Illuminations: On-Camera Lighting


When you're shooting news, documentary, wedding, family, or other event videos, you're always on the move -- and your light has to move with you. The good news is, if you take care in choosing, equipping, and using your "inkie" (as historic Hollywood called them), you can achieve surprisingly good results.


Shopping for On-camera Power

Camcorder lights retail from around $20 to more than $500. The high-end units are as versatile as studio lights. The first thing to look for is flexible light intensity. Some units achieve this by putting multiple lamps in a single reflector, so you can switch on as many as you need. Others put the lamps in two or three separate reflectors; some are designed to throw a narrow beam while others shape a wide one. That way, you can control not only the light intensity, but its pattern as well. Still other models vary intensity with a built-in dimmer and/or a focus-able lamp. (Don't forget: flooding the lamp reduces its intensity while widening its beam spread.)


On-Camera Light Accessories

Finesse with on-camera lighting requires accessories that are essential to shaping, or at least, taming the beam.


At the very least, consider choosing a product with the ability to add scrims (a metal frame holding wire mesh to lessen light intensity but not soften it), diffusion, filters, and (for my taste, at least) barn doors. Many units come with these goodies included.


Barndoors are barndoors, but with filtration materials, different models again offer different solutions. Some are fitted with a classic front channel that holds interchangeable scrims, diffusion, or filter rings. Others have a hinge on the front of the unit for a diffusion ring and a daylight filter, so that the user can swing them into or out of the light -- a very handy feature when you're working fast.


As always, the bigger the light source, the softer the light. You can increase your light size by using gaffer's tape to attach spun glass diffusion in front of it. Or, you can purchase mini fabric softboxes that work just like their big siblings. Some are add-on accessories, but in other cases, the whole unit is designed and sold as a softbox.