Video Lighting Guide Part 2: Lamps and Modifications

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This piece is part of a series of three articles covering the basics of lighting in the context of videography:

The first article covers the main types of lighting used in films and video clips
The second article looks at lamps and light accessories in greater detail
The third article covers different types of lighting setups from 1-point lighting to 4-point lighting

In a previous article, you learned the basics of lighting types such as natural light, soft light, and hard light.

Now it’s time to move on to light bulbs and accessories which help to manipulate the light.

As you can probably know, there are different types of bulbs that produce light such as incandescent, halogen, tungsten, and so on. They each have their properties and are suitable in particular situations.

This article covers the main types of light sources as well as various accessories related to them such as softboxes, umbrellas, gels, flags, and others.

It’s important to cover these key elements as they create the foundation of your knowledge when it comes to shooting professional photos or creating videos.

Light types and light sources

As an aspiring videographer or photographer, it’s essential to learn about different kinds of lights and how to use them correctly.

There are a few essential lights to mention here such as:

  • Tungsten
  • Halogen
  • Fluorescent
  • Fresnel
  • Open-faced lamps
  • LED panels
  • Ring lights
  • Sun guns
  • Dedolights
  • HMI
  • Parabolic aluminized reflectors
  • Jem balls

We’ll take them one by one and explain their properties and how to use them.

Tungsten light

A tungsten light bulb is an incandescent bulb that has a tungsten filament. Electrical current passes through the filament, heating the material which produces light.

This is one of the most common types of light sources in the world, and we should all thank Thomas Edison for that!

Tungsten light bulbs usually have a warm color temperature of 3200 K.

Halogen light

A halogen light bulb or lamp is also known as a quartz-iodine lamp.

It is similar to tungsten incandescent light bulbs, and it usually comes with the same color temperature at around 3200 K.

The advantage of halogen lights is that they can get very compact and can be used in various medical or optical applications.

Fluorescent light

Fluorescent lamps or tubes are more efficient at converting electricity into light in comparison with incandescent light bulbs.

These lights use a combination of mercury vapors and phosphorus to emit light.

The color temperature of fluorescent lights depends on the amount of phosphorus inside the lamp.

For example, residential fluorescent tubes can have a warm-white color and a color temperature of 2700 K.

Cool-white fluorescent lamps have a blue-white color and a color temperature of 4100 K.

Fluorescent lights made to simulate daylight colors can have temperatures between 5000 K and 6500 K.

Fresnel lights

Fresnel lights are light sources equipped with a Fresnel lens.

A Fresnel lens is a compact lens invented by Augustin-Jean Fresnel who was a French physicist.

This type of lens was initially used in lighthouses to increase the focus of the light. It can make light sources visible from a greater distance, and it is highly prevalent among videographers and photographers.

You can equip a tungsten light, HMI, and LED panels with Fresnel lenses to increase light focus and create hard light.

Small Arri fresnels
Fresnel lights

A Fresnel light will slightly reduce the light output, but it is possible to create a beam of light through smoke, a feature not many light sources can do.

Videographers also use tungsten lights with Fresnel lenses to simulate sunlight. These accessories can be used to amplify candlelight which might be required in various scenes.

You can get good Fresnel lamps from brands like Arri and Filmgear.

Open-face lamps

The next on our list are open-face lamps.

Open-faced lamps are frequently encountered in videography and have no lenses to focus the light.

Open-face lamps have various wattage values. The most common ones are “redheads” at 800 watts and “blondes” at 2000 watts.

You can read more about redheads in our review CineLight Redhead 800 Watt with Light Stand.

We’ll discuss wattage in greater detail later in this article.

The main advantage of open-face lamps is the simple fact that they are highly versatile and affordable.

They are used in numerous movies and stages to create epic scenes.

Open-face lamps feature a metal housing and usually have tungsten/halogen light fixtures.

Often, they also feature “barn doors” which are aluminum reflectors that can be positioned to direct the light in a certain way.

Open-face lamps can come with a softbox in the package as well as a dimmer to reduce or increase the intensity of the light.

Common brand names for open-face lamps are Arri (or Arrilite) and Ianiro.

LED panels

LED video lighting panels with camera

LED panels have become increasingly popular these days. They are more energy efficient in comparison with other light sources, and they are versatile as well.

If you’re interested in some affordable but good lighting kits which use LED panels, you should read our buyer’s guide 8 Best Budget-Friendly LED Lighting Kits For Video.

An LED panel is what you think it is – a panel of a certain size packed with numerous tiny LEDs.

The panel can be small or very large in size, and its price varies accordingly. Some LED panels are even flexible which makes it possible to wrap them around e.g. a round column in a house.

The beauty of an LED panel is that it can be set up in minutes and doesn’t produce heat, in comparison with other light sources such as tungsten.

LED panels don’t necessarily need to be connected to a power outlet. You can plug them into a compatible portable battery, and you’re good to go.

Today you can get budget-friendly RGB panels that not only can produce tungsten and daylight colors but also almost any color you can imagine.

This makes your life much more comfortable when filming outdoors and you don’t always have access to a power outlet.

LED panels can be dimmed, and some of them can cast light in different colors, not only white.

However, low-quality LEDs have their fair share of disadvantages. One of them is flickering, especially if you keep them at reduced brightness. So make sure to get some that are “flicker-free”.

Low-quality LED panels also tend to cast a green tint which you have to correct in post-production.

Ring lights

Best ring light size for youtube video

Another great piece of equipment when it comes to video lighting is ring lights.

These are circular tubes that provide a continuous amount of light – that’s why they’re called ring lights!

They are a favorite among YouTubers and vloggers who require a decent light source that eliminates shadows.

You can read more about ring lights for YouTube and vlogging here.

Ring lights are also a popular choice amongst portrait photographers and videographers, who prefer a ring reflection in the eyes of their subjects (instead of a square or rectangular-shaped reflection.)

Here I’ve made a quick collage to show the unique eye-reflection you can get from ring lights compared to conventional lights in softboxes.

Ring lights can also be dimmable, they are tiltable too (you can change their angle according to your preferences) and have long lifespans of around 1,500-2,000 hours.

Sun guns and on-camera lights

On-camera lights (sometimes also referred to as sun guns) are small portable lamps that can be mounted on top of cameras or on a gimbal.

Sun guns are often used by news reporters at TV stations when they’re out in the field to cover an event.

But they’ve also become popular among vloggers and travel vloggers who need to carry a small light around at all times. And the newer RGB versions can produce all sorts of colors besides daylight and tungsten.

Here you can see a list of some of the best portable (and affordable) on-camera RGB lights available today.

On-camera lights can also be used for interviews, but because of their small size and placement on top of the camera, on-camera lights don’t provide a very flattering light when compared to bigger light sources in off-camera positions.

On-camera lights can be of many different types e.g. a fresnel, a LED panel, or a Dedolight.

They might also come with barn doors to point the light in a specific direction, and their light can be dimmed, softened with a softbox or you can use a colored gel to change the color if necessary.

One of the main advantages of sun guns is that they’re portable, so you can easily keep one in your hand and point it in any direction during the filmmaking process.

If you’re interested in some tiny on-camera lights for your DSLR or mirrorless camera, you should check out our comparison review of the two amazing Aputure AL-M9 vs AL-MX Tiny LED-Lights.

Dedolights

Dedolights were created back in 1984 by the German cinematographer Dedo Weigert.

Dedolights are focused, compact and dimmable. They are widely used in videography and photography thanks to their small form factor and versatility.

They might also be known as “Dedolites” and can be mounted in tight places where large open-face lamps don’t fit.

The main advantage of a Dedolight is the ability to produce a highly focused light using conventional 100W light bulbs. They can also be fitted with all sorts of cookies and filters to modify the light.

HMI lights

HMI stands for Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide, and it’s a type of light explicitly made for cinematography.

It is based on mercury vapors (hydrargyrum means mercury in Greek) and a quartz-glass envelope.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, the important thing about an HMI lamp is that it can be four times more efficient than conventional light bulbs.

It is frequently used in videography, and it can be mounted on stands if necessary.

The color temperature of an HMI lamp is about 6000 K which is similar to the sun at noon times. Some modern HMI lamps can be dimmed up to 50 %.

Parabolic aluminized reflectors

Parabolic aluminized reflectors (or PARs) are similar to spotlights or open-face lights, except that they cast an oval-shaped light.

PARs are equipped with lenses and are used to create soft lights in different movie scenes.

These lighting options are available in different sizes such as 16, 20, 36 and so on up to 64. The numbers indicate the diameter of the light bulb in eighths of an inch.

For example, a Par 16 has a 2 inch light bulb, and a Par 64 has an 8 inch light bulb.

They are usually used to cast shafts of lights and can be mounted on ceilings to illuminate the stage.

Jemballs

Jemballs are also known as China balls and look very similar to Chinese paper lanterns.

They cast a very soft light and are available in different sizes such as 22 inches or 30 inches.

These light sources come with numerous advantages. They are affordable, accessible to use, versatile and dimmable.

You can use different types of light bulbs with jemballs to create light in various color temperatures.

Jemballs can also be mounted on stands or hang from above, creating a pleasant, warm ambiance during the filming process.

Wattage and Lumens – what is the difference?

Wattage refers to the amount of energy used to produce light.

When people buy incandescent light bulbs, they go for a higher wattage bulb if they want the light to be brighter.

For example, a 100W bulb will be brighter than a 60W bulb.

However, wattage doesn’t necessarily mean brightness, especially if we talk about other types of light sources which are more efficient such as fluorescent and LED lights.

Lumen is the actual measurement unit for brightness.

It refers to the amount of light produced by a particular light source.

For example, a 100W light bulb produces approximately 1750 lumens.  A more efficient CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) provides the same amount of lumens using just 32 watts.

Similarly, an LED light is even more efficient and uses just 15 watts to produce the same amount of lumens.

Why do you need to understand wattage?

Many light sources used in videography and cinematography use watts as a measurement unit for lamps.

Tip: If you’re in doubt of how powerful a light you need, you can find the answer in How Many Watts Do I Need for Video Lighting?

As mentioned earlier in the article, “redheads” (open-face lamps) use about 300 watts, 500 watts, or even 800 watts to produce light.

More powerful lights (“blondes”) use about 2000 watts or even more.

You can now imagine that the most potent lights are used to simulate the light coming from the sun. They might be placed outside the windows to generate light during a cloudy day.

faking sunlight with a video light outside a window

These large light sources are also used to create soft lights, and they generate a large amount of heat.

LED panels, on the other hand, are more economical and they start to replace conventional light sources slowly.

Another advantage of sophisticated LED lights is that they allow the user to control the color temperature by pressing a button.

LEDs are ideal when shooting indoors in mixed lighting as they can correct many color inconsistencies in the blink of an eye.

Light modifiers

Light modifiers are accessories designed to reflect, focus, and generally alter the direction and intensity of a light source.

There are multiple light modifiers to talk about such as:

•    Reflectors

•    Scrims

•    Gels

•    Flags

•    Cookies

•    Umbrellas

•    Softboxes

Each of them has its pros and cons and is used to film certain scenes.

Reflectors

Just as the name implies, reflectors are designed to reflect the light and focus it or point it in a particular direction.

Reflectors are available in various sizes and are usually circular in nature. Some are more suitable for photography. Others are used explicitly for filmmaking.

Reflectors can be attached to light sources. Reflectors are often made from aluminum or a similar light metal.

Scrims

Scrims are pieces of fabric, silk, or cloth designed to produce soft light. These items are usually rectangular, square, or circular in shape and have various sizes.

Scrims are opaque in nature, but let much light pass through when illuminated from behind.

The purpose of a scrim is to cast a soft light over a subject.

Scrims are used in both videography and photography.

For example, the filmmaker or photographer puts a scrim between the subject and a bright light source. The scrim will bathe the issue in a beautiful soft light, creating an ideal photography environment.

Gels

Gels are also known as filters, and they consist of sheets of plastic that can be placed on a light source to modify its color.

Some color gels are also heatproof to withstand the vast amount of heat produced by a large light source.

Gels are ideal for giving a certain tint or color nuance to a particular scene. For example, black or grey gels can be used to provide the appearance of a cloudy day or red gels can be used to suggest aggressiveness, tension, or romance.

Flags

Flags are large pieces of material used to block light from entering a particular video shot. Think about them as black curtains which don’t allow light to pass.

Flags are used by filmmakers to darken a particular scene or manipulate the light in one way or another. They are available in various sizes and usually come with an arm that can be attached to a stand.

Cookies

Cookies (which is slang for Cucoloris) are just like flags, except that they have patterns cut out of them.

Cookies are mainly used to create specific patterns using light, e.g., to show beautiful arrangements of view on various backgrounds or materials.

Umbrellas

Umbrellas are designed to reflect the light or create soft lights.

Umbrellas come in different sizes, and they usually feature certain colors such as white, silver, gold, or black.

They can be attached to light sources, and they can be adjusted to cast more or less light on a subject.

You’ll often see umbrellas that have a different shape, not necessarily circular.

There are rectangular umbrellas out there as well as square ones. These can also be adjusted to focus the light in a certain way and are very popular in photography and videography.

Softboxes

A softbox is a large box used to diffuse the light so it becomes nice and soft.

Some softboxes are compatible with specific light sources such as open-face lights or LED panels.

Softboxes are available in numerous sizes and shapes. During photo sessions or interviews, photographers and filmmakers use very large softboxes which wrap around a powerful light source.

This creates a large amount of light that embraces the subject and gives the impression of a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Over to you

These are the basics when it comes to light sources and light modifiers.

As you can see, there are numerous accessories to play with, and each of them can be used for a particular scene or moment during the filmmaking process.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at lighting setups. You’ll learn more about 1-point lighting, 2-point lighting, key light, fill light, and more, so stay tuned!


About the author
Nick Gold is a content writer for hire specializing in health and tech topics. He writes regularly on multiple websites including DiscountedLabs and ExcelMale. In his spare time, Nick takes care of his cat, Zorro, and occasionally enjoys a pizza, his favorite cheat meal.
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