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Light 'Em Up: Basic Lights

Mark Cersosimo
July 30, 2012 by Mark Cersosimo Staff
Light. What is it? Nobody knows for sure. It's a mystery that has plagued our world for ages. What we do know however, is that we can do really cool things with it, like make our videos look a lot better. You can also make it look a lot worse if you do it wrong, so try not to do that, okay? Let's break down some commonly used types of lighting that are available, and how you can use them to your advantage. ![]( Tungsten light image courtesy of [Lowel]( **Tungsten (Incandescent)** **Power:** Up to about 20K Watts **Color Temp:** Around 3200K. The color balance of tungsten lights are orange/yellow. Check out this lesson if you need a refresher on [color temperature]( **Best Use:** These are ideal for indoor locations where ordinary household lights can be seen. (You will need [a blue gel]( over a tungsten light to simulate daylight.) Tungsten lights are simply larger versions of the everyday lighting found in your home, using a filament of tungsten wire. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes which make them handy as they’re often more portable than other types. Also, dimmers work great with these things! Fun fact: These lights originated in Tungsteny, Italy which is a place I just made up. ![]( HMI light image courtesy of [Arri]( **HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide)** **Power:** They can produce 3x the amount of a tungsten halogen light and consume up to 75% less energy for the same output. Wowza! **Color Temp:** Around 5600K. The color balance of HMIs are blue-ish and are a bit closer to daylight than tungsten. **Best Use:** Ideal for imitating daylight. Daylight would call HMIs a total copycat - HMIs prefer to think they're an homage to daylight. Who ever's side you're on, HMIs are great in situations when you need more light output for the power you have available. Plus, they are much safer than other lights because they keep a lot cooler. If they could, these lights would straight up just grab a margarita, lay back, and chill Jimmy Buffet style. Simply put, these lights are super efficient. The disadvantage of HMIs is that they're more expensive due to the technology needed to fire these babies up. Although they are worth mentioning, they are likely to be out of the question for low budget filmmakers. ![]( Fluorescent light image courtesy of [Kino Flo]( **Fluorescents** **Power:** They can produce 3x the amount of a light of a tungsten halogen and consume up to 75% less energy for the same output. That's what's up! **Color Temp:** Can be completely color corrected in post production to match either daylight or tungsten. **Best Use:** They produce a soft even light which can be handy in situations where you don’t have enough room to bounce or diffuse other types of lights. On top of that, these run even cooler than HMIs or Tungsten lights! These are the polar bears of the lighting world. Color-corrected fluorescent tubes are becoming widely used as a lighting method because of their portability and compact nature. Fluorescent lights naturally flicker but ones made for video production blink at such a high frequency that it won’t show up in standard frame rates. So don't worry, unless you're shooting like 1,000 fps it won't be an issue. Plus, depending on where you live, that *may* be breaking local frames per second laws. You think you can film that fast and get away with it? Think again. **Specialty Lights** **Fresnels** A fresnel is a type of lens placed in front of lamps such as tungsten sources in order to focus the light given off into a controllable beam. That's right - making the light work for *you*. This is very useful in creating a spotlight effect, as well as being able to cover a relatively small portion of a scene. A fresnel light is simply a light in any category which utilizes the fresnel lens in front of the bulb, but most frequently it's a tungsten light. Tungsten lights and Fresnels are like BFFs or whatever. **Practicals** Practical lighting refers to any light source that is part of the scene itself and does not need to be hidden from the camera. They often provide motivation for larger (hidden from screen) film lights used in a scene, providing a logical reason why, say, the side of a character’s face is lit up. These can be anything from a household lamp to a flashlight, candle or lightsaber. Often, household bulbs are replaced with more powerful ones to add more light into a scene without being too noticeable. There are many lighting tools available. Which ones you'll buy or rent will depend on your needs. When deciding on a light, take into consideration cost, color temperature, portability, and power consumption.
*P***Pro tip:**If you’re trying to get a basic kit, you’ll want to assemble a set that has at least [three lights]( That being said, you don't need three lights to get started. You can create a chill setup with a single light source [and a bounce!](
Once you start lighting your productions, you'll start noticing big difference in the quality of your videos. Ooooowwwwooooo! That's a little something called the truth siren, homie! Let there be light!


Ted Morée

LED lighting is becoming more feasible as a film lighting tool as well. LED lights are compact, lightweight, never get hot, bulbs don't break or burn out much, minimal power consumption, and provide soft light even without a bounce or diffusion.

Lev Tannen Plus

Hello. My wife is a children Russian drama teacher. They usualy show their work on an elementary or middle school stage and I try to shoot all their performances. I have a good camera (sony), not a bad editing software (pinnacle studio 12) and some basic understanding of the movie making process. I tried to make proper lighting placing several par64 projectors in recommendeg positions. However I am greatly unsatisfied with the result. Inspite of all my efforts my movies look less professional , then many made by other people. Obviously I am missing something. So my question is could anybody look at my movies and explain me my most obvious mistakes. I can be found on Vimeo as Lev Tannen.
Thank you.
Lev Tannen

Justin Rodriguez

I don't think you'll ever achieve a "professional" looking video in your situation. You are filming from the audience standpoint so all the audio from the audience is being captured by your camera. You would need to put mics on each actor to be able to capture what they're saying without capturing the noises from the audience. Also I would try filming in a different frame rate to make it look more like a film and less like a home movie. I hope that helps!

Lev Tannen Plus

Hello Justin, Thank you for advice.. You are right. It is very difficult to achieve good sound in my setting/ I understand my limitations in terms of sound quality. My concern is about quality of video part. And specifically about correct placing of light sources. I rent a common purpose auditorium in a middle school. Even it has a stage, but it is terrible illuminated, so i have to bring my own light/ The problem that I straggle with is to evenly illuminate the whole stage. I have four par64 600W projectors and I try to find the best place for them/ The best solution I came with was to place all four projectors just behind the camera/ But I am not satisfied with this solution and ask for suggestions.
Best Wishes.
Lev Tannen


Can you advice me what I should do . Its getting so frustrated . I have to submit these videos not for fun but for a exam . So please be really cool and help me !

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