Lighting Rigs for Film and Video

It’s been a while since I dug into my e-mailbox for questions, and I apologize. First on my list is a query from a team of brothers who are interested in investing in a lighting kit for their production company. At the moment, they are shooting most of their projects of DV, but their long-term plans involve feature projects shot on film. They wrote to ask whether the lighting gear that their video projects required would still be usable on their films.

Fortunately, film cameras and video cameras have similar technical lighting requirements. If you buy a simple lighting rig for video use, those lights will be very suitable for lighting a 35mm film shoot (depending on the film stock and lenses that you may be using). The only real differences between the two formats are than they will generally have different styles of lighting. If you have to light an entire set rather than one interviewee, you will obviously need more lights. However, the color temperature and intensity of a standard halogen 650 watt light are ideal for film.

Owning your own lighting kit is very helpful, for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you have the gear, you have the freedom to experiment with it and practice different styles. Secondly, it lets you be more flexible in shooting, and you can jump onto projects quickly without having to organize gear. Unfortunately, professional lights and light stands are not cheap. Fortunately, they are pretty sturdy, so if you can find used lights in reasonable condition, they should be more than adequate. Starting videographers shouldn’t need anything much more complex than a simple three-point lighting rig.

This will be a key light, which is the main light that illuminates the subject. Then there is a fill light, which is softer, and placed on the opposite side as the key light to fill in the shadows. Then, you have the kicker, or backlight, which sits behind the subject and just puts a little edge-lighting unto the subject. The key and fill lights should be either 650 watts, or 1000 watts. These are the two main sizes of light used in video – film shoots may require much larger lights for larger film sets or location shooting.

The kicker light, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be anything that special. A regular hardware store clamp lamp with a 75w or 100w is all that is needed for backlighting. As you experiment with lighting techniques, you’ll have better ideas of how to use diffusion, colored gels, natural sunlight, reflected or “bounce” light to get the results that you want.