Which lights should I use?

When you are starting out or want to try a new lighting look, people always ask which lights should I use. While this is a great question, it’s not an easy answer. There is no one light that is great for every shoot. There are however lights that can be used in a variety of ways easily that make them worth considering.

When selecting lights either for a lighting kit that you are buying or a kit that you will hire for one project, you need to decide on a few things before you do anything else. It’s always a good idea to know the shoot location. By knowing where and when you are shooting will give you an idea of how much light you will need. As in if I am shooting in an open plan type house or warehouse that has plenty of windows I know straight away that I will use Daylight balanced lights with a fair high output so I can overpower the available light. But say you are shooting in a small room at night, then daylight balanced lights with a high output would be not the ideal choice, as smaller Tungsten balanced lights would let you have many more options to light the scene and layer the lighting, as in light foreground, talent and background individually.
After many years of trying out most lighting fixtures and gear on shoots I have carefully selected lighting gear which allows me to work as I like. When thinking about my gear, I group it into mainly two categories daylight and Tungsten. This doesn’t mean I will not mixed the two, in fact I love shoots that I get use colour separation of daylight and Tungsten sources as well as coloured gels to create a mood that helps convey the directors wishes.
You could also class lights into soft and hard light sources. I find that on almost every shoot that you will need both a soft and hard source light. However, some lights don’t fall completely into either hard or soft, there are an amazing number that are in between. With the use of lighting modifiers such as scrims and reflectors can change a hard light into a beautiful soft light. But there is no good way to turn a soft light into a hard source.
So you’ve got this far and I know I haven’t told you yet which light to use, sorry there is no rule to say the right way to do it.
With the lights you own, hire or use regularly, you need to experiment and see what different looks you can achieve with them. With only a few lights and a white board (reflector) you can do beautiful lighting. When I was starting out as a lighting cameraman, I worked for a very large post production house. About half of my work then was matching what was shot in TV commercials by a different DPs in different locations. The reason I had to do this was usually to re shoot the product after a label or package change to allow the commercial to be reused. I loved this work as I had to work with limited resources and a small lighting kit which made me experiment with what I had to hand. For the shots to work I had to study the existing footage both before and after the shot to be replaced to decide on the best way to approach the lighting to ensure my shots would fit in seamlessly.
So, when selecting your lighting, know what you want to do, the look and feel of the shots, know where and when you are shooting. It’s also a good idea to read any Call sheets, scripts and story boards to know what other challengers you may face on the shoot. On any shoot your lighting choices will be influenced by size of location, the choice of camera lenses, speed you need to work or availability of enough power. Know all this will mean you will come to the shoot prepared which is the best way to start a shoot.

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