DSLR Cinema, Cinema Raw, and Cinematic Journalism

by Kurt Lancaster

The $100, 3-point light kit

DSLRs are known for low-light capability and many shooters have been able to get some nice shots with natural lighting setups — especially in documentary work. But sometimes you need some lights to make the scene shine with cinematography power. But if you’re on a super low-budget framework, or you’re a student trying to build your own setup, you already know a good light kits cost a lot of money.

 

For example, a Lowel Omni 3-point lighting kit costs about $900:

 

For about $900 the Lowel light kit is outside many student and super low-budget filmmakers.

 

It’s got a nice set of barn doors to shape light direction, cords, tripods, and a carrying case. But that’s the price of a Canon Rebel T3i — which is what many of you saved up to get in order to make movies. Another $900? I’m not doing it.

 

I’ve consistently told my students — and I’ve built one myself — to go to Home Depot and build your own kit, with a couple of inexpensive items from B&H to supplement.

 

Bare bones light kit: ~$100

Three aluminum work scoops:

 

A work scoop lamp about $8 each (three for about $24)

Because the scoops come with clamps, you can hook these on door knobs, bed posts, doors — whatever is available on your shoot.

 

Three extension cords:

 

25′ ~$9 each for a total of about $27.

 

Daylight lamps (or whatever color temp you want):

 

2-pack 100W daylight CFL about $4 (three sets for about $12).

 

Aluminum foil: Get at your local grocery store — around $5. Use this to act as your barn doors, but never enclose your scoop, since you need the heat to breath!

 

One other key tool is a reflector — allowing you to bounce light or use as a scrim to defuse light.

 

Impact’s 32″, 5-in-1 reflector for about $39.

This is an essential tool for lighting, providing you with silver, gold, and white combos. Even if you’re outdoors using natural light, this is a great tool to bounce light back into the performer’s face.

There it is, for just over $100, you can build a workable light kit. And at the equivalent of 100-watts, these CFLs are more than adequate for DSLR lighting setups. Throw them in a duffel bag and you have a nice portable kit.

Anything else is just extra.

 

Extra

Sometimes you may be in a place where you can’t clamp your aluminum scoops, so you may want some light stand tripods to clamp them. The Smith-Victor Ravens from $33-40 each (price differences reflecting height extensions from 6′ to 8′).

Black wrap: http://www.filmtools.com/blacstudfoil.html

Black wrap, good for blocking light like a flag.

 

The Smith-Victor Raven RS75 light stand tripod for about $38. Three of them for just under $115.

 

The full package with light stands, aluminum foil, and assuming you already have a duffel bag, it will cost you less than $220. That’s the cheapest 3-point light kit I’ve come across.

 

Another inexpensive 3-point kit:

One of our reader’s pointed out the Cowboy Studio kit on Amazon (see comment below):

 

For under $70, this kis is a great option.

You will not have as much control as the scoops — where you can wrap tinfoil around them, but for general lighting, this is likely a nice setup, but I haven’t used this kit.


Scrims, flags, and C-stands

For those of you with an extra budget, I found the following equipment useful for more advanced work:

 

Scrim and flag kit:

 

The Westcott 24″x36″ fast flags scrim kit: $160

This puts you into some of the higher budget equipment, but it includes the fold-up storage bag and:

  • 2- Frames 24″ x 36″
  • 1- Black Single Net Fabric 24″ x 36″
  • 1- Black Double Net Fabric 24″ x 36″
  • 1- Artificial Silk Fabric 24″ x 36″
  • 1- Black Block Fabric 24″ x 36″

These are designed to be attached to C-stands:


Avenger C-stand with arm and clamp: ~$160a c-stand by itself will cost about $100, but the clamp and arm is useful for hanging the flags, scrims, and reflectors.

So for about an additional $480, you can up your game with how you control your light with two C-stands and a scrim/flag kit, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you really need it. In either case, if I had the choice of purchasing a $900 light kit and the DIY scoops and have money left over to get a a couple of C-stands with a scrim and flag kit — that’s where I would put my money and it’ll still cost me less than ~$700!

The $100 kit is a good place to start and you can work your way up to the light stands. Only get the C-stand with scrims if you know you need it, and only for those advanced enough to use them for their full benefit.

—-

Kurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of “DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video, Focal Press, 2011.” He teaches digital filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.

Category: Articles, Equipment
  • JWise says:

    Thanks for the tip on the reflectors. Upon looking for them at Amazon I found 43″ versions of the same thing for $25 plus shipping. I hope there isn’t an inherent advantage to the smaller units.

    June 20, 2011 at 2:32 am
    • Kurt Lancaster says:

      Find the best deals out there! The size of the reflector is all about preference, not performance.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:02 am
  • Dame says:

    I recently purchased a kit off amazon (CowboyStudio New Photo Photography Video Studio Umbrella Continuous Lighting Light Kit Set- 2 7ft Stands, 1 Mini Stand and Carry Case) for under $70. Great beginner kit. Bulbs were a little dim, but swapped them out for stronger ones and it’s perfect. The case is nice too. I have some clamp lights I use as well mainly for accents but their a great, inexpensive solution as well.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:25 am
    • Kurt Lancaster says:

      Fantastic! I’ll update the site to add this.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:28 am
  • Seany says:

    Great post…I passed this on to a lot of friends who always ask me this question.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:29 pm
  • Seany says:

    Another random thought – not sure if you’ve ever posted bits about using black wrap. As you know black wrap is gold and a great way to ghetto rig some barn doors with laundry clips aka c-42′s. That always pops up as a usefull tip..

    June 20, 2011 at 10:31 pm
  • Kurt Lancaster says:

    Do you have a link to the black wrap? I couldn’t find it on B&H.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm
  • Katie says:

    C-stands never worked well with the reflector when I’ve shot – since you have to angle it, you need the stretchy cords to pull it, which tips the c-stand, unless you also lug some good old sandbags into the Canadian wilderness, midwinter.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:59 am
  • Rexy Inc says:

    you know those cheap fluro blubs you get for $4 from the supermarket have massive colour phase changing which means nonstable colour and they flicker also and a Actual Color Temperature (K) : 5000 °F which is off and changes a bit the longer its turned on… you will totally screw your shoot up using this crap !… I’d raver pay upwards of $80 for the real things – at least they are made for photography/video with stable colour electronics in the bulbs and totally flicker free. i use 70w fluro bulbs for our video work very $$$ but at least stable but still very fragile – you only have to drop them a 1mm off the table and they explode :(

    July 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm
    • Kurt Lancaster says:

      I’ve used these cheaper bulbs and have not run into any flickering or color temp issue.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm
    • Michael says:

      Here you go, 300w equivalent CFLs for $16 on Amazon from Square Light. In fact there are half a dozen venders with similar deals, and the number is growing every day. Same for LEDs, they are amazing, cheap and indestructable. I love them personally for hair and fill light with a dimmer, I would never go back to Tungsten. I agree with Kurt, even the cheap CFLs from Home Depot [they have a whole line of them available in 5500k by the way] are decent bulbs these days. Two years ago that wasn’t true, but it is now.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:27 am

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