How to Use Lighting Kits and Nonconventional Sources for Your DSLR Video

While a DSLR does a relatively good job of providing you with lighting options for your film, you might consider lighting kits or a nonconventional source to help give you that extra advantage.

Film lighting kits

There’s nothing like having the sun warm your head as it brings the subject to life, and preferably at a low angle. Unfortunately, that perfect dose of soft, warm illumination lasts about as long as the cool side of the pillow. No need to worry — you can bring your own lighting kit and exercise proactive control at the scene.

Light kits range in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. You can also buy them used for significantly less money.

Here’s a list of the components in a lighting kit and what they do:

  • Light head: Using either a quartz lamp or LEDs, these high-output lights provide up to 1,000 watts of power or more.

  • Barn doors: This standard accessory attaches to the front of the light and uses four hinged metal doors to shape its beam as well as preventing the distinctive scatter of light.

  • Stand: Pretty self-explanatory. Stands support the head and allow you to position the light at various angles and heights. Varying in size, they go from stout to quite high.

  • Umbrella: Reflecting light off an umbrella softens and diffuses the light and produces a flattering illumination for the subject. Umbrellas come in various sizes and reflective surfaces.

  • Soft box: A large box-like enclosure that goes over the light head. When the light reflects off the interior surface, it comes through the diffusing material at the front of the box, creating a soft, even illumination.

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Non-conventional film lighting

If you enjoy non-conformity, why not consider a non-conventional light source from time to time? After all, a certain light may not be designed for illuminating your movie, but it may easily work with a little ingenuity. You can improvise with just about anything that emits light. Here are a few examples:

  • Work lights: Tungsten-based light sources used for working interiors or at night. They often have stands and reflectors. Although the light is harsh, it’s not that hard to smooth it out, and because they're so cheap, you should certainly consider it if your budget is near nada.

  • Flashlight: Before writing off using a flashlight to light your movie, consider that it works in some situations, especially when you use more than one. That’s the only way you’ll get enough wattage to provide relatively decent illumination for low-lit areas.

  • Chinese lanterns: Diffused paper-enclosed lamps that essentially use a household bulb to provide soft illumination. Because their illumination falls off pretty quickly, the subject can’t move too far from the lantern; otherwise, exposure values shift to the dark side. For control, you can hang a series of lights throughout the scene, or even mount them to a boom pole and have someone move the light with the subject.

  • Television illumination: It's hard to imagine a softer, more interesting light source. Just put the TV on a non-broadcast channel and position the subject close to it. It certainly makes for an ironic statement.

  • Glow sticks: Yes, this is a stretch, but there are situations where they come in handy. Use them as a subject, recording their illumination on a moving subject but exposing only for the glow. Or, if you have enough of them, you can use them as an interesting light source, especially when they're close to the subject.

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