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Lights: you need them, even if you're broke. So here's some affordable options

So you're either broke, or just getting into TV/FILM/VIDEO, or both. You've likely overlooked many things, one of them being lighting, a pretty damn important part!

Having a low budget can be a hindrance in any situation, but thankfully you won't have to make detrimental sacrifices in lighting quality. The reason for that, is that a bulb is a bulb, and the same bulbs that are used in a variety of film lighting, is just the same as what's used in typical home hardware.

DIY'ing is one of my passions, but i've gone not very far in making DIY lighting solutions, mostly because there are already so many cheap but available solutions. China at it again, and this stuff is so cheap, it makes DIY'ing, mostly unnecessary unless you have a special need. I need to be clear up front that i have NOT used all of these items, I am going by looks, pricing, and reviews to judge how useful they might be to you. My thoughts on most of these items are speculation and you should research and check all the details before making a purchase.

Pretty much no budget at all you say? The favorite pick with that are the standard shop lights you can find at most hardware stores, as low as $10 gets you a huge punch. These types of lights will get you illumination, but are not easy to control or manipulate. 

Next are the basic shop reflectors, pop in a bulb and use away. Cheap and pretty darn effective. The main annoyance with these are the mounting options. You can DIY a way to mount it to a stand, but you can get away with just using the included clamp. Just be sure it's secured.

A nifty trick i spotted from another DIY'er was to use white shower caps to turn it into a softbox. Pretty darn clever! And this particular one apparently has some coconut junk in it so imagine it'll air freshen your film shoot, which is great when you have a set full of undershowered overworked people. Seriously though, this one might not be the best choice, you should probably just go to walmart and make sure to get one which is definitely white, and the cheaper variety might actually be more effective, as i can imagine an expensive one might have additional linings which would block/alter the light unfavorably. So look for one which is just a basic translucence.

That does it for the non-purpose built things. Now for the real(cheap) stuff built for our needs as photo/video people.

Light stands, because you do need something to hold your light in place. If you've never used one, you'll never want to be without one again, for each light that is. The cheapest is the set of two for around $14 bucks each. The single one looks to be a better build, with all metal flip locks, and goes higher than the ultra cheapo pair. If you really really need to penny pinch, OK go for the cheap set, but if an extra $27 and missing out on a few happy meals won't kill you, get the better ones. The plastic flip locks on the cheaper ones can break far easier than metal ones.

So now you've got a stand or two, great. Now how about something to put on it?

The low cost champ are these basic as hell little guys. They mount vertically or horizontally, they tilt, the can mount an umbrella, and they are stupid, stupid cheap. I have a few which do get use, and the only thing that's broken is the power switch, though they both broke in the "ON" position, so i really don't care. They're disposable to me, they are far from being my primarly lights but i have no issue breaking them out for use.

Next to those is interesting little kit, though they don't mention the max wattage, if you got these and ditched the little stands for the ones i mentioned earlier, can give you a nice simple start. The advantage they have over the cheapos are the reflector and supposedly better all metal construction.

Now on to some additions you can make to your lights. Want to beef up the output or just spread the light out a bit? These 4 way adapters do just that. Fair warning though: DO. NOT. OVERLOAD. If you don't know about wattage, do so immediatly, and be sure you're not overloading the primary socket, so if you were to plug this into the lights i just mentioned, you can put no more than a total of 105watts. If using with that shop reflector mentioned early, that can handle 300watts. Each item has a different rating and you must abide by those limits or risk damage to you and your equipment. 

With that warning out of the way, there's a similar product, but simply splits instead of quadruples.

Moving on, you would do well to get some modifiers. Umbrellas are a great budget friendly option. You can get them in diffusion, gold, silver, white, etc... One nifty one gives you a pretty nice softbox:

Now, if you want to keep ordering nice and simple, here are some kits which make things pretty darn easy, coming with most if not everything you need to get started. This first one is a no brainer for ultra low budget. It's a 3 light setup with umbrellas. To expand on it just grab a some extra umbrella types such as silver and it'll be a very nice starting point in your lighting.   

After that we have some options that are not that much more in cost, but start to step up the versatility a bit. They are based on a 4 bank light which comes with a softbox, With this light you can choose full or half power. They take a total of 120watts of CFL power, which is not an insane amount of light, but it is a very good start. It won't light up a field, but it will do small to medium interiors quite well if you deploy them properly. 

And then next to that is the same idea, but with a full kit ready to go. 

Added on 2013-10-16 by
Darren Levine

Darren Levine

Stimulus Video

DP/Videographer, Video/Film Editor
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