There’s a reason that Sandra Bullock said she always befriends the lighting crew when she starts a movie in her Oscar acceptance speech and it’s because good lighting makes all the difference. Bad lighting can completely change the mood of the video you’re shooting. Lighting is really an art form. The good news is that if you have any kind of photography background lighting might come a bit easier to you. If not, you’re going to have to work at it. Before you can become Sandra Bullock’s BFF on the set, there are a few essentials you need to know about lighting.
Lights can use a lot of power and depending on where you are shooting that can be a problem. When I first got into lighting I went to a video/photo store to get started. I found a sales assistant to help me and started asking questions.
“I’m shooting video and I need to get some lights. I’m not sure what kind.”
He asked, “Where are you shooting?”
My response, “In a house.”
He took me right by all the fancy lights you see on movie sets and straight to light bulbs in a box. I thought to myself, ‘this is soooo not going to work.’ He pulled a few lights (Westcott #0050 50 watt Daylight Balanced Fluorescent Lamps, and Eiko Photo Pro 30 Watt lamps) off the shelf for me and told me they should work fine.
Looking longingly at the fancy lights, I asked, “Really? Why not those lights over there. They seem better.”
His response, “Do you know anything about the wiring where you’re shooting?”
I shook my head ‘no.’ Come on’ I’m not an electrician.
He responded, “Those can fry your electrical system and burn down the house.”
That sounds bad. So I took the lights he recommended and asked about light stands.
He got me some stands and said something sort of surprising, “Next, you should go to Home Depot or a hardware store and get those silver clamp casings. It won’t cost a lot and it will work fine with these lights.”
I thought that sounds a little ghetto, but I was new to lighting and it was a minimal investment to get started. So, I took them, went to the hardware store got what he said, and started messing with the lights when I got home. Actually, turns out not so bad. Yet, still I wanted those crazy big lights. So I learned more and more about lights and now I know why the guy set me up with the ones I have.
First, those big fancy lights can get hot: I, mean, really hot. You should never touch them with your hands. You should use gloves when handling them. One reason is that they’re freaking hot. The next reason is that the oil from your fingers can actually ruin the bulbs. Second, the electricity in the house isn’t configured to support those huge lights and thus can overload a circuit. The other problem with the heat emitted is that the person those lights are focused on is going to start sweating – even start to think they’re getting a tan. I know, I’ve been under those lights a lot. They’re firecracker hot.
In short, most homes can support at least 15 amps. But you don’t see amps on light bulb boxes. Instead you see Watts and Volts. So to find out if you’re going to overload a circuit with your lights, try this equation: Amps = Watts/Volts. In my scenario I have a light that’s 50 Watts and 120 Volts. 50/120 = 0.41 – That’s well in the range of what a house will support. So circuits won’t blow, house won’t burn down. All is good in the world.
Before getting lights find out what your electrical system can support and then you’ll know what to buy. As for those tin covers, apparently they aren’t so ghetto after all. Just about every one I’ve met who does lighting has their own portable lighting kit and what do they have for the light bulb covers? Those tin covers. Why else are they so good to have? Well, they have clips on them so you can clip them to just about anything and you’ll be surprised how much this comes in handy.
Read all previous parts to this ongoing series, Shooting Online Video:
Part 6 – Camera Settings
Part 5 – Backgrounds
Part 4 – Lighting And Content
Part 3 – Picking A Camera
Part 2 – SD or HD
Part 1 – Just Do It!