Tutorial: Do You Have $50? Then You Can Get Cinematic Lighting

You don't need a fancy camera or expensive lighting equipment to get cinematic lighting. All you need is 50 bucks.

Every filmmaker wants to make their movies look cinematic, but some aren't quite sure how to do it. Many just starting out think that shooting on a sleek new camera will do the trick, but lighting actually plays a much bigger role in achieving that film look. And to debunk another filmmaking myth, you don't need an expensive studio setup to light a scene—all you really need $50, and here's Simon Cade of DSLRguide to prove it.

According to Cade, here's a list of materials you'll need to light a cinematic looking scene. All of these things come out to be around $50; less if you have some of them already, which I'm assuming most of you do.

  • White sheet
  • Work light
  • Light stand
  • 1/4" stud
  • Tape
  • Blu-Tack
  • Paper towels
  • Paper
  • Candles
  • Desk lamp

First things first—what kind of work light should you get? Since you're not dropping hundreds of dollars on a single pro lighting unit, there's little pressure to get it right the first time, but there are still some things you need to think about. There are all kinds of work lights, but they tend to be either LED, halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent. Each of these have many differences: they each give off a different color temperature, some get really hot while others stay completely cool, they require different amounts of power, etc. LEDs are a popular choice because they are powerful, efficient, give off a nice, even light, and won't burn your face off. Halogens work well, too, but have high power consumption and can get extremely hot. Fluorescent lights stay cool, but may cause lines to appear on your footage if you shoot at certain shutter speeds. Incandescent lights are cheap and accessible, but not very powerful and produce a warm color temperature (about 2800K) that you may not want.

Aside from deciding on the kind of light, you'll want to pay attention to how many lumens it has. Pro Tip: lumens ≠ watts. While watts measure energy use, lumens measures the brightness of a light, which is extremely important to know when deciding on how to light a scene. So, how many lumens should your work light have? Well, that all depends on the size of your set. Cade's light, which had 1600 lumens (equivalent to a 100W incandescent bulb) worked well for the small space he was working with. But if you're working with a bigger space, that doesn't necessarily mean you should get a brighter light—it might actually mean you need to purchase more lights.

In the end, if you buy a work light, set up your shot, and it comes out terrible, so what? It only cost you $50 or less! (This, of course, is assuming you tested this setup before you used it on an actual project!)     

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Your Comment


"In the end, if you buy a work light, set up your shot, and it comes out terrible, so what? It only cost you $50 or less!"

This is an extremely effective summary of why this video should not have been featured. There an many cheaper and more effective methods of getting a good, directional light source that won't lead newbies into mimicking at best mediocre results, such as negative fill, use of Par cans, alternative bounce materials, etc. (All which can be accomplished for under $50 with much less hassle and much higher quality results.) We should be trying to promote high quality, useful content, not literally everything that is put up on Youtube related to filmmaking.

September 25, 2016 at 3:43PM, Edited September 25, 3:43PM

Jacob Floyd
Writer / Videographer

I think of videos like this as jumping off point for an absolute newbie. For someone broke in HS who is just starting out. Just getting their hands on some materials is important. Work lights are cheap, come with stands, and they've got umph.

True though, par cans can be stupidly cheap

September 25, 2016 at 8:24PM, Edited September 25, 8:24PM

Zack Wallnau
Cinematographer & Tinkerer

Exactly. Always great to start off somewhere. Another great thing about work lights is depending where you buy them they are almost always returnable no questions asked (hello Home Depot). On a job I did in rural North Carolina, where studio lighting was limited, we purchased around $400 worth of work-lights for use as background/practical/pepper lights. We returned each one without issue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOBay3G4aQU

September 26, 2016 at 9:41AM

Spence Nicholson
Writer / Director / Producer

I thought this was good and very practical. This is actually what I use to do before I knew about or could afford "professional" lighting equipment. The basic fundamentals still hold up regardless of the equipment. This is good for people who are just getting started and want to experiment. Great post.

September 25, 2016 at 8:42PM

Dantly Wyatt
Writer, Director, Content Creator.

"There an many cheaper and more effective methods of getting a good, directional light source that won't lead newbies into mimicking at best mediocre results"

Is there a good tutorial you can point to?

September 26, 2016 at 6:23AM

Film Student

NFS loves them some Simon Cade!

September 26, 2016 at 2:17PM


On paper, this sounds like it should work. Yeah, some other DIY solutions would probably work better, but this one shouldn't be a lost cause. However, looking at the video, I see an actor with most of his face blown out and the rest hidden in shadows. Am I missing something? Why does this look so bad? I've done my share of cheap-ass lighting and I think that, using the gear seen in this video, I could get you a better result. It would probably still look low budget, but you'd at least be able to see the actor's face.

September 25, 2016 at 9:12PM

Clay Smith
Wannabe screenwriter, film editor, director

I really like this guy and his tutorials. I don't quite understand his focus on the "expensive camera" thing, though. Amazing results are achievable with affordable cameras now; he seems to want to solve a problem that isn't there anymore. I may not be his target viewer, though; maybe he deals with a ton of people who think they need a RED to make a great image. Hell, I used to think that...

September 25, 2016 at 9:24PM, Edited September 25, 9:28PM


I think he said just exactly opposite what you said. He is forcing that you don't need an expensive camera, misunderstanding there lol

September 26, 2016 at 2:39AM


This is absolutely fantastic. One can tell this guy did his homework and studied some of the greats. Build it one piece at a time, with purpose, and let that purpose be driven both by subjective taste and technical requirements. Over and over this comes up in back issues of ICG and the like.

Granted - it would be nice with a better rated source than an LED worklight, would be nice if he gave a bit more attention to the angle (maybe to make specular eye light), and that cup of wine could be treated as a project onto itself... but the thing is, you can tell that if he was working with a director who was savvy to those things or if that was the brief from the client he'd jump right up and solve the problems.

This is worlds beyond the light-by-rote formulas touted by other "learn how to light in 10 min" type of tutorials. Love it!

September 26, 2016 at 12:25AM


Honestly you can buy some old pro tungsten fixtures on eBay for the same price and they will last the rest of your career.

September 26, 2016 at 3:32AM

Zachary Will

But the final result looks really poor, so I'm not sure I get this reason for this being here

September 27, 2016 at 5:38AM, Edited September 27, 5:38AM


I like that guy. He has some good videos. But I really didn't like the finished look of this at all.

September 28, 2016 at 7:14AM