Posts Tagged ‘tip’

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.

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.

DSLR FRIDAY: Viva la Spiderbrace

You know what a DSLR is, right? Of course you do. So how about I skip the long-winded introduction where I explain that “DSLR” stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera and that their low cost and amazing HD video quality has changed the game of filmmaking and yadda, yadda, yadda. All that really needs to be said is that in the last year, DSLRs have come to dominate the video contest scene.  For less than a thousand dollars you can get a camera that will give you HD video that can pass for professional quality. And if you buy some really big ass lenses and do a few hacks to your camera you can create yourself a movie-making machine.  Everyone is using these and some people are making tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from contest entries shot with cameras like the 5D, 7D or T2i.

It’s been nearly a year since I bought my DSLR, which happens to be a canon T2i. The picture quality is great but damn, it is hard to use. I literally just got the hang of it like 4 months ago. Since the T2i’s instruction manual only devotes a few pages on how to use the camera as a video camera, the Internet has been an invaluable source of information and tips.  In the last few months, more and more people have been asking me in person or via this site for help with DSLR related issues.  So it finally hit me that now that I know a thing or two about DSLR filmmaking, maybe I should give back to the Internet and occasionally post some tips of my own.

So that’s what this is!  Starting today we’re introducing a new feature on Video Contest News; DSLR FRIDAY!  Every other friday I’ll be posting a quick tip or trick related to making movies with cameras that were originally designed to take still photos.  Since this is the inaugural post I thought I’d start by introducing you guys to the one piece of equipment that every DSLR filmmaker should own; THE SPIDERBRACE!

Don't be scared, it's not made of actual spiders

I’ve been making videos long enough to remember back when high-end video cameras were so big you had to mount them on your shoulder.  But those giant cameras were replaced overnight by mini-DV cameras.  Those little things were really hard to manage though since you couldn’t mount it on your shoulder.

Back in 2007 I was in Las Vegas shooting a documentary and I had hired a local cameraman to get some extra footage for me.  He showed up at the first event with a bizarre looking device stuck to his DVX-100b.  As soon as I saw it I knew it was the answer to my (metaphorical) prayers.  He told me it was called a spiderbrace and that it was one of the best pieces of equipment he had ever owned.  I ran (flew) home, jumped on the Internet and ordered my own Spiderbrace.  Right now they are $69.95 but I think I paid 100 bucks for it two years ago.  Even though the thing is just some foam and some PVC pipe spray painted black it was worth every penny.  All you do is screw your camera on top of it and go.  It turned out to be perfect for documentary filmmaking.

And years later I discovered it was also perfect for DSLR filmmaking.  DSLRS are even tinier and harder to hold than mini-DV cameras were.  So I don’t know how anyone can shoot hand-held DSLR footage without a shoulder mount like this.  And as a bonus, carrying one of these makes you look slightly more professional!  Any jerk can walk around with a camera but when people see that mount they assume that you probably know what you’re doing.

I’ve shot 100′s of hours of footage using this simple-little device and I can’t recommend it enough.  Here’s a little taste of my spiderbrace in action.  This is my entry for the Sprite “South America” assignment on Poptent. (I’m still waiting to hear if it won.)  I shot this entire video using my T2i mounted on to a Spiderbrace.  Thanks to the brace I was able to shoot fast, keep the camera steady and make smooth tilts and pans.

You can find a few different companies that make mounts similar to the Spiderbrace.  And you can also find high-end, metal versions that will cost you a fortune.  But I recommend the original, cheap-o Spiderbrace version.  Once you stick your 7D or T2i on one of these things you’ll never want to take it off.

Got a near DSLR tip of your own!?  Send me an e-mail and perhaps I can feature it on the site:  .

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