Oftentimes 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.