Most of my shoots are on-location events like concerts, ballets, and weddings, where I use on-scene lighting or, at most, an on-camera light. When I’ve done training videos and other similar shoots where I had more control, I’ve used “ad hoc” lighting, a nice way of referring to the collection of tungsten shop lights and incandescent clamp lights I’ve accumulated through the years. These work OK, but aren’t really portable, don’t provide precise controls over lighting placement or intensity, and certainly don’t impress the client.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with the Lowel DV Creator 44 Kit ($1,695 retail) for some interviews I was shooting for both DV and DVD distribution. It was a fun and interesting experience that I thought I would share.
The handy Lowel DV Creator 44 light kit.
Some introductory thoughts. First, I’m a soft-light fanatic because I don’t like the detail, edges, and shadows that hard lights deliver. Second, I tend to use flat lighting more than the shadowed look created by traditional three-point lighting technique. This matches the mood of my shoots, which are generally businesslike, rather than artsy film noir, and it certainly compresses better when shooting for streaming.
By its specs, the DV Creator 44 seemed to pose a couple of problems. First, all the kits are tungsten-powered, and tungsten is a hard light source. Second, the two main lights have different bulb strengths, one at 300 W, the other 750 W. I wondered going in how I was going to combine those lights up to produce flat, even lighting.
I had two projects to light. One was a shoot with a local physician who wanted to post pre-operative instructions online. Since this was business-oriented and internet-bound, I planned to create soft, flat lighting.
The other project consisted of interviews with local bluegrass band No Speed Limit, shot while rehearsing for a New Year’s Eve’s performance at the fabulous Rex Theater here in Galax. The band’s goal was to produce a DVD to send to concert and festival promoters, and they wanted the interviews to supplement the concert footage of actual songs. With lighting I was going for a slightly edgier look, with shadows modeling the band members faces’ to provide a little drama.
Lowel shipped the DV Creator kit in a single hard-shell case that weighed about 35 pounds. Having all lights, stands, and cords in one portable container saved a couple of trips back to the car and would be essential if you’re traveling by plane.
Opening the case revealed the four lights in the kit. As I mentioned, all were tungsten-powered, so the lights themselves were very small and light, but produced hard lighting. Fortunately, the kit provides multiple methods for converting all lights to soft lights, either with an umbrella, gels, diffusion filters, or a softbox.
For example, in the physician’s office, I used the Rifa-44 softbox as one of the two main lights designed to create the flat, even lighting. The softbox itself is a large canvas shell formed by a collapsible wire harness with an opaque screen that softens the light. The bulb included in the kit was 300 W, though it seemed much stronger.
For the other light, I used the 750 W Tota-light fastening the included Tota-brella into a slot in the light. I pointed the light away from the physician and bounced the light off the umbrella, creating soft, even lighting. The kit doesn’t include any dimmer controls, so I moved the Tota-light away from the physician until its power matched that of the 300 W softbox, which produced the desired flat, even lighting.
When interviewing the band, I created shadows using the same two lights, but moved the softbox much closer to serve as the key light, and the Tota-light further away, to serve as fill. For both shoots, I used the 250 W Pro-light for backlighting, softening the beam in the doctor’s office with gels held in place with an attachable Gel Frame.
I didn’t use the fourth light, which was a flexible, focusable Omni-light with barn doors and several connectors for gels, umbrellas, or diffusion filters. In other situations, I could have used this to light the background, perhaps even adding colors with different-colored gels, but it wasn’t necessary in my shoots.
All lights sit atop the same lightweight, but strong and well-balanced Uni stand that can extend up to about 8′ in height. Cords are all 16′ long, which is a nice bonus, since you should be able to plug them into one extension cord.
The only major tension came when actually inserting the tungsten bulbs into the light fixtures. You shouldn’t touch the bulbs directly with your hand, since oil from your fingers can cause the bulbs to overheat and burst, and the torque required to insert them was considerable. I used a hand towel to grasp the bulb, trusted the force, and pushed the bulbs in place with no problems.
As a portable system, the DV Creator 44 is tough to beat. Fluorescent kits run cooler, but are generally bigger and much more expensive. When I actually buy a Lowel kit, which I certainly will, I may consider buying the Rifa Pro 44 kit, which includes the Rifa-44 softbox and a single Pro-light for around $850 retail. This will let me produce both a flat and shadowed look, though I’ll miss the flexibility of the Tota-light and Omni-lights.