April 29, 2014

What Lighting Tools Do the Pros Use? Some of the Most Talented DPs Share Their Favorites

lightOftentimes when new filmmakers look at their footage and they're wondering why it doesn't have that "movie quality" look, it's not because of the camera they're using. We've said it before and we'll say it again: a huge part of making films look cinematic  is how well you implement lighting, and some insanely talented and exciting cinematographers, including Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska), Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Rachel Morrison (Fruitvale Station) share their favorite tools to work with in an article for HD Video Pro.

For many of us, our favorite lights to use are the ones we can get our hands on, which often means cheap shop lights or the least expensive lighting kit you can afford on eBay or Amazon. However, just because you're not able to use the tools mentioned below because of price, availability, or storage limitations doesn't mean that the filmmakers and/or studios you work with in the future won't be using them on their projects. Also, it's just exciting to learn what some of the industries great cinematographers are using to capture the looks in their films!

So, take a look at what the following DPs had to say about their favorite lighting tools below:

Phedon Papamichael

Shooting B&W films may not be the norm anymore, but Papamichael managed to create a beautiful aesthetic for Nebraska, despite the "restrictions". Personally, I was especially interested to hear what he used on the film, since I have a huge desire to shoot in black and white, but lack the knowledge on how lighting for it compared to color. Papamichael says that one light he enjoys working with is a small light built by Bob Fischer called "The Fish Light."

It's a simple light and very handy. Its source is old-fashioned lightbulbs: three 250-watt soft-white ECA Photofloods, in a housing with a small Chimera Video PRO bag diffusing them. I immediately saw the potential for this tool because it is a great light for "final touches," quickly adding an eye light or finishing the wrap on a half light. Its lightweight construction is great for handholding and moving in synchronicity with an actor. Its compact size and softness makes it ideal for small spaces that, even on the largest film sets, we seem to find ourselves in.

Rachel Morrison

Rachel Morrison

Morrison caught our attention when she managed to capture the hardcore realism and emotion of Fruitvale Station. She has described balancing a cinéma vérité style with the highly emotionally charged scenes in the film, creating more than your standard dark and gritty film. She says that one of her favorite lights is the 800-watt Joker Bug Light by K5600, complete with a bug-a-beam adapter in a Leko housing, because of its versatility. She mentions that the "Jo-Leko" combo is great at cutting through haze "for a distinctly visible beam or a beautiful hard edge light."

Altogether, it packs a mean daylight punch in a controllable spot form that can be plugged into household power or run off a marine cell battery. Unlike many units, which only work for specific purposes, the "Jo-Leko" is incredibly versatile. I frequently use it for floor skips, or I'll send it through the window in addition to a softer source to accent something specific, replicating a hard hit of direct sunlight.

Rodrigo Prieto

If Phedon Papamichael is the official spokesman for black and white photography (for this article anyway), then Rodrigo Prieto is the spokesman for color. In a previous article, we talked about how he paid special attention to the color depth of the Canon C500 camera, "treating the individual sensors as they would a traditional film stock." He shares that one of his favorite lighting tools is a softbox that offers a soft and even illumination.

It would have to be the OctoDome light control device. It comes in three sizes -- 3-foot, 5-foot, 7-foot -- and it's extremely lightweight and easy to use and maneuver, and gives you this very even, soft light source in a relatively small space, in terms of its depth. So you can put it in a tight location, and it takes up far less space than a Fresnel with diffusion, or practically any Chimera with a Fresnel. I also love the shape. The roundness works so well with a face and looks so nice in the eyes, and creates a very pleasing effect for portraits. And with a very small wattage, you get a lot of light.

Rodrigo Prieto

Be sure to check out the rest of HD Video Pro's article to learn what the other cinematographers said about their favorite lighting tools. And feel free to share what your favorite budget/not-so-budget lighting tools are in the comments below.

Link: Cinematographers discuss their lighting techniques and go-to instruments -- HD Video Pro

Your Comment

24 Comments

I've got to try that butcher paper on bead board gag. Sounds like it may look like using a piece of carboard for a bounce. Great article and nice tips.

April 29, 2014

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The Joker Bug 800 is just about the most useful light ever invented. It has saved my ass so many times my children should be named Joker and Bug.

April 30, 2014

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marklondon

V Renee should change her name to: ctrl C ctrl V Renee, all she does is copy n paste from other sites.

April 30, 2014

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Nat

Nat - even copy and paste is more useful than what you're bringing...

A great resource for lighting tips is http://www.rogerdeakins.com/forum2/index.php - Roger Deakins' website forum - there's loads of useful stuff on there.

April 30, 2014

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I mean…I'd be willing to put it up to a vote, Nat, but it looks like everyone's way too busy talking about filmmaking to be snarky.

P.S. Command C Command V Renée. I'm on a Mac.

April 30, 2014

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avatar
V Renée
Managing Editor
Writer/Director

I still say Open Apple.. habit. :-)

Journalism is very much reading, summarizing and sourcing from others, so you are doing a great job. Keep it up.

April 30, 2014

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tbonemain

Just walk away Renee

April 30, 2014

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Pippy

Actually, I agree with Nat.
This is copy-paste. And no! Journalism is not reading + sourcing. Journalism is, our should be, reading, making an opinion about that and commenting in your own words. If your are just going to copy paste something from another site, just copy the link to the complete article, which is better than this.

June 20, 2014

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nico

I'm not entirely sure you know what journalism means. However, if you don't like the articles, don't read them. Pretty simple.

June 21, 2014

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Jack Marchetti

What's the negativity for? What are you trying to accomplish? If you don't like her posts, skip over them and move on. It's a very insulting thing to say, but I have to say, even if cut and paste is all she did, I'm all for it b/c she is culling other stuff I don't have time to read or follow. I spend way too long on the sites I do follow for things all these other sites I don't regularly follow. It's generally not worth my time to read many of these sites for the occasional interesting article...it's doing a big service to me to point out these interesting articles out of all the stuff I don't care to dig through.

It's like film festivals. I used to go to sxsw for years...and some years, I've seen 1-2 films a day for the whole thing...and only seen one or two films that were any good. A couple years, I haven't seen a single good film. Festivals have a lot of crap! I don't like being the filter for the rest of the world to know what was good. I don't get any special feeling being the guy who "discovers" something by seeing it first. I go to stuff if I was on it, or a friend was involved...or a director/writer I like was involved...but otherwise, I'd rather hear the buzz at SXSW, Sundance, Slamdance, SIFF, Tribeca...etc...and then check out the good ones later and save hours of my time.

April 30, 2014

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Daniel Mimura

Oh, BTW, the summaries of long 45min interviews with the big takeaways, the good quotes...those are *awesome*. Saves so much time. I only see the ones that are by filmmakers I'm really into.

April 30, 2014

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Daniel Mimura

Nat, not everyone has the time to subscribe and read to every other site out there.

If you don't like NFS don't read it. Simple.

Keep up the good work NFS... love your stuff.

June 4, 2014

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Reggie

Has anyone got any clever suggestions on something portable for outdoors that'll give a decent (even if harsh) key for close-ups, but runs on batteries...?? Going somewhere where there's no power, and a generator would be impractical. Looking at potentially using some handheld torches...

April 30, 2014

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The aforementioned Joker Bug, in 200w variety would be a good shout. Easy to control intensity when running of the powerline batteries with a simple dimmer or drop in scrims, and as Mark said and unbelievably versatile light.

April 30, 2014

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Luke Ogden

Arri Pocket Par HMI, it runs both on AC and DC form a battery and has quite a punch. Plus is 5600k.

April 30, 2014

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Ska

People love the LED's but I never trust the color and flicker (cheaper ones won't cut off when they start running low on juice and start to flicker)...the good ones like the litepanels are expensive...

I save money with kinoflo miniflos. They're about $300 (you can buy them in pieces), which is the same realm of the small litepanels. I love them. (I do have several v-mount batteries, a couple different battery plates, so I'm aware it may make it a bit more expensive if you don't have many v-mount or A/B batteries.)

I've even put them into a china ball on a pole, which is awesome b/c you don't have to have electric cords running all over the place.

April 30, 2014

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Daniel Mimura

Thanks Daniel - I'll have a look at the miniflos!

April 30, 2014

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Why not bounce?? The nice thing about bouncing sunlight is the the bounce light fill is always color-correct in relation to the sunlight/key. I've used bounce light successively on a cloudy day.

Grip-tip of the day. Rags are inexpensive, but frames are expensive. So build your own frames from EMT sourced from your local home improvement center.

April 30, 2014

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c.d.embrey

Luke and Ska - thanks very much! I'll post the results when I (eventually) film it!

April 30, 2014

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I like PAR 64 lights http://mole.com/lighting/fay_par/pars/2271/2271.html They put out a lot of light. You can use a spot/very-narrow spot to light a building 2 blocks away to give your shot some depth. They also work great for tungsten bounce.

These PAR 64 fixtures have been around forever and should be available used for little money.

April 30, 2014

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c.d.embrey

Do you mean Chimera Bank instead of bag? As in softbox from their video pro range?

May 2, 2014

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Rodrigo's example is definitely the greatest from this article. His style varies so much and it's always rich and robust regardless of the subject matter :)

While I LOVE their work usually, these above examples from Phedon and Rachel aren't their strongest bodies of work. Nebraska lacked A LOT depth-wise in the B&W conversion and photographically and Fruitvale, while an awesome film- wasn't very good looking compared to her previous films.

Just my own opinion on the matter. All three normally display phenomenal work that I usually admire as a cinematographer.

June 5, 2014

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It's interesting that 2 out of 3 love HMIs. Me, too but pretty pricey. Three years ago I customised these three MH lights with a CRI of 92 for my purposes. The bulbs have a better colour rendering than HMI but at a fraction of a cost and last forever (typical a year or so without any colour shift):
http://berndporr.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/hmi-style-lights.html
I use them usually in combination with kino-flo style fluorescents do emulate sunlight or just on their own bounced or direct. I also love these 125W fluorescent bulbs:
http://berndporr.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/fluorescent-lighting.html
Still quite skektical with LED lighting. I use one just as an eye-light so far...

June 21, 2014

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This website really has all the info I needed concerning this subject and didn't know who to ask.

August 30, 2014

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