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Lighting an Interview with $26 Worth of Equipment: a Free SMAPP Tutorial from Stillmotion

The team over at stillmotion has come all the way from wedding films to producing Emmy Award-Winning television content, and along the way, they’ve done their part to try to teach as much as they can about their techniques and how to achieve professional-looking results. They eventually created the SMAPP App, which began its life as a low-cost app with quite a few in-app purchasable tutorials — now they’ve made it completely free, and in celebration, they are releasing a great low-budget tutorial we all can appreciate: how to light an interview with just $26 worth of equipment.

Some info from stillmotion about the newly free SMAPP App:

We’re making all of our premium tutorials on SMAPP (our iPhone app) completely free – starting right now. That’s right, all the tools, all the tutorials, have been made 100% free! If you have the app installed, simply make sure you update it on your device. Or if you’ve yet to download it, well – there is no excuse now (

Here is stillmotion about the tutorial:

To celebrate to new updates to SMAPP, we’ve created a tutorial we’ve been wanting to shoot for a long time now (scroll up and click play). Seriously, you should have seen Patrick when we gave him $26 and sent him to Home Depot – he was like a kid on Christmas morning! ;) We wanted to show you that great interview lighting can be achieved on almost nothing (you can judge for yourself in our example). This can really happen to you, too. We’ve been on sets with our luggage delayed, inadequate resources (we weren’t given all the information correctly), or random wrenches thrown in our best pre-production plans (let’s say the location changes suddenly). We work our butts off to make sure we minimize these major issues – but they still happen – all the time!

This is really ingenius — and using the metal laundry basket is a great idea for the softbox. Keep in mind that these work lights can get very, very hot, and they aren’t necessarily as protected as say a 650 or 1K from Arri. If you’re trying to do something like this on a budget, though, you really can’t get cheaper than this. Ironically, it looks like the actual tape used on the project is gaffer’s tape (though I could be wrong), which would cost about as much as all of the equipment put together. You could certainly use different kinds of tape for this setup, but gaffer’s tape is definitely the most versatile. That gives you an idea of how expensive film equipment really is and how impressive it is to come up with something that looks this great on a budget.

If you want to check out the SMAPP App, head on over using the link below. You can read more about their tutorials on the stillmotion blog.



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  • They seem like really good guys and it’s great that they are offering such great content for free. The softbox with the laundry basket is a terrific idea and it was rather fortuitous that the Home Depot light even had a built in speed ring (sort of). Of course there are better, more robust continuous lighting kits for only a bit more money but it’s great when DIY creativity make all budgets workable.

  • DIYFilmSchool on 12.21.12 @ 10:29AM

    Thanks for posting this article. The tutorial has a lot of helpful hints and solid theory that should really help beginners understand three-point lighting.

  • Seems cool but I no one is doing this sort of thing on a paid gig lol

  • earnest reply on 12.21.12 @ 7:34PM

    Great concept and video. I just wish they showed 1-3 super wide angles to see exactly where they placed all those lights. It would have been so EASY and SO instructional. The graphic overlay does almost nothing for me. But big kudos.

    One tweak. If that light gets too hot you could substitute baking parchment paper as it’s rated for up to 450 degrees. You can’t adjust diffusion like with the shears but it’s definitely safer.

  • “it looks like the actual tape used on the project is gaffer’s tape (though I could be wrong), which would cost about as much as all of the equipment put together. ”

    Do you mean a specific brand of gaffer’s tape? If you mean Advance Tape “Gaffa” , it is definitely not that expensive. You can get a 50m roll for a lot less than 10 bucks. Only the matte black or matte white varieties are a little more expensive, but still less than 26USD.

  • Did anyone else spot the continuity error when he screws the Ikea lamp into the lampholder?

    Round about 3:05 he switches hands in the edit. Not the biggest crime ever but it distracts the viewer.

    Great tutorial though.

  • For anyone who watched that. What is a “Leviton Power Thingy”? I’ve been shopping around buying the materials necessary and that last item is giving me some trouble.

  • Daniel Mimura on 01.6.13 @ 10:34PM

    Using tape on a hot light (a halogen) lamp is kind of stupid. Ponies or c-47s.

    I remember acting in a student film years ago and in the middle of several takes, melted adhesive kept coming undone and diffusion or bounce or whatever would fall off the light. Plus most adhesives are pretty toxic when burned.

    Low budget/no budget is no excuse for using something less toxic, more consistent, and reusable at the same time. (Cheaper than gaff tape as well.)

  • Great post and DIY insight. My only concern for this set-up is appearance. I can’ imagine going to a client with this, but for shoots at home this is awesome. Thanks!

  • ‘No one said you should use this on a paid gig” . Then whats the point? Who in the hell would actually use these tips? The kids in the film Super8 perhaps. A more sensible solution is to bounce that work light off your card and have another card and/or work light for a fill. But I think these guys are out to look clever by ‘making’ gear with materials no one else has thought to use. Meanwhile Ikea, their main inspiration, sells china balls for 10 bucks that will provide a nice soft light without some laundry hamper rigged with curtain fabric hanging off the front. Not mention china balls are easier to rig.