  Answers to be posted at the start of next week’s article:

It should be noted that for the purpose of these questions volts are assumed to be at 120.  It is perfectly fine (and recommended) to try solving these problems with volts at 120 and 100 (answers will be given for both). Stinger gauge/max amperage for the distance should be taken from the table above.

1: How many amps does a 500 watt work light draw?

2: If you have 4 500 watt work lights and one 100 foot 16 gauge extension cord, how many work lights can you safely power?

3: If you nearest 20 amp socket (circuit) is 50 feet away, you have a 50 foot 12 gauge stinger, and you need to power 20 amps of light could you safely power your lights?

4: If you have two 15 amp sockets (circuits), one 1,000 watt work light, two 500 watt work lights, two clamp lights with 100 watt lamps in them and two stingers, each 12 gauge 25 footers with attached multi taps could you power all your lights if the closest socket (circuits) is 45 feet away? If not how many more amps would you need?

Feel free to post your answers you may have below.  Same goes for any questions you may have.  Stay tuned for part three where we will go over a basic low budget lighting set up.

—     Guest Post by Jeremy Applebaum. Check out Jeremey’s “Virtual AD” app    —

DSLR FRIDAY: (China) Balls of Fury

Made in China, I assume.

I shoot my video contest entries with a DSLR for one reason and one reason only: It’s cheap.  My Canon T2i cost me about $900 and shoots full 1080 HD footage.  Compared to a $5,500 Panasonic HVX200, that’s a ridiculous deal.  Yeah, you lose a ton of features (like decent audio capabilities) when you don’t shoot with a real “video camera” but unless you’re a well-stocked pro, a DSLR is the best, most affordable option around.

So if your only video camera is a DSLR, you’re probably doing your filmmaking on the cheap.  Which means you need to come up with some low-cost solutions to the challenges that DSLR shooting presents.  One weird thing I’ve noticed about my DSLR is that it hates shadows.  It’s really unforgiving if you use a strong light source.  If you don’t diffuse your lights (including the sun) you’re going to get some stark shadows, especially under your subject’s eyes.  I’ve found that a great, cheap way to soften the look of a video is with one of the oldest tricks in the book: China Balls.

It seems like at least one a year I talk to a filmmaker or read a film book that recommends lighting a scene with a China Ball.  You know what China balls are right?  Those big white, paper balls that you put a light into?  (By the time you read this I probably will have added a giant picture of a china ball to this post)  For some reason I never heeded the advice of those China Ball evangelists.  But now I am a convert!  I started using them a few months ago and the results are pretty sweet.  Check out this video I shot for the Insinkerator assignment that Poptent ran back in the spring.  This entire video was lit with China Balls and natural room light.  Oh actually, the shot of the happy baby was done by my long distance collaborator, HappyJoel.  He did the adorable song for this too.  But the rest was done by me and my big, white balls:

Is that some even lighting or what?  Check out the shots of the “snacks” at the 19 second mark.  There isn’t a hint of shadow on that table.  That’s the magic of the china ball.  You can find a lot of tutorials online that explain how to build a China Ball light but here’s how I built mine:

Also probably made in china

Step 1:  You can order a china ball online here but I just went to Pier One Imports.  I bought 2 decent sized balls for like 16 bucks.

Step 2:  Head to Home Depot (ok, I prefer Menards but I think that’s a mid-western chain) and buy a cheap clamp light like the one in this picture.

Step 3:  While you’re at Menards (or wherever) pick up a 300 Watt clear or white light bulb.

Step 5:  The rest is pretty self-explanatory.  Rip that silver dish part off your light.  Pop open your China ball and put it’s metal support in.  Then put the socket into the ball and shove the cord into the ball’s cord holder bracket thing.

And that’s that.  Now the disclaimer.  BE CAREFUL!  The thing you just built is really goddamn dangerous!!  Most China Ball tutorials will tell you to use a 100 Watt bulb max.  But 100 Watts will only be enough if you want “moody” lighting.  You want to light up the night!!  But if that 300 Watt bulb touches that paper ball you’re fucked.  It’ll start smoking in a few seconds if the bulb has been on for a while.  So if you’re stupid enough to actual build this ball of death, here are the precautions you will need to take:

1.  Always make sure the bulb is hanging in the dead center of the ball.

2.  Always turn the light off when not filming.

3.  Always have a fire extinguisher on set.  (You should always have one whenever you’re setting up hot lights, actually)

So now that you’ve got your ball you’ll need to hang it from something.  A pro or semi-pro would probably stick it on a a “C-Stand” like this one. But one of those suckers will run you $165!! Screw that noise.  I just hang my China Ball from this a simple boom mic stand.  Here’s a picture of the exact mic stand I use.  Guess how much it cost?  Less than 30 bucks!  You can even buy one at Best Buy.  And let me tell you, this thing is perfect for hanging china balls.  It can extend really high so you can get the ball all the way to the ceiling (to mimic a room’s actual light source.)  Plus, the thing is super light weight and can fold up and fit in your car trunk.  A old fashioned C-Stand is so awkward and weighs so much that if you knocked one over you could break somebody’s nose.  So these mic stands are 500 million times better for suspending china balls then a big ass metal stand.

You know what?  I’ve been thinking about it and my version of the China Ball is just too dangerous to actually attempt to build and use.  So please do not build the lighting device I just explained how to make.  For the record, this post is intended for entertainment purposes only and if you burn your house down, it’s not my fault.

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