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!


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