• Lighting on a Budget

    The budding amateur's forever restricted by cost. You'll never get slick looks with cheap equipment and even budget gear's out of the reach of humble amateurs. So why not use a cheap alternative to low end specialist equipment? Professional looks the Blue Peter way is a specialty of Digital Director and exemplified by our very own forum member, The Guru. When Digital Director’s forums held their annual summer video competition, The Guru decided to enter using a palmcorder, and nothing else. No professional lights or sound equipment. Here he shares his technique.

    "The first shot was to consist of a policeman interrogating a suspect. I originally wanted to create the impression of two men facing each other across a table, the room dark with just a pool of light on the desk. Unfortunately I left it too late and couldn’t get a suitable location. I decided to go for the effect rather than the reality. I wanted the men to be in darkness, moving forward into the light to say their words then slipping back into the black, giving the impression that they were only revealing what they wanted the other to see.

    "In order to give the illusion of a solitary light above the table I needed a source which was hard and directional. The problem with most domestic units is that they’re designed to be efficient and have reflectors which bounce as much light as possible outwards. If you look at the light they produce there are often multiple shadows when they’re used close up and I wanted the actors to have clean, single, shadows. I considered using a single, bare bulb but it wouldn’t give this "pool" of light for the actors to move in and out of. My anglepoise desk lamp didn’t give the clean edge that I wanted either.

    "In the end I went to Ikea and bought a small, portable lamp for a fiver. I made a "snoot" out of black paper and hung the lamp from the ceiling with gaffa tape. The walls of the room were white and I hung a dark duvet on the wall behind the actor to soak up the "spill" light from the lamp.

    The Guru's £5 Ikea Lamp

    "Using the manual exposure setting on the camcorder I underexposed very slightly, making sure that there was still detail in the skin tones. Then, in post, I increased the contrast settings, making the background go completely black and giving the harsh look I wanted. The autofocus was also locked, the idea being that as the actors moved back into the darkness they would go slightly soft. Unfortunately at the small size of the Putfile reproduction this doesn’t come across.

    "To allow the actors to hit their marks I had them sitting on a chair the wrong way round, so that when they leaned forward their chest touched the chair back when they were in the correct light. The chair back was kept out of shot.

    "Sometimes domestic lights have a colour temperature which is way out of the "normal" for professional units. This can cause problems when using multiple units but since there was only one source, the camcorder’s auto white balance coped admirably."

    The end result is quite stunning for a £5 piece of equipment. In fact The Guru used considerably less equipment than most of us 'amateurs' have stashed away. View the final product: