November 21, 2015

How to Create a Complete Light Kit with 3 Color-Accurate Fixtures on a $150 Budget

Getting started with quality lighting doesn't have to be overwhelmingly expensive.

In fact, you can build yourself a great little starter kit (with fixtures, color-accurate bulbs, stands, and accessories) for $150 or less. In a recent video tutorial over on Tuts+, David Bode shows you exactly how it's done:

As is the case with most of the "build your first light kit" tutorials out there, Bode is recommending that you opt for the inexpensive clamp lights that you can find at your local hardware store. The main thing to note here, though, is that it's wise to invest a bit more money on certain parts of your light kit even though there might be cheaper options available.

For starters, the quality of the bulbs is paramount. If you want these lights to render the skin tones and the various other colors in your scene properly, you're going to want to invest in some higher CRI bulbs. The gold standard here are the Kino Flo CFL bulbs, which have a CRI of 95 and are designed specifically for use in motion picture and photography lighting. At $25 apiece, however, the cost adds up quickly when you purchase several of them. If you're looking for a less expensive alternative, Bode recommends these BlueMax bulbs, which have a CRI of 93 and come in at $10 a pop.

Secondly, a solid set of light stands will last for years, and will grow with you as your lighting equipment expands. A cheap set of light stands, however, will serve you in a pinch, but will undoubtedly let you down in the long run. That's why Bode recommends looking for heavy duty stands. A decent 8' stand (any shorter than that, and it probably won't be as versatile as you want it to be) will generally start around $30. Again, this adds up quickly when you buy several of them, so if need be you can opt for cheaper light stands when building your first light kit. Just know that investing in good stands will serve your best interest in the long run.

And last, but certainly not least, are the accessories that you'll need to bring this kit together. The most important thing to add is a good set of spring clamps in order to secure the lights to your stands. For around $10, you can find various packs of clamps that will serve all sorts of purposes when it comes to lighting and general filmmaking. Beyond that, you can never go wrong with a roll of gaff tape, a basic set of gels and diffusion, and a winning attitude. Luckily, that last one won't cost you a dime.      

Your Comment

16 Comments

This is great. As someone just starting out, it's a bit overwhelming when everything costs $500+

November 21, 2015 at 4:01PM

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This is a nice thing to start with. But don't think the light will look like anything other than $150.00 lighting.

November 22, 2015 at 1:26AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1079

If I recall, Rodriguez used a bunch of clamp lights when shooting El Mariachi. Not the most current film, I know, but it's really about knowing how and where to use them so much as the cost of the light per se. I mean, kids in film school make Arri light kits look like crap all the time.

November 22, 2015 at 11:36AM

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thomas j castillo
human
102

Robert, Robert, Robert,

How can you title an article 'color accurate' when the lights are so color inaccurate that the video includes a fix-it-in-post disclaimer?

This video best illustrates two things:
Don't use scoop lights
Don't focus so hard on being cheap that you lose sight of all else

A great use for scoop lights is in your workshop, where you want light sprayed everywhere. Since you want to be able to control light in cinema and, yes, even in corporate video, you do not want scoop lights.

This video perfectly illustrates the danger of losing sight. The guy notes that Kino Flo makes a $25 CFL, but instead selects a $10 blue light special. The Kino Flo bulbs don't only provide consistent color and no flicker. They also give you a better quality of light. Instead, to save $15 per bulb, or $60 for his set up, he sabotaged his video. You think that's a bad decision now? Wait until you get home to edit your green corporate video. Having to fix audio and color in post is a horrible, losing battle.

For those of you with extremely little money, search Amazon for Neweer LED. There's a $20-30 camera top model with close to a five star rating, cold shoe and 1/4-20 mounting point, built in dimmer, powered by various camcorder batteries* or AA cells. It's in the daylight realm and includes a diffusion panel and an orange panel (not CTO). For the person who really has no money, it is everything that the scoop lights aren't.

*There are plenty of cheap aftermarket camcorder batteries, which can also power many camera accessories, like small monitors. Sanyo eneloop is an excellent choice for AA rechargeable. The light may have an AC adapter.

November 22, 2015 at 3:03PM, Edited November 22, 3:06PM

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Charlie K
1343

Charlie K,

Color and CRI is a bit more complex than what I talked about in the video. I own a bunch of tungsten, LED, and fluorescent lighting instruments. Over a dozen fluorescent lights, large and small, including 4 Kino Flo Diva clones with real Kino lamps (55W Compact KF55).

These BlueMax lamps render colors in a different way, but it isn't worse than the Kino Flo CFLs. On my C100, the BlueMax lamps are a tiny bit green but the Kinos are actually a tiny bit magenta. I do have to correct the BlueMax lamps a tiny bit in post but after I do certain colors are rendered better.

On another camera, the BlueMax lamps look perfect.

The minus green was for the cheap Philips LED, and it was overkill.

November 22, 2015 at 9:18PM, Edited November 22, 9:18PM

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Wouldn't tungsten bulbs make more sense? 100 CRI and cheaper. A 300W lamp is a couple bucks at the hardware store.

November 22, 2015 at 3:59PM

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Agreed... you could really just buy some par cans and blast them through some muslin or gridcloth / silk. They are cheap as help and as color accurate as any tungsten.
Heat issues ofc.

August 5, 2017 at 2:50PM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
639

Great post!

November 22, 2015 at 10:06PM, Edited November 22, 10:06PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1107

I've always had trouble with mounting clip-on lights to the stands. His clamp solution is wonderful! I've been using LED worklights from Costco combined with lighting stands. The Costco lights don't flicker at 24fps shutter 1/48 and seem to have good CRI (good enough for me anyway). I adjust the colors in post so if the bulbs are a little off, it's no biggie. At around $40 each you can put together a cheap lighting setup. They attach directly to a 3/8 inch stud (like what's on the top of the lighting stand). http://slickdeals.net/f/7926407-snap-on-led-worklight-2000-lumens-28-99-...

November 23, 2015 at 5:13PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
416

You can't fix bad CRI in post.

November 23, 2015 at 6:04PM

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yes, if the part of the spectrum is missing or low there's not much you can do to get it back. You can reduce the green from fluorescents and make other small tweaks to make things passable. I do sci-fi so I just pretend the odd colors are on purpose. As this is No Film School we don't need things to be perfect or really expensive.

November 23, 2015 at 10:17PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
416

Sure, but tungsten literally is perfect (color-wise, anyway), and it's dirt cheap. If you're trying to match daylight it'll take some significant wattage with a CTB, but fortunately it's approaching winter in the northern hemisphere.

November 24, 2015 at 3:02PM

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If you actually want good CRI for cheap, go for tungsten. For super cheap, you can get 500w work lights(with stand) at any hardware store for less than $30, diffuse and flag off as needed. If you want a more professional looking light with more control, cheap redheads can be had on amazon as well. search for 800w lights and you should find lamps for $60-80 or three-light kits for under $300. And if you still wanna be as much of a cheapass as possible, photofloods run up to 500w and cost $6 a bulb, but burn up quick.

November 24, 2015 at 2:01PM

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Chuck McDowell
1st AC
515

Agreed. White shower curtains make a decent silk. A roll of aluminum foil will give you some spill control if you can't afford cinefoil.

November 24, 2015 at 3:05PM

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Going with halogen worklights does give you a lot of great, cheap light, but it is also extremely hot and power hungry. Not a great solution if you are working in tight spaces, like a doc taking place in smaller offices. It's also no fun to hunt around for the breaker when you drew too much power.

September 9, 2017 at 11:23AM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer
944

did anyone ever try the Ikea LED bulbs? I've read in some tests their CRI came out 94+

August 5, 2017 at 6:23AM

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