Bring your shots to the next level with these DYI video lighting hacks. From hangers to foil, these household items can help get better lighting results.
The issue with film lighting often isn’t so much the purchase of the lights. Instead, it’s getting the additional tools you need to direct and manipulate the light, which can quickly become more expensive than the lights themselves. If you’re new to this game or low on funds, you might not be able to purchase such tools after buying the lights. Today, we’re going to look at a few household items that can help control and manipulate your lights.
One initial low-budget purchase is a small LED light that you can fix on top of your camera. One of these:
These small LED lights fit perfect around a room or fixed on top of your camera.
Even if you do have larger filmmaking lights, these compact LEDs are perfect when you need that extra bit of luminance in a dark spot. But, what about when you need to place the light in an awkward spot with no surface to rest the light? Well, let’s head to the bedroom to raid our wardrobe for a clothes hanger.
Use a hanger to place LED lights in various places around the set.
This hanger typically displays underwear or socks in the store. As such, once you’re out of the store you usually have no need for them at home. I’m sure ninety-nine percent of us place underwear and socks in a drawer.
However, before you put it into the recycling bin or tell the store clerk to keep the hanger, keep hold of it. It’s perfect for placing these small lights on doorknobs and shelf edges.
Hang the LED lights in out of reach areas.
Now you can place these compact LEDs in a variety of places that were initially out of reach. While I haven’t experienced the hanger falling off the edge of a table or shelf, I suggest you run some sticky tac along the hook for extra grip.
While the springs in the hanger are strong, make sure to secure it to a solid host.
The springs in these hangers can be quite strong. So, if your LED light feels fragile, you’re going to want to make sure you place the hanger along the edge of the LED where the construction is most durable.
These mini lights are ideal for an ambient blast. However, they’re not entirely practical for hitting a single spot since you can’t adequately control the direction of the light.
In theory, we just position cardboard on all sides of the light to give the light some direction. But, the length of the card means the dense material starts to absorb some of the ambient falloffs. Therefore, to fix this issue, we’re going to head to the kitchen and use kitchen foil.
Use foil to create a spotlight. Image via Jack Tompkins.
The reflective, inexpensive, and lightweight nature of foil makes it the perfect material to create a spotlight.
Steps to Follow
Cut a liberal amount of foil. Use enough length to form a tunnel.Turn on your LED light. Once we wrap the foil around it, we won’t be able to adjust the settings.
Cut a liberal amount of foil.
Place your LED at the back of the foil, and wrap it around the light. Crunch more in the back to create a support.
Wrap the foil around the light.
Take a piece of electrical tape and stick together the two sides.
Stick electrical tape on both sides.
Finally, fold in the front to create a more defined edge to the torch.
Slightly fold the front of the foil.
Your ambient compact LED can now direct light in a controllable manner. Of course, this is a one and done technique, as you’ll need to remove the foil to turn the light off. Make sure to do this at the last moment, before shooting, to save on wasting so much foil.
Old Bicycle Wheel
An old, unused bicycle wheel seems to be a staple item of every shed. But with this tip, you can finally give that wheel a final chance to shine in replicating emergency lights, a fire, or to cast moving shadows. However, this household item hack is somewhat geared towards those who may have a few pieces of equipment but still lack all the tools, as we’re using a c-stand and grip head.
This hack uses the bicycle wheel to spin color or shape gels through light to cast different colors or shapes, without the need for additional lights or grip that would typically be required for these lighting setups.
Steps to Follow
First, take your bicycle wheel and wrap the electrical tape (or masking tape) around the hub. This is to avoid damage from the grip head teeth. It’s also essential to make sure you don’t connect the tape to the central part of the wheel, as it’ll stop the wheel from spinning.
Wrap electrical tape around the hub.
Next, place the wheel onto the grip head and position it at an angle. Thank way when you rotated the wheel it won’t hit the c-stand.
Place the wheel into the grip head at an angle.
Next, attach your shape or color gel to the wheel. If you’re going to be replicating emergency lights or a fire, place one color on each half of the wheel.In my example, I’m using a scatter gel to disperse cut shadows into the scene.
Attach the shapes you’re trying to replicate to the wheel.
Finally, set your light behind the wheel, and spin for results.
Now, set the light behind the wheel and give it a spin.
You don’t have to worry about the wheel spokes casting shadows onto your scene. They’re too thin, and the light is too close for the spokes to form an obstruction. I had the notion of using the scatter gel to replicate foliage coming through the window, and this is the final result.
Here’s the end result.
After reviewing the demonstration footage, it’s apparent that unless you’re trying to evoke a nightmarish shadow sequence, you’re going to want to rotate the wheel back and forth slightly to replicate foliage instead continually rotating the wheel 360 degrees. However, the effect is still decent as-is, and I’m also certain there are several applications that I haven’t even thought of.
Beveled Drinking Glass
I bet you didn’t expect to open a post on filmmaking and read that a beveled drinking glass would be your next tool in creating an interesting background, but it’s true.
Often the issue with content from new filmmakers and even low-budget productions isn’t with primary lighting (the main subject), but the background. Without additional lights, backgrounds can sometimes be uninspired or dull.
Consider how a swimming pool will bounce glimmering light because of light refraction (see Roger Deakins‘ Blade Runner 2049). We can create a similar but more compact technique with a drinking glass. However, the drinking glass will need to have some form of texturing (like the one photographed below), so the light bounces haphazardly.
Position a small light close to a beveled glass for background lighting.
There’s no special technique to this. Just make sure the glass is empty, position a small light close to the glass, and watch your backgrounds come to life. This is the background with just a normal light blast.
Here, the scene is shot using normal lighting.
This is the background with the beveled drinking glass in front of the light.
Here, the scene is shot using beveled lighting.
While the effect isn’t profound enough to use across a large backdrop, it can certainly enhance a background on a closeup. (I also cover an additional technique doing this with a bowl of water and foil.)
Tools specifically designed to assist in lighting are generally going to be inherently higher quality. However, that doesn’t mean that if you’re low on funds, you can’t look to DIY methods to take your shots to the next level.
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