Video Lighting Gear

Lighting | By: indie

It can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it, but when it comes to video lighting you don’t need to spend tons of money on a high-end kit or system to come up with something that works effectively for indie filmmaking.

Seize the Daylight

The bulbs you use in your lighting setup are more important than the lights themselves. You should get as close as possible to true daylight in your studio or set location to maximize your camera’s ability to produce accurate color and image quality.

Generally flourescent bulbs last much longer and provide more true, white light than incandescent bulbs, which tend to cast a more yellowish tone. You can find CFLs – compact flourescent lightbulbs – in most any hardware store and in several different varieties. Choose bulbs that reproduce light as close to natural sunlight as you can manage; the more expensive ones can be worth it for the value of light they provide.


Unlike with bulbs, you don’t need to worry about getting specific, high quality lamps. Three simple shop lights from the hardware store will do the job perfectly. These are metal-rimmed and have a simple toggle switch with a clamp on the back for attaching them to any thin, flat piece of material such as a table, door, window shutter or chair.


On my page about lighting a scene, I go into detail about a fundamental lighting technique called three-point lighting. I talk about where to place each light and how to angle it so that it illuminates the subject most effectively with the least amount of shadow. Using this method, especially with shop lights, means that you will have to use objects around you to attach the lights to unless you have dedicated light stands.

You can make a simple, cheap stand called a stick in a can for very little money and with only a few materials. All you need is a 1×2 piece of lumber that is as long as you need the stand to be tall (around 6ft. is a good standard size to work with), a large metal food or paint can, and some cheap concrete.

To make a stick in a can stand, mix the concrete and fill your can nearly to the top with it. Then put the 1×2 stick in and let it come to rest all the way at the bottom and pressed against the side of the can. You may need to hold it in place with a clamp or between two chairs while it dries. When finished you’ll have a convenient, portable lightstand.

Light Modification – Filters and Reflectors

Indirect and diffused light can make a huge difference in your scenes. Not only can you spread light out over a wider area, you can also soften the light by bouncing or filtering it. This is preferable to using only the sharp, raw beam coming from your lamps and creates more of a warm glow than a harsh, acute light source.


Even in a movie that has been shot in the “dark,” there has to be some light. Without at least one good source of illumination, there isn’t a camera in the world that can capture a good picture. That is, unless it uses nightvision (I actually shot an entire music video in nightvision).

A light filter can be created using a bed sheet, an old shower curtain, some tissue paper, a white under shirt, a synthetic stocking, or any other semi-translucent material. These filters can be draped or stretched over your lights, but sometimes this isn’t a very good idea because your lights may become very hot when they’ve been on for awhile.

Rather than draping them across your lights, you can build frames for your filters that will keep them taught and rigid so that you can easily apply them with little hassle. Frames also allow you to maintain a certain amount of control over how far your filter is offset from your light source. Some tips on building a filter frame can be found at the bottom of this article.


Any material that returns a fair amount of the light shone upon it – poster board, foamcore, a white wall, a windshield cover, or even a mirror – can be used as a reflector. To instantly soften or reduce a light source that is trained on your subject, turn the source to face the opposite direction and place the reflector directly in front of it.

You’ll most likely find that the light bouncing off of a reflector creates a more uniform, clean look on camera.

Building a Frame for Your Filters

Simple frames can be constructed using cardboard, wood, metal or PVC piping. Here are a couple of ways to use these simple materials to construct a quick filter:

  • Use wooden cross-stitch rings or frames from a craft store and mount your filter material to them.
  • Cut out one side of a cardboard box and slice out the middle so you have a rectangle shaped like a picture frame. Staple or glue some tissue paper across the opening.
  • Create a rectangular frame made out of PVC piping and joints, and then attach a cut-up t-shirt using clamps or a needle and thread.
  • Nail together a rectangle made of four pieces of plywood (1×2’s work very well for this) and then nail or glue a piece of bed sheet to it.
  • Any type of light metal ring or square can work as a filter, too.
  • Comments

    Comment from Cai Carney
    Time: May 8, 2014, 2:16 am

    I heard from a professional that tungsten is better than fluorescent, but you’re saying fluorescent is better. He also said something about how the lighting actually changes every 5 seconds with fluorescent, so it’s hard to get a straight-forward color out of the lighting. However, you say fluorescent gives it more of a daylight color. I’m SO confused. Can you please help?

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