You may have top-notch lenses and camera bodies, but you still need quality lighting when you’re shooting video. Even if you have ideal lighting outside, you still need accessories to make sure your subjects are lit correctly, just like with stills where a little fill flash can always separate your subject. The problem is that once you go down the rabbit hole of lighting equipment it can be never-ending task and very costly. Once you factor in things like stands, the lights themselves and battery packs, costs can be expensive, especially for those just starting out.
Luckily, there are inexpensive ways to build a lighting setup without breaking the bank. In many ways you have an advantage shooting video over stills. Needing generally constant light with video means there are more lighting options if you want to go down the DIY approach. Here we will list some tips for cheap DIY lighting you could experiment with and hopefully save you a penny or two.
Work or clamp lights. These are general purpose, low-cost utility lights which are not pretty or fancy, but do act as a reasonable light source depending on the bulbs you use. They are usually sold with a domestic lightbulb, but the fitting should mean you have the options of using whatever bulb you wish and at different color temperatures. Each light will be around nine dollars, which means there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pick up a bunch to experiment with.
Depending on the type of work/clamp light you buy, it’s possible to produce home-made barn doors to stick on your lights and then you’ve got a very directional setup.
Because we are looking at DIY low-cost options, it will be inevitable that the bulb fitted will be more of the general domestic type. In this realm, the Incandescent bulb doesn’t rule anymore and we now have more options. It’s most likely for the bulb fitting, you will have the option of LED bulbs, halogen bulbs, fluorescent bulbs and even HID bulbs. Each have their pros and cons, so the best bet is to start with the bulb that comes along with your light and then buy into the bulbs that will fit your needs later down the road.
If you want to check out the various types of bulbs available, websites like Bulb America are a great research start point. Bulb specialist stores have a massive range of different shapes and sizes and list all their bulbs with not just the sizes but also the colour temperatures, wattage and even their lightspread.
Christmas lights. These are usually all LED versions these days and can be picked up for a few dollars. Buy the pure white versions, hang them against a reflective board and they can act as a nice fill light. They are also nice to look at for your subject, which may keep them more alert throughout a session.
Foam cores. These Styrofoam panels act as great reflectors. As they are cheap around $15 and depending on the size, they can be used for a wide variety of applications. The ability to bounce the light has the added advantage of you not needing as many light sources. This means that if you’re on a very tight budget, you can treat the reflector as a second light source.
The criteria for these budget reflectors is that they are large and white, so if you can source large pieces of Styrofoam packaging or even large pieces of white cardboard you’re going in the right direction.
Posterboard. This is large, white reflective material that works great for bouncing light. You can source this stuff from most hobby or art stores and is usually very cheap.
Diffusing and softening the light is key as the light emitted from the work lights can be quite hard and directional. One option is to use a shower curtain that’s plain looking with no design or color, unless that’s what you want. You can point your light source directly through the shower curtain or use it as a book light to further defuse bounced light or similar. I’ve even seen a see-through, waterproof jacket being used in an emergency if you really need to defuse the light.
It is possible to use large pieces of tracing paper for the same application, but tracing paper is usually too delicate, easily rips and the sizes you may need be too costly, especially if you have to keep replacing the thing. However, tracing paper or parchment paper is ideal at small sizes. You could even experiment with some screen replacement material to further diffuse bounced light.
Mirrors. These things are clearly very good at reflecting light, especially for fill light. You should be able to pick them up relatively cheaply in different sizes from budget stores. As with reflective boards, it’s advisable to buy big or a full-length mirror as it simply has more surface area to reflect light. The light reflected will be more like shooting into a silver umbrella, giving you a slightly different quality and reflection over pure white board.
The above tips show that you don’t have to spend thousands on your lighting setups, when there are much cheaper alternatives. Having a bunch of lights and reflectors from the start means you can start experimenting straightaway and building up the different types of lighting needed for your own video performances.
The tips here aren’t just about being thrifty, it’s also about having alternatives which can produce more or less the same results. If you feel you need an extra light source or reflectors for a certain shoot, you’r thinking more in small amounts of dollars and stuff that is quickly accessible from most stores. If you want a complicated, multi-light setup but felt you never had the budget, now you can buy everything for less cost than one basic camera flash.