Lights Galore

This past Christmas Jon and I decided two very important things: We will set aside more time for personal projects and we will step up our productions. It’s been a while now that we’ve been wanting to do both of these things but the latter is really key. One thing that we consider extremely important is to make sure we’re continuing to grow through education. After Masters In Motion, we got to learn a ton about lighting from the Next Level Pics crew and audio from Adam Forgione but we knew we needed to spend some time actually using the gear to get a full grasp on both. Only problem was we didn’t have the right gear for the quality of productions we wanted to create!
For this post I’m going to focus on lighting and down the road I will touch on our new audio setup.
Now, before I go on and on about my experience with my new lights, let me preface that on every shoot thus far, we always have a gaffer. If it was out of the budget to hire a gaffer, we made do with what we had and moved on. Was this the dest decision? Not always but sometimes we just didn’t have the budget to rent. Regardless, we knew we had to step up our lighting game and promised ourselves that we would invest in a kit before the end of 2011. One other important note, my only experience with lighting, other than what I’ve seen and learned on different sets is what I learned in photography school. I always assumed that the knowledge I learned there would not apply to video but I’m learning that I was wrong. There are some similarities that helped me during my recent first attempt at lighting.
I already knew going into this that we were willing to spend about 4k on lighting. I talked to a lot of people for advice. I started with our good friend Kevin Ritchie about this in great depth and he was extremely helpful… He was practically holding my hand during the whole process. I also spoke with another good friend, Khalid Mohtaseb, about what he would suggest. Later I spoke to John Hyland who threw an interesting idea that’ll I’ll go into detail later on. Karen Abad was also extremely helpful… She is a great friend who’s opinion I greatly trust and honestly, I’m so comfortable telling her what I was intimidated about with lighting. I told everyone our budget and explained what kind of setups I’d like to be able to light, mainly interviews but I also wanted a versatile kit. The conversations I had with all these guys were so helpful and I feel really lucky to have been able to get opinions and suggestions from people I trust and respect. Ok, enough of the sentimental stuff! I decided to buy the following lights:

Arri Compact Fresnel Three-Light Kit $1799.00

Why did I buy them? Well, I had seen these in action a few times when I’ve shot with Kevin Ritchie and I loved how much throw they had. I also wanted one kit that I could pretty much take anywhere and setup for an interview. A lot of people have questioned my decision on getting Arri lights when I could buy something cheaper but I really wanted a name I knew I could trust and hey, this is no cheap investment…. I want these bad boys to last for years!

Lowel Rifa eX 88 Kit $806.00

Why did I buy this? Well to be honest, this was no where on my list before my phone call to Khalid Mohtaseb. I was planning on just getting a 5 light kit from Arri instead but I’m glad I didn’t. The Rifa sets up in not time… One of the selling points is the “60-second set-up time” I’m a bit slower than that but it’s definitely fast. It gives off super soft and very flattering light but what I really like about it is the softbox is already attached so you can just unfold it super quick. So, needless to say, Khalid convinced me to add this to the arsenal.

Fancier 1000 LED Light Panel Dimmable Light Panel $299.99

Why did I buy this random LED? I was getting ready to click buy when I spoke to John Hyland and he started telling me about his experience with hot lights and how he had just gotten these great lights. Since he was so happy with them and was planning to buy more, I figured I’d pick one up and try it. I loved the fact that it had a dimmer on it and figured it would be easy to put a CTB on my Arri and incorporate this LED. I didn read a ton of great reviews on this light but I also heard a lot of people complaining on twitter about how green the light is. I bought a 1/2 minus green just in case but as you’ll see below, I did not have this issue.

So those are all the lights I got. There are way too many accessories to list but here’s a few of my favorites thus far:

Matthews RoadRags Kit $192.80 ~ I love these. Really quick and easy to use.

CineBags CB-06 Gel Roll $28.95 ~ Perfect for storing all my gels.

Rosco CTB Color Conversion Gel Filters (full, 1/2, & 14/) $4.99 – $5.79 per gel

Rosco Diffusion Kit $89.95

Rosco Cinegel Sampler Kit $33.99 – This is a great mix… It has some great gels that I can quickly throw on my Arri lights.

So I had everything I needed and the main test was going to be actually putting all of these to the work. We had been planning on shooting the first episode of our new cooking show for editors for a while now but I wanted to wait till we had all our new gear. What I didn’t think about was just how small our kitchen is and how challenging lighting my first scene ever would me. I wasn’t expecting it to be easy but I didn’t really think how hard it would be to deal with space limitations, glass everywhere, and way too many stainless steel appliances. Part of me wanted to call someone or tweet out messages for help but I really wanted to try to challenge myself so I could learn as I went on and let me tell you, I learned a TON and also realized that I have so much more to learn. Ok, so on to the nitty gritty…

Scene 1:

The first scene we shot was at night so it was perfect because there was barely any natural light coming in through the giant windows in the kitchen. I setup the Rifa in the right corner of the kitchen and if I could have gone back further I would have but hey, space was tight so I did what I could. Next up I setup the Arri 650 in the left corner of the kitchen as far back as I could and put a double scrim on it along with another double scrim from my road rag kit. No, not ideal but I already have a dimmer in my shopping cart for tight situations. I also kicked myself later and said why didn’t I just bounce the light off the ceiling. Oh well! So next up I setup an Arri 150 in the corner for a hair light. That light is perfect for that and the distance was great as well. I was pretty happy with this setup but as with all the setups, I was really frustrated with the shadows and reflections and I tried to block light to get rid of it but I couldn’t. I plan on experimenting with this MUCH more. Below are a few pictures of our setup and a frame grab from the video:

Scene 2:

So for the next scene we wanted to replicate exactly how Jon cooks his pulled pork so we had to shoot this in the morning. As I mentioned before, the kitchen has two large windows so I tried to block all the light coming in but ultimately I decided to use the window light. My main light was the Arri 650 with a full blue CTB on it. I set it up to the right of my camera. The hair light was the Arri 150 again but this time with a full CTB as well and I changed the position of it to the back right instead of the back left because as it was I already had a ton of light coming in from the window. I put the 150 on the actual counter since space was so limited. I really wanted to use the LED light so I set that up on the other side of Jon and dimmed it half way down. Overall I was the happiest with this setup except for the reflections of course.

Scene 3:

Now this was by far my least favorite setup. This was another shot taken at night and I wanted to make sure that you could see the actual counter in the shot this time around. I couldn’t use the Rifa because with the softbox it was way too large to put it anywhere in my tiny kitchen and avoid really nasty reflections. So I went with the Arri 650, 300, and 150. Eliminating the reflections on the 650 was tough but I was able to get rid of the worst ones by simply opening some cabinet doors and blocking the light a bit. I did have to use some diffusion on this light but the 300 was perfect and so was the 150. So why was I so annoyed with this shot? Human error of course… I should have bumped my exposure a bit more and tweaked my color balance but hey, I learned a valuable lesson. I rushed through this setup and paid the price.

It’s been a great experience trying to essentially teach myself about lighting. I’m hoping that I continue to learn more and more about this because it’s definitely challenging but I enjoyed the process. If you read through this whole post and got nothing out of it, I apologize. Most people in the field probably know way more than I do about lighting but I figure I’ll share my experience learning. Hopefully I’ll share more about this soon along with what we decided to get for our new audio setup.

Don’t forget to check out the actual cooking show too: Bringing Home The Bacon


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6 replies
  1. JoElla
    JoElla says:

    You are a fantastic writer. It is almost like having a conversation with you but i’m not talking…lol.
    The cooking show was funny & great. Keep them coming I always want more recipes!

  2. Bill Vincent
    Bill Vincent says:

    Great article, Cristina! Excellent use of photo illustrations, too. 🙂 I have the Rifa softbox as well, and absolutely love it. The Arri kit is a very solid kit for you (they are built like a tank!) – and you could add a Chimera softbox to one of the Arri lights as well for a bigger softbox and a larger area of diffusion. All in all I’d say you and Jon made excellent choices. You should have enough to get you through just about any small shoot.

    As for experience, every lighting situation is different – therefore you always have something to learn, even as a very experienced DP or Gaffer. In my experience the most frustrating things about lighting (especially in run/gun situations) are good video monitoring to see what the setup actually looks like, and mixed color temperatures. Both of these things drive me crazy in fast paced shooting situations. Anyway, best of luck with the new kit!!

  3. Matt
    Matt says:

    Great article. I have to disagree with you though. I think your last set up is the most aesthetically pleasing to my eye. He’s lit pretty nicely with and has a nice highlight in the eye. His blue-ish sweater compliments the rich browns of the cabinets and cool dark shadows inside the cabinets themselves.

    The shadow beneath the cabinet could be lit up by some LED puck lights, they’re super cheap and can be used to style lighting underneath objects, like cabinets.

    This being a cooking show, I want to see those warm home kitchen tones, and prefer them over the washed out/cool tones found in your other setups. Could be a white balance issue, or maybe that was the look you were going for.

    Just my 2¢. Happy shooting and best of luck.

  4. Stewart
    Stewart says:

    Excellent write up Cristina, I thoroughly enjoyed it. One note though.. As you are adding a dimmer to your setup, be careful in use of it. As you dim tungsten lamps down, the color temperature gets warmer and no longer matches the other 3200K lamps that may be used in the scene. Usually for interviews it’s nice to use a hair light with a dimmer to give you more control of the intensity and it also gives a nice warm glow around the subject to pull them out of the background. For use as a key or fill though, you may want to consider using instead a smaller lamp, additional scrims, or a net to cut the intensity without affecting the color temperature.

    Hope all is well!
    -Stewart, of Epic Motion

  5. andy george
    andy george says:

    this is a great write up! i am very interested in checking out the 1000 LED Light Panel Dimmable Light Panel Operates. thanks for posting this!


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