I already own a lighting system I use for shooting stills and portraits. Do I have to buy a whole new system for video, and if so, why?
This all depends on what type of lighting system you currently own. If you are shooting with tungsten or other form of continuous lighting, you’re in the game. If you’re shooting with electronic flash, the news isn’t as good unless you plan on shooting video one frame at a time. Strobes are simply the wrong tools for capturing video. What you want is a continuous light system, which includes tungsten, LED, fluorescent and HMI light sources.
On a positive note, if you currently own light stands, booms and related grip equipment, chances are most of this gear can be used seamlessly with whatever changes you make to your existing lighting system.
Can I use the umbrellas and softboxes I currently use with my electronic flash system with any of the continuous light systems described in this text?
Depending on the nature (and brand) of electronic lighting system you currently own, you may or may not be able to use your current light-shaping tools (i.e. light banks, reflectors, umbrellas, etc.) with your updated lighting system.
Your current stash of umbrellas and softboxes may or may not work with an alternate source lighting system. The biggest consideration has to do with the level of heat-resistance of your current stock of light-shaping tools. Aside from the relatively low levels of heat produced by tungsten modeling lamps, which usually top out at a max of 150W, electronic flash systems produce little in the way of ambient heat. The 100-250W modeling lamps used in electronic flash systems get hot, but nowhere near the heat levels produced by 500-, 1000- and 2000W-plus tungsten lamps, which can easily ignite many of the umbrellas and softboxes designed for strobe lights.
LED fluorescent and Dedolight lampheads can be used safely with umbrellas and other fabric based, light-shaping tools designed for strobes, but a bit of research is recommended before you couple these same umbrellas and light boxes with HMIs.
Note: Most (but not all) umbrellas and softboxes have heat ratings and/or warning labels that indicate the maximum temperatures at which the product should be used or at the very least, the type of lighting the product with which was designed to be used.
What are the differences between tungsten, LED and HMI light sources, and which is best for my needs?
Mention continuous lighting and most people automatically think tungsten lighting, which was for the longest time the standard of the movie industry. The positives of tungsten lights are that they are widely available in a number of styles, configurations and light output ratings. The negative aspects of tungsten lights include excessive heat, which can be problematic if your are shooting people in close quarters or products that are heat sensitive, such as food, foliage and other subjects that tend to wilt, sweat, spoil or melt when exposed to heat.
Another issue associated with tungsten has to do with its 3200-3400K° color temperature, which is warmer than daylight. While the yellow tone of tungsten can be easily corrected to balance the cooler 5500 K° color temperature of daylight, you lose about two stops of light in the transaction, which means you need more lights or you need to open up two stops wider than you might prefer.
Note: To be fair, the two stops of light you lose when balancing tungsten lights to daylight can be easily compensated for by bumping the ISO sensitivity of your HDSLR by two stops, which these days has little if any effect on the noise levels or image quality of your final video output.
If the nature of your work includes shooting stills or video of small objects or tabletop sets requiring high degrees of precise lighting control, you would be hard pressed to find a better lighting system than Dedolights. Dedolights, a tungsten-based lighting system, can best be described as a miniature stage lighting system. Available as self-contained monoblock lampheads or as separate lampheads and power generators, Dedolights can be configured to throw soft, broad swaths of light, hard-focused floods, the narrowest slivers of light or a soft wash of light, depending on your choice of light-shaping accessories. In the case of Dedolights, these accessories include Fresnels, focusing spots with adjustable diaphragm openings, reflectors, beauty dishes and other forms of diffused light controls. Although Dedolights are tungsten-based, they utilize 100W lamps, and as such produce very little heat, especially when one considers the quality and intensity of the light Dedolights are capable of producing.
HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide) lights are another type of continuous light source used mostly in the film and entertainment industry, and they too, have pluses and minuses. On the plus side, HMIs output large volumes of continuous daylight-balanced light that can be used in a number of ways to match ambient daylight, and if you have enough of them, turn night into day, which is not uncommon when shooting commercial productions on real city streets.
The down side of HMIs is that, depending on the length of your credit line or if you are working on a major, fat-budget ad campaign, they are rather pricey and the tubes have to be replaced after a few hundred hours of use to better ensure optimal color rendition.
Costs aside, when it comes to lighting large areas outside of the confines of a studio or other indoor facility, you can’t beat HMIs, which are available in a number of configurations from about a half-dozen manufacturers.
Note: Due to their propensity to explode, or as one manufacturer puts it, “non-passive failure” if not used properly, it is extremely important to read the fine print buried in the paperwork that comes with HMI lamps. And have a nice day.
Fluorescent Daylight-balanced fluorescentlights have been coming into their own over the past few years, and as you might expect, they also have their pluses and minuses. On the plus side, daylight-balanced fluorescent lamps output soft swaths of light, making them ideal for shooting portraits and other subjects requiring softer lighting effects. The down side of fluorescents is that depending on the brand, style and model, they tend to output relatively lower levels of light compared to tungsten, HMI and to a lesser degree, LED light sources.
Another issue that makes fluorescent lamps logistically challenging for use outside of the studio is their size, which in the case of lampheads containing the longer tubular fluorescent tubes, tend to be large and bulky. But this too is changing, as newer designs are taking advantage of the higher output and smaller form factor of newest generation compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) that have come to the market over the past few years, and we can expect to be seeing more CFL-powered studio lighting systems in a variety of configurations coming to market. At B&H, we already stock beauty dishes containing clusters of a half-dozen or more CFL bulbs, as well as light-bank-style fluorescent lamps that are well-suited for still and video capture in studio environs.
LED (Light-Emitting Diodes) Following closely behind fluorescent lamps in terms of development as a cool running, power-sipping photographic light source are LEDs. Though the earliest examples of LED lighting were barely suitable for calculator displays, LED lighting is currently edging into the automotive, office and home lighting arenas, and like similar up-and-coming technologies, the “bang-for-buck” ratio is quickly becoming consumer friendlier.
Along with cool operating temperatures and low power consumption, the advantages of LEDs include variable color temperature control (depending on the make and model) as well as dimming controls (ditto on the make and model), both of which can come in handy when shooting in the studio or on location. LEDs also have extremely long lifespans and are quite compact, making them easy to bundle together for greater volumes of cumulative light power.
LED lamps are available in the form of smaller profile, shoe-mounted speed lights, as well as in the form of thin profile light banks varying in size from a few inches to a few feet in size, all of which pack up neatly for easy transporting.
- Shooting video with HDSLRs (as well as conventional video camcorders) requires the use of a continuous light source lighting system. Electronic flash systems used for shooting still photographs are not suitable for shooting video.
- Continuous light sources include fluorescent, Tungsten, HMI and LED.
- Tungsten lights produce the highest volumes of light, but they are balanced for 3200-3400°K, which is warmer than daylight (5600°K). Tungsten lamps also produce the highest levels of heat, making them less than desirable for portraiture and other heat-sensitive subjects, not to mention small, poorly ventilated shooting environs.
- HMI ((Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide), the lights of choice for motion picture and TV productions, output large volumes of daylight-balanced light, but are costly to operate and are prone to “non-passive failure” if not used as directed.
- Fluorescent lamps, which are available daylight balanced, are affordable, available in a number of configurations, run cool and don’t strain the utilities bill. The downside is that fluorescents output lower volumes of light compared to the alternatives, and traveling with some of the larger light banks containing long tubes can be dicey and pricey.
- LED lamps are becoming increasingly popular, as well as available in a growing number of configurations ranging from small, shoe-mounted flashgun-style lamps to full sized, but narrow-profile studio lights. LEDs are daylight balanced—and depending on the make and model, variably balanced—cool-running and extremely easy to pack and travel with.
- Depending on the particulars of your existing collection of electronic flash light-shaping tools, i.e., umbrellas, soft boxes, reflectors, etc., you may or may not be able to use them with whatever continuous lighting system you might be purchasing.
- Conversely, almost all of your current light stands, booms and related grip gear should make the transition with little, if any, modifications.