Light kit…

I bought my first (personal) light kit a month ago. It’s taken a bit of time to get used to it…took it to STN for my lighting workshop and ran it through its paces. As with everything in life, it was a compromise of what I wanted and what I could afford. The goal was to keep it in the $500 range. Kinda cheated there because the kit cost $584, plus tax and shipping, which took it up to around $630. Ouch.

In news I used everything – and I mean everything. My first job was at KXTV/Sacramento on the night shift and I had no lights. Every day when I came in I had to scrounge for a light and battery belt. As I moved up the food chain I got more goodies. Got the light belt and head when I went daysides (go figure).
Back then most news cameramen had possibly one light stand and one light head/battery belt and that was that. Didn’t start working with three lights until I hit KQED (late 70s). That was a revelation. Got a Colortran three stand kit with barndoors and one dichroic (to balance tungsten to daylight). KOVR provided a nice set of gear…mostly Lowel and Frezzi…and I always had three lights, ranging from 250 to 1K. That’s what probably influenced my thinking most when I started looking for my own kit. Low power lights with umbrellas for quick interviews and killer lights to light up a building at night.

Looking at what I got:
Three stands and cables for light heads
Tota-Light Tungsten Light w/750w lamp
Omni-Light Focus Flood Light w/500w lamp
Pro-Light Focus Flood Light w/250w lamp and barndoors
Impact – 45″ Convertible Umbrella
Impact – Mini Boom Arm – 5′ 4″
Heavy duty canvas bag to hold it all
If I’m in a hurry, I can just grab the Pro-light and and umbrella and do a quick soft light interview setup. On the other end, I can set up an interview or standup with the Omni-light, get a hairlight using the boom and Pro-lite, and fill the background with the Tota. With three light heads and three different wattage lamps, I have lots of choices. If all you’re doing is interviews, this might work for you or it might be too powerful (too much light). If you’re shooting movies and need to light sets, this is way too small. And I do need to add to it. Need at least one dichroic filter to balance indoor light to match the temperature of daylight. I can either buy a filter to fit one of the heads or get a gel holder and set of colored gels (blue would be the equivilent of dichroic). I want a set of barndoors for the Omni to control where the light goes. I already have an umbrella…which makes for two soft lights.

Some other stuff:
Whenever you go into a building, eyeball it for age and renovations. Pre-60s houses and some business establishments may not have the ability to support a kit like mine. I’ve blown out fuses and breakers a lot, either through not checking or trusting people who told me their lines can handle my power. If you know you’re in a problem site or building, just use your lowest power light. And always carry a three-prong to two-prong outlet converter.
Toss an extension cord and power strip into your bag. When setting up you want to spread yourself over several outlets to minimize impact.
Have gaffers tape or some small rugs to toss over cables in high traffic areas. You are a lawsuit waiting to happen if someone trips and gets hurt.
If possible, get lights set up and roughly in position before your subject arrives. That way all you hve to do is tweek the position, focus of the lights. Also makes you look good (more efficient and professional) and saves your usually very busy interview subject the time and hassle of dealing with sitting and doing nothing while you fiddle around.
If you’re in news or plan to go into news, for most gun and run interviews, all you need is one light and an umbrella. My lighting philosophy has always been to make it look natural…and this one light outfit replicates open shade. Nice even light/makes everyone look good. If you want, bring in a low wattage mini-light for a hair light. Save your three light setup for the times when you have time or events that warrant it.

Final note – I’ve explained above why I chose my kit, but that may not work for you. Your needs and situation are different and you have to consider what you need. (Reminds me of a time when my mother bought the identical still camera I had “because yours takes such good pictures.” I loved my mom, but she eventually realized who really took the pictures.) And don’t feel you need a kit right away. One good solid stand and lighthead w/umbrella may take care of your needs initially. Best thing to do is look at what you do. Look at your budget. Consider how much weight you’re willing to carry around (do you have help). When I say my light kit is portable it means I can carry it – but not for long. I’d guess it weighs around forty/forty-five pounds. And do realize that “less is more” in lighting. Your goal is to make your subject look credible, not to astonish the world with your lighting skills. Anytime your lighting skills, editing skills become visible, you are intruding on the story. Ideally when the audience watches your video they comment on what a good story it is – not what wonderful/lousey light or sound or editing there was.


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