Location Lighting For HD Video

An illuminating overview of on-camera and off-camera options

One of the hottest, most sought-after features in today’s remarkably versatile digital SLRs is HD video capability.

What began as just another DSLR feature when it debuted in the Nikon D90 in 2008, HD was seized on by the press and public alike, and has now emerged as the big buzzword for 2010.

Cameras ranging from the $5,000 pro Canon 1D Mark IV to the mid-range Pentax K-7 and sub-$800 entry-level Canon Rebel T2i and Nikon D5000 now boast 1080p HD video capability, complete with stereo sound. When you consider all the DSLRs with HD video capability, including those that provide 720p HD with mono sound, the number of current models is well over a dozen and growing. Indeed, HD-mania is now starting to inundate the point-and-shoot sector as well with many intermediate and advanced models (and even a few basic models) sporting this feature.

One of the great things about shooting HD video with a DSLR is that you get to use all of your lenses from wide to tele-zoom to macro for shooting movies as well as stills. This amazing optical flexibility is much appreciated by journalists, wedding and event photographers, and just plain folks who want the option of shooting video clips of interviews, couples saying “I do,” or charming close-ups of little Billy eating spaghetti in his high chair.

Video lighting can make a difference

While the enhanced high-ISO performance of many of the latest digital cameras will allow you to shoot available-light videos with reasonable results, there is no substitute for added illumination if you want to achieve consistent professional looking results. If you’re a pro or semi-pro, the ability to deliver first-rate video to your clients gives you an edge on the competition, and it can well be the clincher that puts you over the top.

Auxiliary lighting provides two key benefits when shooting video, often both at the same time. First of all, adding illumination to a scene, especially one where the main subject is 10 feet or less from the camera, often allows you to shoot at a lower ISO setting, such as 200 or 400, which provides better color saturation and overall image quality than is possible by shooting at, say, ISO 1600.

Adding extra light also helps fill in the shadows created by the existing lighting, resulting in a smoother, more diffuse overall lighting effect that is much more flattering to your subjects, especially those with facial lines or wrinkles.

Flashpoint Shoe Mountable LED 70 Video Light with 4-Leaf Barndoor


On-camera vs. off-camera light

Unlike built-in flash, which often produces harsh shadows in close-ups, relatively low-powered video lights do not overpower the existing illumination—they give a natural look by complementing the light in the room. Indeed, many on-camera video lights are designed to deliver a diffuse tungsten-balanced illumination that looks similar to portrait lighting even though the light source is fairly close to the lens. Many will provide even softer lighting when optional diffusion devices are added, and most will operate on AC or battery power.


Lowel DV Creator 1 Kit


Off-camera video lighting kits

Off-camera video lighting kits are essentially video-targeted studio lighting setups designed to fit into a carrying case. They come complete with multiple lights, including fully adjustable floodlights, stands, umbrellas, and a wide range of accessories that allow you to configure sophisticated lighting effects.

Most kits let you control lighting ratios by positioning the key (main) light, fill light, accent light hair light, etc. There is really no hard and fast rule, but generally on-camera battery-powered video lights are more compact, lighter, and better suited to shooting movie clips on the fly. That’s why they’re very popular among news photographers that record interviews, events photographers, vacationers, and home video shooters.

Video lighting kits take a bit more time to set up, but the results are well worth it if you’re shooting videos of a large group or have the option of lighting an entire room when covering a news conference or a society wedding. Typically multi-light setups run on AC power, but there are a few exotic models that run on high-capacity power packs.

The majority of location video lights are used indoors to complement existing lighting, and that’s why many provide tungsten-balanced illumination of around 3200K, similar to studio floodlights. However, some units, particularly those that use LED lights, deliver daylight-balanced output of around 5500K or 5600K. Obviously, the latter can be very effective in achieving better video lighting by filling in harsh shadows outdoors.

Virtually all daylight-balanced video lights can be converted to tungsten-balanced output by adding filters over the light source, albeit at the cost of lowering the effective wattage. Speaking of wattage, numbers like 35W or 100W may not sound too impressive to those accustomed to shooting with big studio lights and strobes, but you may rest assured that even the lowest-powered video light listed below can make a mighty big difference in your video productions, whether you shoot them with a DSLR, a camcorder, or a compact camera.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II: The Best HD Video Lighting Kits Right Now!

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