Monthly Archives: September 2010

Lighting a film on a low budget.

Even in the world of HDSLRs with their excellent low light capabilities, it remains absolutely essential to properly light a set. Light allows you to apply layers of focus to a scene, drawing the viewer’s gaze to the intended subject, it can add depth and resonance to an otherwise flat scene and it has the power to transform a room into a beautiful set.

But with ever decreasing budgets, is it possible to achieve the look of a big budget film with little or no cash to spend on lighting? The answer is a resounding YES!

Low budget film makers have many tools at their disposal, the most useful being the ability to creatively turn a problem into an opportunity. Charity shops, flea markets and car boot sales are great places to rummage for gear which can be adapted for use, although many items will only really be suitable for use as practicals.

With the growth of the internet driving the cost of many electronic goods down, our capacity for low cost solutions increases by the day, if you know where to look.

Online auctions such as Ebay are great places to find second-hand equipment and low cost ‘aftermarket’ solutions but if there’s a lot of demand for an item, the savings you would expect can be demolished in the heat of a bidding war. At worst, you may wind up paying the same price (or more if you’re not careful) as a new item.

Whatever the market place, it really does pay to be creative…


We’d all love a set of Redheads to throw in the boot of the car before a shoot but with an average price of around £650-700 for a kit, this isn’t always a viable option. But if you know where to look, you can find kits for a fraction of the average price! For example, on ebay there are always a raft of companies offering cheap Redhead kits for around £180-200. A massive saving if you’re prepared to take a punt. I’ve never used cheap ebay reds but at those prices but they sound like a gift horse.

Work Lights

The Double Site Light (Approx £23) is an excellent option if you’re on a micro budget. For around 1/4 of the price of a single red, you get 2x 400-500w lamps which come with their own stand. Admittedly the stands aren’t as robust (or as flexible) as those provided with traditional film lighting, they do what they need to and at that price are almost too good to be true.

Also available is the smaller
Single Site Light (Approx £7). These have no stands but can be useful as fill lights or even back lights.

You will find the light output to be a little harsh and consequently, they’re best used off a wall or through a diffuser in most instance. Also, in the absence of barn doors, you’ll need to watch out for spill, but this can be controlled with a little Black Foil.

Chinese Lanterns (aka ‘Chinaballs’)

These little beauties are awesome for adding a soft fill to a scene. They come in a variety of sizes and are usually sold as lamp shades rather than lighting kits.

That said, being the little industrialists that we are, for the sake of a little 2-core flex, a light fitting a socket and a bulb, you can have a chinaball or 5 up and running in just a few minutes for as little as £20.

White Xmas Lights

These are little gems which really help to add texture to a backdrop (especially when shooting with a narrow DOF). That said, they can also be scrunched up to add fill light to an awkward spot or even be dropped inside bowls and vases and used as practicals. For between £6 and £20 for a set, they’re a very useful addition to your lighting arsenal.

These days, there’s an extraordinary range of scope when looking at halogen lights. You can buy small clip-on desk lights, larger desk standing lights and even strings of lights to suspend from the ceiling. All of these can be used as low-budget lighting solutions either as scoops or as practicals.

Places like IKEA offer a dazzling array of products for little cash, as do the likes of Argos and even B&Q. Bulbs aren’t too expensive either and come in a range of sizes and strengths to suit almost all of your micro budget needs!

Feeling adventurous?
If you’re able to operate a jig-saw and have the nounce for a little DIY electrical work, you can purchase lighting roses and flex from your local DIY store and, with a little wood or MDF and some patience, it’s possible to make your own Soft Boxes, a Ring Light and many other custom configurations for very little cash.

These projects are definitely not for the feint hearted but, if you know your way around a circuit diagram, can offer massive savings and are very rewarding.

Bulbs & Colour Temperature
All of the solutions above fall into the ‘Tungsten’ category, offering a colour temp in the region of 2700°K-3200°K so if you have any daylight in your scene, you’ll need to address this with either Day>Art gels on the windows or Art>Day gels for your lights (where possible).

Alternatively, it’s possible to purchase daylight bulbs but beware, some low cost ‘daylight’ low energy bulbs can give a flickery green hue.

You need to specifically look for bulbs which express a colour temperature of 6300°K-6500°K and whilst they may cost a little more up-front, they are generally worth the extra outlay due to their longer operating lives and more importantly (in the case of low energy bulbs), their lower operating temperatures.

Which reminds me… now may be a good time to look into a small fire extinguisher… just in case!

Good luck and happy lighting!

LCDVF 3/2 Review

First Impressions
The LCDVF 3/2 is a new version which comes in a 3:2 form factor to snugly fit Canon’s EOS 550d (amongst others) and since we’re currently using the 550d on an almost daily basis, this seemed the perfect time to test-drive the new loupe.

It comes supplied with a pre-attached satin lanyard, 2 metal frames for attaching to the camera body, a cleaning cloth, a neoprene carrying case and user guide including fitting instructions. A very welcome inclusion was a Bluestar micro-fibre eyepiece cushion, which sits snugly over the rubber eyecup and makes the unit infinitely more comfortable to use on long shoots.

Upon first inspection, I was quite disappointed with the LCDVF. The plastic feels brittle and the manufacturing wasn’t to the standard that I expected. On the demo unit we received, there is a small nick in one of the inner edges that is quite visible when looking through the loupe, although not so large as to be distracting. Also, the long edges of the camera-attaching end are not exactly straight which made it a little tricky to align with the camera’s screen.

That said; this is where the disappointment ended.

In Use
Fitting the magnetic frame to the camera was very straightforward with the adhesive strip remaining malleable enough to pop off and realign in the first few seconds yet forming a fast bond once ‘massaged’ into place.

Rested under a couple of light books, the frame was set firmly in place within 15 minutes, but to be safe, we left it sitting under this gentle weight for 3 hours, by which time it seemed all-but immovable.

The loupe snaps on and off the camera effortlessly yet once in position, the magnetic bond is strong enough to cope with a range of movements, remaining firmly and comfortably in place until you need to remove it, at which time it hangs easily from the neck via the lanyard so it’s always within reach.

Once in place, it provides a 200% magnification of the camera’s view screen making focus effortless whilst recording. Prior to shooting, in conjunction with the 5x and 10x magnification, setting up focus is pin-sharp, even with the aperture wide open.

With the LCDVF in position, the camera is now held against the eye during shooting, providing a 3rd point of contact. Micro rotations are massively reduced by the increased length of the body and by the shifting of the focal plane forwards by approximately 2.5 inches. This increased stability means that slow, steady tracking shots through hand-held work become more viable.


LCDVF is almost half the price of the Zacuto Z-Finder but even though we’ve not been able to test-drive a Z-Finder yet, we can’t think of any reason how this lesser price could offer any lesser benefits. Once applied to the camera it instantly provides a massive increase in focus-ability and apart from the magnetic frame no ‘setting up’ was required. It just snaps on and instantly provides a clear 200% magnification as promised.

For anyone planning to shoot video seriously with their 550d (or any other DSLR for that matter), we strongly suggest that the first investment you make is in an LCDVF. Since the minute we attached this demo unit to our camera, we all agreed that shooting video without it is not something we’d ever like to do again.

It’s not only useful for video makers though. We enjoy stills photography too and whilst it’s a little cumbersome for every-day use, for macro photography, it is an invaluable tool, allowing for very fine levels of focusing to be achieved.

All in all, a fantastic product which quickly makes itself an essential piece of your filmmaking kit.

Ease of use: 5/5
Build quality: 3/5
Functionality: 5/5
Sex appeal: 4/5
Value for money: 5/5

Overall rating:

5/5 – Highly recommended.

Raindance ‘Jump on the DSLR bandwagon’.

This week, Raindance announced a new addition to their annual line-up of ’99 minute film school schools’.

The welcome inclusion is their 99 MINUTE DSLR SCHOOL, taught by Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy repute.

To accompany this inclusion, they have created a page offering some useful tips to new DLSR shooters.

It’s a small addition to their site but is another important example of the DSLR’s impact on the greater filmmaking community.