Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Battery Powered Fluorescents

Published : 16th October 2003


Hi folks,

As a favor, I'm shooting some video (mini-DV) for a friend's fashion show this Friday. It will be held in a nightclub. I'd like to shoot handheld footage of the crowd, but I'd also like to avoid using a harsh on-camera light. I was strolling through Home Depot the other day, and I noticed that they sell 1 foot battery powered (DC) fluorescent tubes.

So I started thinking that if you brought two or three of them, and put them on a boom, you could do some interesting, and softer, fill lighting while still retaining your mobility.

Has anyone tried this? How is the light temp. on video, and if it needs to be corrected, is it correct-able with CTO gels or in post (Flint, Combustion, After Effects, etc.)? For this show, it doesn’t have to be a perfect clear white - they want it to look a little "underground".

Thanks,

Elliot Blanchard



Hi Elliot,

Ideally speaking i.e. if you have a budget, the best thing to do might be to rent some different types of fluor fixtures from Kino Flo or any number of rental houses that stock there products. These particular tubes come in different sizes, intensity and a variety of 'party' colors including daylight and tungsten color corrected flavours as well.

If you don't have a budget, then home depot might be a good source to pick a variety of different light sources. I saw a feature that was shot entirely using home depot scoop lights...and it looked fantastic!

Of course you have to buy these lights. The fluor *DC units they sell don't have much output so if your looking for a strong 'sourcy' feel, they won't be all that effective. You could gel them and just put them around the room as a visual effect.

You can fiddle with white balance, and gain to come up with something interesting plus and if you intend to use any of the post production software you mentioned, you should have no problems at all painting a fashionably fun atmosphere.

Good Luck!

Geoff Zimmerman
DVCamps
www.DVCamps.com



Elliot wrote :

>"Has anyone tried this? How is the light temp. on video, and if it needs to >be corrected...."

If you can find some warm tubes, they're close enough to tungsten that in a night club situation you should be fine.

If you have to use cool whites, then I would try to correct a bit with some CTO as you suggested.

Most cool whites are around 4300k which makes them a bastard in that they fall in between daylight and tungsten.

Nice idea though.

You could also use an on camera batt light and just diffuse the poop out of it using some tracing paper or if you have access to some real diffusion, double up some 216 or a combo of Lee cosmetic and 216!

Have fun!

Allen S. Face mire
DP/Director
SaltRun Productions, inc.
Atlanta

www.saltrunproductions.com



>If you can find some warm tubes, they're close enough to tungsten that >in a night club situation you should be fine.

Most of these tubes have bad green spikes, but are easily correctable

>If you have to use cool whites, then I would try to correct a bit with some >CTO as you suggested.

Why not just white balance for the tube, if they are the only sources, not mixed, and then apply minus green accordingly. You'll get more punch in the end this way than wasting lumens on CTO. And in some instances you can simply white balance with the minus green in front of the lens for the same effect.

>Most cool whites are around 4300k which makes them a bastard in that >they fall in between daylight and tungsten.

But this is video and we don't live in a world of either 32k or 56k. We live in a world where you can make a person lit with a candle warmed by white balancing at 2500k or white balance for 1800k and make them look like they are lit by a white candle. Of course if your base light is 32k, 43k can cause some difficulty, but I find there is always a way to find a happy medium.

I have worked extensively with cheap fluorescents and when you find a tube that has a good CCR, they will rival $1000 fixtures. I was one of the first persons to use 8 foot one hundred watt fluorescent work lights to light behind glass brick years ago in studio lighting designs when folks where using six thousand watts of incandescent strip lights to get the same effect. They laughed ten when they saw this "unprofessional" fixture. Today those same folks use my technique in most studios I walk into.

I say think out of the box. Try something. Don't be a slave to tradition and the 'norm'. Because good art is anything but the norm.

You can get some amazingly moody effects and cool color effects with store bought fluorescents. Best of all they are CHEAP!

Just to prove that you don't need a thousand dollar set of fluorescents in video I lit an entire documentary series on one of the cable networks with $30 Home Depot fixtures I aptly called Graflights. There is an article on my site under "instruction" describing how I built them. A few years ago folks laughed when they saw these lights in my kit. Today, I find more folks now include them in their interview light kit. Even heard someone on a set I was visiting, that I didn't even know call for a Graflight last month.

So I say if you don't know, test it. What you'll often find is that folks speak not from experience but fear. Some of the best music video effects over the years where by guys who everyone else (who walked around in the traditional garb of black Panavision shirt and goatee) said were crazy. Yet these folks reinvented the look of many other genres in their experimentation that is common place technique today.

Disclaimer : Although I used snip-its from Allen Facemire in my initial response, my thoughts afterwards have no reflection on Allan, his talent, or his ability. They are general statements about this strange word we have called "normal".

Walter Graff
Producer, Director, Creative Director, Cinematographer
HellGate Pictures, Inc.
www.film-and-video.com



Walter Graff writes :

>But this is video and we don't live in a world of either 32k or 56k. We live >in a world where you can make a person lit with a candle warmed by >white balancing at 2500k or white balance for 1800k and make them >look like they are lit by a white candle."

You are right Walter...

If you don't care about what's going on around you. I assumed he wasn't going into black limbo and that there would be some ambient light to keep him out of limbo so bringing the temp down to the warm side might just might make his floating flous look more natural.

Of course video allows us the joy and ease of white balancing on just about any light source, but you gotta be cognizant of the ambient or your surrounding area could look like Mars.

Of course as I mentioned, in a night club that just might add to the over all look!

Allen S. Facemire
DP/Director
SaltRun Productions, inc.
Atlanta



I put together a great little rig. Took 50watt compact fluorescent bulb, made a reflector for it out of corex (the white plastic stuff signs are made out of) got a transformer that has a wall bug and a plug for the light (available at aquarium stores) and plugged the thing into a Auto Inverter plugged into a 12v brick battery.

It worked great! We just used it handheld for interviews and it makes a great, soft key light. Pretty powerful, too. Then after a week of shooting, I thought to myself..."Hmm what about flicker!" Luckily there was none! The light looked great!

I've made myself a set of them and they are the most used lights in my kit now.

Bobby Stone
Atomic Films, Inc.
www.atomicfilms.com



Hi folks,

As promised, here's some (almost) raw footage using the Home Depot battery-powered fluorescent rig - you can actually see the lights reflected in the metal door.

http://www.streamload.com/dsklvji/tac_oct_00.mov

I've brought the levels up a little, but no color correction was done. The QuickTime is gamma balanced for a Mac.

The footage was shot with a VX1000 on a GlideCam.

After using it out in the field, I'm pretty happy. I'd probably go to seven tubes instead of the four I used to get a little more throw. But it worked out well -cool, cheap, light weight, and fairly soft. It was also nice to be able to move the lights independently of the camera - it worked well with the GlideCam and a light weight camera – great freedom of movement.

I'll post the finished cut when we get out of edit.

Cheers,

Elliot Blanchard



Elliot Blanchard writes :

>Here's some (almost) raw footage using the Home Depot battery->powered fluorescent rig

That's a nice idea. Elliott -- making a "kino bank" out of 'em.

I've been playing with one of them as a potential fill light for DV interviews. Had to change the tube to warm white. Haven't run down a set of batteries yet, but I'm told that these units eat batteries pretty ruthlessly.

I suppose you could get a 12-volt gelcell battery (say, 10 amp-hours) and some DC power connectors, and get some pretty long running times out of this bank....and/or increase the number of tubes. Or make a modular system where you could break out individual tubes (running on their own AA cells) when needed.

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA



Walter Graff wrote :

>If you can find some warm tubes, they're close enough to tungsten that >in a night club situation you should be fine.

Thanks to everyone for all the advice!

I of course was so excited with the whole idea that I went out and brought two last night - at $10 each, it's not a big commitment. My (very) early impressions is that they'll work. They put out a very blue light with touches of green. They're also not very bright, so I think I'm going to go with an array of three.

I like the idea of white balancing the video camera with the CTO in front of the lens in order to get every possible lumen out of the lights. My only concern with this approach is that I'll be using this little array for fill only, and the ambient club lighting will be visible in every shot. If I white balance the camera to the CTO gel to compensate for these tubes, I'm concerned that the other lighting will start to look odd. I'll probably just end up shooting both ways – CTO on lights, and CTO-balanced camera and using whatever looks best.

All in all, I'm very excited. This little array will allow total mobility - I'm also going to use the new shot stabilizing plugin from 2D3 in post, so there's a potential that this could be a nice little piece.

Cheers,

Elliot Blanchard