Monthly Archives: February 2012

How to make a DIY Kino Flo for $60

Yes, you CAN make a perfectly functional kino-style light with parts you pick up at Home Depot. One that’s flicker-free, looks good, and attaches flexibly and solidly to standard grip heads. It weighs just 4.2 pounds. And you can control the light spill. You won’t get the tough shell and transportability of the Kinos, but if, like me, you’re using the light for a specific job and won’t be using it every day, this is an affordable way to go with little compromise on the quality of the light.

I arrived at this parts list the hard way: by buying the wrong stuff first, learning what works and what doesn’t and why. Here’s what I’ve learned:

T12 tubes are a bad choice. They have what’s called “eratz flicker” unless you buy more expensive ballast. Plus, t12 bulbs are less efficient than the T8 and smaller tubes, so you get less light out of them, even at lower wattages. Instead, get inexpensive T8 fixtures at Home Depot, but not TOO inexpensive. I paid $25 for mine, and it’s great. Just make sure it has electronic high frequency ballast (50/60hz).

None of the tubes on sale at my local Home Depot had a high enough CRI for my purposes, so I called up a local Seattle lighting supplier, Pacific Lighting and Supply, and they hooked me up with to Phillips TL950 full-spectrum lights, which have a whopping 98 CRI, and are balanced at 5000K (a little on the warm side of the ideal 5600K, but close enough for me). The alternative was to purchase lights online but all I could find had minimum order of 4 bulbs, and expensive shipping. So buying local saved me money.

Primary parts:
Lithonia Lighting t8 two-strip fixture: $24.97
Two Phillips TL950 t8 fluorescent tubes: $26.81
Matthews drop ceiling scissor clamp: $8.95

Other stuff you’ll need:
Black wrap (available at filmtools for $23)
3″ gaffer tape (also available at filmtools for $31)
12′ electrical cord with plug (I cut mine off an old Ikea lamp)
2 heavy duty zip ties

To make the mount, I used a Matthews drop ceiling scissor clamp, which I zip-tied around the light using large zip-ties. This works fine in my case because the lamp fixture is extremely lightweight. If I had bought a wider shop light instead, for example, I would have used a stronger and wider Matthews baby plate for the mount. Make sure to get one with a long spud, preferably 6″. To hold everything in place, I gaff taped over that to hold the zip ties from slipping. In fact, I ran gaff tape over the entire light surface – it cuts down on reflections and black looks more professional, of course. The mount works with any c-stand’s gobo head, using a 5/8″ spud.

The fluorescent fixture I bought at Home Depot came ready to be wired, but without a plug. So I cut the cord off an old Ikea light, and wired it up (black to black, white to white – ignore the green if like me you’re wiring to a two-prong plug for maximum socket compatibility on location) using the twist connectors included with the light.

The inexpensive light fixture I purchased had no reflector. That turns out to be a good thing, because I prefer the foldable and shapeable one that I built myself. To do that, I took a 12″ wide strip of black wrap foil, and cut it to match the length of the light, 48.” I gaff taped the edges, which are kind of sharp, which stiffens it some, and gives it more durability. Then I gaff taped the wrap to the top of the light on both sides. Done.

Note, I at first thought I’d use Kino tubes in this light, but discovered that most Kino tubes are designed to be high-output, which means they require more powerful ballast to drive them with the proper color temperature. So buy the cheaper full-spectrum bulbs instead. The best brand for daylight, according to Shane Hurlbut, is Vita-lights.

Note on transport: This light fits perfectly into an inexpensive plastic golf bag case like this one, which I own. It has wheels and is a great way to carry c-stands, glide tracks, tripods and this light safely to location.

How to take a great headshot (without any other lighting) in overcast light

It’s grey in Seattle most of the time. I actually like it that way: it’s the world’s softest light, at your fingertips, and you don’t have to set up a single soft box. But it has its drawbacks when it comes to lighting head shots. With a head shot, I want light that is soft BUT has some modeling and one side darker than the other, to bring out the shape of a face. How to achieve that without adding any lights? You need just two things: a piece of black foam core, and piece of white foam core (or as I used in this case, a collapsible reflective fabric disc).

For this photo, I had the subject, my friend Vanya, balance the black foam core on his right shoulder, which shielded the right side of his face from the grey sky, making it slightly darker than the other side (the technical term for this is “adding negative fill” which is a fancy way of saying you are blocking light from reaching this side of his face. I used a 32″x40″ foam core that sells at University Bookstore for about $6). You have to get it pretty close to the subject’s face for this trick to work – like about 16″ away.

This alone would do the trick for many people, but Vanya’s got deep set Montenegro eyes that will pierce your soul (and go dark without fill). So that’s where the bounce comes into play. I simply had him hold it in his arm, so that it angled light up at him from below. This has the same effect that happens with “butterfly” lighting, which is to hide lines in faces and generally make the person look awesome. They say this works best for women, but I disagree: when is the last time you heard a middle aged man say “hey, can you light me so that the lines in my face look more prominent?” Using fill from below camera that is close to the subjects face is guaranteed to flatter.

In this case, it sent a little too much light up under his chin, so I had to darken that in Photoshop to bring the attention immediately to where it belongs: his face. I also slightly darkened his forehead, and a tiny bit on his sweater, and that’s it. A simple shot with available light, that looks fantastic.

Camera: Canon 60D
Lens: Canon EF 17-55mm f2.8 zoom (set at 55mm and f2.8).
Background: wooden fence in my back yard

Smokin' hot deal: SmallHD offers $300 off their DP6 monitor

I’ve been loving my SmallHD DP6 monitor since I got it last December. It’s literally changed the way I shoot. Suddenly, I can see whether I’m in focus while I’m shooting instead of afterward when I’m reviewing footage. It’s a miracle.

And today they’re running a special offer of $300 off (that’s 33 percent) the HDMI version of the monitor (I’ve got the version that includes SDI connectors, but this one is just as good if you shoot exclusively on DSLRs or other cameras with HDMI ports and don’t need SDI out).

Also, this deal is good for free shipping, and they’ve added a 48-hour, no-questions return policy. If you’ve ever wanted one of these, and you should if you haven’t, today’s the day to buy one.

To take advantage of this offer, you simply have to like SmallHD’s new fan page on Facebook:

New series on innovative businesses in Seattle launches today

We’ve teamed up with Biznik to produce a series of short videos spotlighting innovative businesses and thinkers in Seattle. The first installment launched over the weekend, featuring a local cabinet making company.

Lisa and I are producing these videos quickly (one day of shooting and editing completed within a few days), but without sacrificing too much on quality (you won’t see any shaky handheld camera work in our stuff, for example). Everything done with a crew of two, and all the gear we can stuff into a Nissan Leaf. Lisa directs and produces; I shoot and edit. Although Lisa also did a fair bit of b-roll shooting on this as well.

For this piece we used four lights – a Smith Victor 650-watt open-face light through a medium soft box for the interview with Lowel Pro-light for rim light; and a pair of CN-900 LED lite panels for lighting him in his office. The rest was all shot with available light in the well-lit factory.

It was also the first piece on which I got a chance to use my new Sennheiser 8060 shotgun mic, and it’s a dandy. Jeff’s voice comes through really rich and warm and needed very little EQ adjustment in post (just added a tiny bit on the high end in a few of the clips to get them to match). Everything they say about this mic is true: it makes whoever’s talking sound great, is tuned to bring forward human speech from the environment, and rejects sound from the sides without coloration. What more can I say? Oh, it’s tiny, light, and will probably last for 20 years.

We’re ramping up to do a lot of these in coming days and excited about the challenge of making business videos that are easy to watch and ultimately inspiring.