Lighting Info Base
Lighting Equipment, Fixtures & Types Explained
Whether you're looking to shoot home movies, independent feature films, corporate videos, music videos, TV commercials or weddings, today's advanced lighting equipment allows you to carry out these productions easier than ever before. The lighting equipment most suitable for you will depend on two things: how you plan to use it, and how much money you have to spend. The following brief overview will introduce you to the many different types of lighting fixtures and equipment available on the market today, from the old fashioned Redhead to professional industry standard broadcast units such as Arri, Dedolite, Kino Flo and everything in-between.
The quality of light produced by either a natural or artificial light source is often categorized as Hard or Soft light. An unobscured sun or an undiffused Redhead for example are both hard light sources. These types of hard lighting sources reveals shape and texture and creates the overall modeling for your subject. Hard light gives the picture definition and vigor, and is essential to create a three-dimensional illusion. Hard Light refers to a point source of light, such as the sun or a single open-faced Redhead, which produces hard shadows. The best point sources are also very controllable, with the use of barn doors and projection attachments for example. Hard light can be used in many ways as it has a long throw, however, it does create dense and high contrast shadows that need to be watched as they can produce very unflattering results. Hard light is imminently necessary and desirable for some shooting situations, especially when you want to simulate intense sunlight or the crisp light of the moon. However, hard light has to be used carefully. Strong modeling and dramatic shadows will give your images a dynamic appeal but, if it is used badly or inappropriately, hard light can produce crude modeling and coarse tonal contrasts. For most of todays shooting situations, many Lighting Cameramen like to use at least some level of diffusion to give you that feeling of natural lighting. Even a light frost sheet of diffusion material attached to the barn doors of a fresnel will help create a more natural lighting effect.
Most modern lighting is a subtle blend of hard and soft light. Although most key light sources are hard, you will usually want to control their shadows and tonal contrast by introducing a certain amount of soft 'fill light'. Soft Light refers to a light source that has a large surface area in relation to the subject, so that the light 'wraps' around the subject. In the past, lighting cameramen would achieved this effect by bouncing light off ceilings and walls, but this is now largely considered to be a very crude way of achieving soft light, as it is very uncontrollable and can end up producing very flat images. Soft light sources tend to destroy texture and are not so controllable as hard light so soft light sources are normally used to fill in the shadows and control the contrast created by the main key light, which would normally be hard. More common ways to create controllable soft light is to use softboxes; these are black fabric boxes with white diffusion material across the front, which converts the hard light source into a soft light source. Softboxes can be used with fresnels and open-faced lights such as Redheads and Arrilites. However, they do turn an inefficient light source into an even more inefficient one. The advantage of softboxes is that they produce a lovely soft light source and they pack away efficiently. However, setting them up and packing them away can be time consuming, especially when they have been on a hot Redhead for a few hours as the ring and other metal parts will be very hot and you will have to wait for them to cool down first; this partly offsets the portability advantage when compared to something like the fluorescent Kino Flo Diva-Lite, which produces a lovely soft light and only takes seconds to set up and tear down. The latter also has the advantage of being slim when set up, so it does not take up valuable shooting space. However, fluorescent units like the Kino Flo Diva-Lite have a very short throw compared to hard light sources, which means you have to move the lights in much closer to your subject. All soft lights can benefit from the use of grids (also known as egg crates). These grids enable the soft light to be controlled so that the spread of light is confined to the subject and does not spill all over the set.
TUNGSTEN/HALOGEN LIGHTS (Quartz lamps)
A lamp that uses a tungsten filament. Also known as Hot lights. These are filament lights with the same characteristics as a domestic table lamp in a house, but usually a lot bigger. The biggest one currently in general use in the film market is 20,000 watts. This light is huge, but most portable solutions for mobile crews are no bigger than 2000 watts and with today's modern DV cameras a 1000-watt unit would be as powerful as you would want to go.
Colour: Nominally 3200K although it can vary, usually downwards towards 3000K
Advantages: Cheap to purchase and uncomplicated; like a household light, they plug directly into the mains so there is no need for an additional ballast (a ballast is similar to a power supply/transformer, except designed to limit amperage to a specific level). Comes in many fixture designs, some of which are very controllable. One of the most relevant ones available on the market today is the Dedolight, which also gets over many of the disadvantages such as short bulb life, long term costs, heat and inefficiency, while also providing astonishing lighting control, quality and flexibility.
Disadvantages: Hot to work with as barn doors get really hot. Because of their heat they can turn your environment into a sauna very quickly, which can make life very uncomfortable for your actors/presenters and create extra work for make-up artists as the heat causes foreheads to sweat. If shooting food, the excess heat can cause it to melt. Bulb life can be disappointingly short, ad this to the often expensive bulbs, and it all adds up to a very expensive long term purchase. Because it has a colour temperature of 3200K, when it needs to be used in daylight, a colour correction filter is required and up to half the light output is lost when you need it the most. Inefficient, Lumen-Per-Watt; this is the least efficient technology on the market today.
HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium-arc-length Iodide)
HMIs are arc lights contained in a sealed capsule.The HMI (and the MSR version) has a number of advantages over Tungsten lights. The main one being its incredible efficiency; it can produce five times the light output of tungsten light per watt i.e. more of its power consumption is going into the actual light output, as opposed to heat generation, which means less heat and less power consumption. Because it is a daylight-balanced light, it can be used to great effect outside as a fill in light to the sun. Again there is a huge range of HMI units available from 200w right up to 18K. The average size for the mobile crew is around 400w. HMIs require a special power supply known as a ballast. The role of the ballast is to limit eh amperage that runs through the arc. The ballast also outputs the correct voltage for a particular HMI globe and also includes special circuitry to 'strike' (or start) the arc.
Colour: Nominally 5600K daylight. However this can vary from one manufacturer to another and can also vary depending on the age of the unit and/or bulb.
Advantages: Great efficiency and because it is 5600K daylight balanced it can be used to full effect in the most lumen challenging environments. Low power consumption and less heat. Comes in many interesting fixture designs.
Disadvantages: Expensive to buy as it is a much more complicated unit compared to a tungsten lamp. Bulbs are pricey but life times are generally reasonable. A high voltage power supply or ballast is required to run the light, which adds a little to set up times and can also be heavy to transport.
A very popular - and relatively new - addition to this list of lighting equipment are fluorescent instruments. Fluorescent lights are a phosphor based lamp technology, which relies on a number of elements to make them work well in a video/film environment. For many years they had a bad reputation for producing green spikes and irregular colour problems as well as flicker problems. These problems have now been overcome mainly by the great work of a Hollywood based company called Kino Flo. In the late 80s, Kino Flo introduced colour balanced tubes in both tungsten 3200K and daylight 5600K. The research and development of Kino Flo have evened out the nasty green spikes and eliminated any flicker at the same time. These units have all the advantages of regular industrial fluorescent lights; only without the sickly green spike or flicker. The Kino Flo Diva-Lite has a built in high-frequency ballast and dimmer. The Diva-Lite is a small lightweight portable unit that is very easy to transport, set up and pack away.
Advantages: Beautifully soft quality of light that wraps around its subject without the need for inefficient and space hungry diffusion solutions such as softboxes. Great colour with professional bulbs (Kino Flo) and available in both daylight and tungsten; so no inefficient filters stealing light when you need it most. Cool running, no heat, which keeps the subject cool as well as the working environment. Low energy, great efficiency (lumen-per-watt), which is why it is so cool. Fast set up and teardown times in comparison to some other soft light sources.
Disadvantages: More bulky to carry than a tungsten light with a softbox, this however can be out weighed by set up times. More expensive to buy than tungsten lights, but not as pricey as HMI units and ballasts.
There is no doubt that LED lights are the future. The advantages of LED lights are many, including: cold running, lightweight, compact, low power consumption, to name a few. 95% of the power sent to an LED light is transferred into actual light, whereas with a tungsten/halogen light, approximately 75% of the power is transferred into heat; great if you are heating your house, not so great if you are trying to light a set. Although LED lights are relatively new in the world of video and TV productions, they are fast making in-roads onto sets around the world. They are also very popular in corporate and location video productions due to their compact size and lightweight. Unlike tungsten filament lights, LED lights are cool/cold running; even when left on all day. There are many advantages to cool-running lights. Apart from the obvious health and safety advantages, they won't cook your talent on set. Because the technology is relatively new, prices are still a bit on the high side, also, the light 'throw' from LEDs is not as good as say a regular Blonde or Redhead light; but this is changing as technology improves.
Advantages:Cold running so no health and safety issues, no more burned fingertips or exploding bulbs. Low power consumption so can run off batteries all day. Lighter and more compact so easy to transport, set up and pack away.
Disadvantages: The 'throw' is considerably less than regular Tungsten lighting. Colour balance can be vague on certain cheaper brands so check with a colour meter before purchasing; regardless of what manufacture blurb tells you..
A small portable mains powered tungsten lighting unit, usually 800 watts in power output. The Redhead is an open-faced light designed in the 1970's. It is called the Redhead because it was always (and largely still is) red in colour. Rumor has it that the inventor needed to use a plastic composite to build the heads out of, and red was the only colour he could get his hands on. Today, Ianiro and Photon Beard continue that colour tradition, Arri, however, now use the colour blue. By today's standards the Redhead is considered unmanageable i.e. it is a difficult light source to control and is even considered to be a little over-powered for modern DV camcorders that simply don't need that much lighting power due to their excellent low-light capabilities. The Redhead (by today's standards) is inefficient, runs very hot and the bulbs tend to have a short life and are also expensive to replace. However, the Redhead sometimes has its moments; for example when a volume of light is needed and finesse is not an issue; such as lighting a green-screen. Manufacturers include: Arri, Ianiro, Photon Beard, Strand. Prices range from £125 to £200 per unit.
Blondes are the more powerful 2000 watt tungsten big brother of the Redhead and like the Redhead, the Blonde is an old open-faced lighting unit technology. The Blonde is named so because the colour of its case was always yellow (or blonde). They were called Blondes as kind of a follow up name to the Redhead; I guess somebody thought it would be a smart thing to do. These days not all Blondes are yellow in colour, Arri's Blonde (called the Arrilite 2000) is in fact blue. Like Redheads, Blondes will become very hot in operation, which can create a hot and uncomfortable working environment for your cast and crew. Like the Redhead, they are also very uncontrollable with just 4 barn doors to help shape the light. However, Blondes do have there uses when extreme amounts of light is called for. Although Blondes are an older lighting instrument design, they are still in wide use in many studios around the world today. Manufacturers include: Arri, Ianiro, Photon Beard, Strand. Prices range from £225 to £400 per unit.
FRESNEL (150 watt juniors to 20,000 watt large film lights)
Invented in 1822 by French physicist Augustin Jean Fresnel. The Fresnel light is a lensed lighting instrument and has been around for many years in many guises. It is an optical system designed to focus light efficiently. The Fresnel optical system is used on many different wattage heads and is an improvement in terms of control in comparison to Redheads and other open faced lights, but the Fresnel still does not get any where near the focusable control of a Dedolight, which uses two internal focusable lenses, as opposed to just one glass lens on the front. When used in tungsten heads the same issues apply as to heat verses wattage, which is not good, as power consumption can be an issue. However, the Fresnel lens lighting unit is in common use on all film sets where the bigger versions are a staple to the lighting professional. For the small crew Fresnels such as the Arri Junior range are a great option, they range from 150 watts to 650 watts. Other more efficient solutions are available, such as the Dedolight and the Kino Flo Diva-Light. Manufacturers include: Arri, Ianiro, Photon Beard, Strand. Prices range from £175 to £1000 per unit.
Invented by the German DoP Dedo Weigert in the 1990's. Without doubt the most versatile and controllable hard light on the market today. It normally runs off mains but can also run off any 12v battery such as a car cigarette lighter socket. Don't let its small size fool you; this light will be the first one out of your car every time. With a spot to flood ratio of 1:20 (the next best technology is 1:6) a 150 watt Dedolight produces the same light output of a 500 watt fresnel on flood. On spot it has an incredible throw of over a 100 feet. The Dedolight also has a projector attachment system that uses gobos to throw many different focusable effects such as background patterns, venetian blinds, sunlight through trees etc. All of this comes at a price, but the Dedolight is very economical to run once bought and also has excellent bulb life and when they do eventually go, they only cost £3.50 each to replace. In January 2006 Dedo Weigert designed a brand new Dedo 'Soft Light'. There are a few options available with the new soft light, but the most popular model is the DLH1X150 Tungsten Soft Light, which is designed to fit inside the small softbox designed specially for it; you can also remove the front baffle diffuser from the softbox to get a harder light source with more spread as well as being able to buy an 'Egg Crate' to attach to the front of the softbox to make the soft light more directional. The new soft lights are available in 150, 300 and 1000 watt power outputs and start from £375 including softbox and inline dimmer switch. If you are buying for the long-term (unlike cameras, lights have a long working life) you could do a lot worse than invest in a kit of Dedolights. Lights with an in-line dimmer start at £350 per unit.
KINO FLO DIVA-LITE
Kino Flo mastered perfect colour balanced 3200K and 5600K fluorescent flicker-free tubes in the late 1980's. A compact fluorescent lighting unit that consists of four 55-watt colour corrected bulbs in kit form for easy transportation. The advantage of this system is the speed of use coupled with a practical lightweight fixture design, and most importantly, the colour correct quality of light that it emits. The Diva-Lite can be bulbed with either tungsten or daylight broadcast quality bulbs, making it very efficient in all environments without the loss of light due to filters. It is also possibly the fastest way to achieve high quality soft light on location. Created by Kino Flo, who have an Oscar for their fluorescent lighting system. This light won 'Portable Light of the Year' at NAB in 2004. Diva-Lite kits start from £1178
©2005 Nigel Cooper