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.
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.
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):
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:
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.