July 12, 2014

Flashlights & Magnifying Glasses: The Dirt Cheap DIY Approach to 3-Point Lighting

Lighting plays a huge role in making a film look aesthetically pleasing and cinematic, and though lighting kits can be expensive, there are always DIY workarounds to keep costs down. But, could you imagine if you pulled out a bunch of cheap flashlights on the first day of shooting? Your cast and crew might laugh you right off the set. However, Joey Shanks, who never fails to share his invaluable DIY film tips, shows us how these small, but increasingly powerful flashlights can be used with a few inexpensive mods to give your shots all the illumination they need.

Shanks uses Kobalt Work Lights for his key and fill lights, which you can order off of Amazon for about $10, or Lowe's for about $7, and these things have some pretty excellent features for DIY filmmakers. They have a cordless rechargeable battery, 4 settings, and a flexible hose that you can use to mount it or stabilize it (though using a tripod would be ideal). For his backlight he uses a 400 lumen flashlight.

He also uses a variety of different items to modify the light, including gels, wax paper (for diffusion), and even a magnifying glass to make your beam more narrow. For just the flashlights, you can purchase them all for around $30, but for everything, including the modifiers, clamps, gels, and stands -- essentially an entire 3-point lighting kit, Shanks lists it at $150 brand new. Now, that might not sound like the cheapest kit, but remember that this setup is super compact, doesn't give off heat, and some of the pieces can be repurposed to do other tasks.

At any rate, here's Joey Shanks to show you how to make a cheap, DIY 3-point lighting setup:

Personally, I'm so glad that this tutorial exists, because it answers the question that I've always asked myself, but was too afraid to test for fear of looking (feeling) like an amateur: "Can I light this scene with flashlights, or would that be -- completely stupid?"

I've used several random lights I've found lying around the house: LED headlamps, party lights, and myriad of different work lights, but only to serve as a quick fill -- certainly not for a full 3-point setup. Granted, using flashlights isn't going to work to light every scenario, but it's important to know that these lights are only getting more powerful, like this one from Nitecore that puts out 3,500 lumens, so having them in your gear bag for more than common utilitarian purposes isn't as weird or unprofessional as it sounds.

Now that Shanks has shown us that there's no shame in the flashlight lighting game, maybe you'll want to try it out for your next project.

[via Shanks FX]

Your Comment

25 Comments

Glad you also mentioned the work lights, available at most hardware stores, they are much less expansive than your typical Redhead or Blonde… There are many perfectly serviceable grip items to be found in such stores. Plastic shower curtains that provide decent bounce or diffusion - make frames out of PCV pipes and 90 degree elbows, and tee joints for centre braces, from the plumbing section. Also consider checking out surveyor's tripods, they are well built and easy to convert, and cheap as borscht. I used one for my 8X10 view camera for many years.

July 12, 2014

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William

It works! Recently I used a Pelican flashlight in a music video, as a front fill light on the face of the singer, who was standing in front of a window. The flashlight was secured in place with a cardelini grip on a tripod. The color temperature was close enough that I didn´t need to gel-correct it. It was not the only light, sure, as I also used a daylight LED 1x1 panel (with 1/4 CTB), but the flashlight was a cheap and effective solution to raise the light level on the face. Now all we need is a guide to high CRI flashlights!
The music video is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVj7_icU0Ws and the take I used the flashlight starts at 2:31

July 12, 2014

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really liked the video

July 24, 2014

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BV

Or for $150 you could rent something better.

Never understood the point of this.

July 12, 2014

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Gene Wolfe

Well, it's good to have options, yeah?

Not everybody has a rental house near them, and not everybody wants the hassle of renting lights. Imagine if you did a bunch of smaller projects in one year (I think I made close to 10 one year) -- I'm sure $150 sounds better than $1,500, even if they are better lights.

I think it's a nifty DIY solution.

July 12, 2014

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V Renée
Managing Editor
Writer/Director

Basically, I agree with you.

But if you was hired for a cheap production on a holiday island, any solution would come in handy, just to keep your luggage light for the flight.

July 12, 2014

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Tom DoP

Good point but I see where Gene is coming from.

People will flock to $5000 cameras and lenses.... and spend nontime/money on lightning and resort to gimicks like these.

And rene online sights like lensrentals.com and borrow lenses have lighting. No excuses.

July 13, 2014

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Theo Slawin

Here in Berlin I can rent a daylight LED-package with stands for 8€/day in the cheapest (and most unreliable) renting-house. A kinoflo costs 5€ ... so I think 15$ for a flashlight is quiet expensive :D

July 12, 2014

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Hannes

Wenn du das schleppen willst, bitte..... :-)
(If you want to carry it, here you are)

I think it is interessting if you have to be quite mobile and your crew size very small.

July 12, 2014

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Tom DoP

I should film in berlin :P
London rentals stack up way too fast

July 12, 2014

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$50 for a single lowel LED 200, apparently Seattle's rental houses suck.

July 14, 2014

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Chuck

Here is Canada you can find 1x1 panels for sale in retail stores for about $350.

At that price I'd rather just own it, than keep paying for rentals. :D

July 14, 2014

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Tom

Portable... that's the main reason to use this flashlights

July 12, 2014

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I'm surprised people have yet to point out that there is nothing special in this video. It's a 3 point lighting setup using flashlights. Barely news worthy.

July 13, 2014

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Tyler

Exactly

July 13, 2014

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Theo Slawin

I agree - super straight 3 point lighting, without enough lumens to get an aperture that allows the talent to move around without losing focus on their eyes. Try shooting an interview at a 1.4 sometime - a mannequin doesn't move. But really - what's up with that shotgun mic being used as a vocal mic? That makes it look like one doesn't have the right equipment to do the work, or just doesn't know what it's used for.

July 13, 2014

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ri

He was talking into a lav at the beginning, so they have proper equipment. Lazy or unprepared, take your pick.

July 14, 2014

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Chuck

LED light prices have dropped tremendously over the last six months. eBay's Julious Studio (not known for its great quality but nonetheless) listings have 160 bead on-camera type light for $20. It includes four gels/filters and claims 800 LUX. Yong Nuo brand claims 1,400 LUX for the same number of LED's and asks for $45. It comes with two filters. A 300 bead piece is $68. A 300 bead ring light is ~ $110 but claims almost 2,000 LUX. Came TV, a more reputable of the Chinese manufacturers, has two 100W LED Fresnel lights for $379, claiming 1800 LUX from each. They also have a 600 LED pcs panel for $218 with 5,900 LUX rating. two of these run $425. One 600 bead panel + a couple of 160's should be more than enough for a small room.

July 13, 2014

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DLD

I've got the 300 LED youngnou on my desk at the moment, just seeing how long this new battery will power it. For 70 bucks, I think it's hard to beat. 2 of these with stands and $10 light stand to hot shoe adapters weigh in at not considerably more than the setup above, and, if you're doing interviews with clients, will look a lot more professional.

July 14, 2014

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Lando

For those of you who know the work of photographer, Helmut Newton, I worked for him as an assistant shooting publicity stills of Harrison Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner in the streets of Paris at night for the movie, Frantic. We taped regular, old household flashlights with blue gels to light stands, pointed them at Ford and Seigner from a distance of 6 to 10 feet and Helmut made 1 to 2 second exposures of the couple on his tripod-mounted Hasselblad.

Just goes to show, even the best are not above a 'less-than-professional' approach if it gets the job done.

July 13, 2014

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Personally, I’m so glad that this tutorial exists, because it answers the question that I’ve always asked myself, and Yes this is completely stupid amateur looks”

July 14, 2014

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Fadhil

Familiarize yourself with basic photography lighting kits, confidence saw a dramatic increase in the quality of your photos.

July 16, 2014

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I'd say with $200 I could (and have) make a bunch of fake kinos or other much more functional versatile lights from Home Depot.

July 16, 2014

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Danny

Guerilla Filmmaking at it's best, and as the saying goes: "Each to his (or her) own".
Just one cautionary note though - check LED lights carefully, because some of the cheaper `White' LEDs produce high colour temperature light that looks bluey on screen.
That can be useful, if you want a bluey hair light to contrast with a tunsten main, but if you aren't aware of it, and only notice in Post, you're stuffed.

July 17, 2014

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Tony

DOPE!!! Thanks for sharing. Jus ordered my Kobalt lights. Cant wait to start using them

July 18, 2014

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