Ideal Doco Lighting Package For Travel


Hey All -

I have a documentary project pending which involves quite a bit of travelling. Continental united states, southern Europe, Balkans, middle east, central Asia. I need advise as to which lighting instruments people have found are most helpful to have in this situation. I need something lightweight, easily switchable between power sources (batteries, 50hz, 60hz, 120v, 220v etc.), and easily serviced in the field with locally available spare parts. My initial feeling is one or two led panel lights and maybe a small pocket par w/chimera, but I'm tempted to bring an incandescent light too.

We're mostly talking about interviews, and some, very limited space lighting. We're talking backpack-able stuff, not rolling cases or pelican cases.

I'm interested to hear other peoples recommendations as I've done very little work while travelling overseas. This is a small crew--director, myself, producer, soundman. HVX-200 is the camera.

Thanks so much in advance

Erik Messerschmdit
CLT, but DP on this one, LA

I have been thinking about checking into the new Dedo 200 and 400 series daylight units with soft boxes. Their ballasts automatically convert voltages, so you never have to be concerned about power supply, and will run great on batteries as well. Perhaps someone on the list would have some further information on these units.

Mike Ambrose
LA Based

I would suggest the Lowell Rifa lites. Soft lights, set up and fold down quickly, and can become compact. Also, they can take soft crates. 220 or 120V globes.

I also love the Diva lights for daylight and tungsten, and they come in a kit. May not fit your backpacking needs, but very versatile for docs.

Have a great trip!
-Graham Futerfas
Los Angeles based DP

Mark H. Weingartner wrote:

>>Call me old-fashioned

Hardly. Mark is just full of great advice today. Old tools are great.

I love LED's and use some of the coolest, newest, multi-die devices in something we build, but the utter simplicity of old lights is a great thing. Another favourite is the true original Lowell-Light -- the socket on a plate with gaffer tape and barndoors. Tiny and cheap.

Then again, we cinema-verite people aren't allowed to use any lights at all.

Jeff "does remember Mark buying a really expensive LED flashlight at NAB 2005" Kreines

Thanks everyone for your suggestions!

We have a short set of interviews to shoot here in the states so I'm thinking I'll bring some of the equipment I have on hand -- Barger Baglights, Panel Lights, 1x1 and mini, and pocket pars and see what works well, and what is missing. That will give me time to work out the look of the interviews we have to shoot with the practicality of travel.

Part of me wants to bring nothing but a flexi fill, but we'll see how it goes....

Thanks so much.

Erik Messerschmidt


The key to the ultra light lighting package I've found is to be firm about where you can shoot and when. Trying to light a whole room never works, and trying to light a background without lots of grip equipment I've never found satisfying. You have to find your interesting backgrounds, not try to create them from whole cloth. Make sure your sound guy knows he's also your swing grip/electrician and knows your kit.

If you do need more (dolly, HMI) for a specific location, rent locally. Insist on tech scouts when you can. Laundry hampers are a big help. Get local crew when you need it—producers love not having to travel everybody. They also love not having a lot of excess baggage fees.

Do your best not to get sucked into shooting exteriors when the light is ugly. an inclinometer & Sunpath is helpful here, these are generally found impressive on the set of a documentary. Keep the camera handy (like on your lap) while driving around, a great way to shoot exteriors often at the beginning and end of the day. Get a good map of the city. When I first started shooting documentaries, I brought way more stuff, and I thought that if I brought it all I better use it all. In my insecurity, I hoped that would make me a better DP, to light the shit out of everything.

Now I spend more time looking and less time unpacking and packing stuff.

Hope this helps

Byron Shah
DP Los Angeles

Graham Futerfas writes :

>>I would suggest the Lowell Rifa lites. Soft lights, set up and fold down >>quickly, and can become compact. Also, they can take soft crates. 220 >>or 120V globes.

Agreed. Besides being fast and easy to set up, Rifas are among the most efficient lights made, because virtually none of their light is wasted -- the reflector completely surrounds the globe. They pack up fast, too, because -- as long as you handle them carefully -- you don't have to wait for the mass of a lamp housing to cool down -- just remove the diffuser, let them cool for about a minute and carefully fold them up. Gloves are always a good idea, but you shouldn't absolutely need them with the Rifa.

With lightweight stands you do want to be careful that the Rifa stays directly over an extended leg because it's front-heavy. There's a steel adaptor bar you can get to shift the Rifa's center of gravity, but you'll need to figure out whether the extra weight and fussing is worth it for you.

The only other caveat is that the Rifa has no safety glass or screen, so you'll want to check the globe for milky (weak) spots before each use. The umbrella and diffuser are supposed to resist burn-though if a globe explodes, but there have been occasional stories of burn-through regardless. Checking the globe before each use is good insurance.

With the diffuser removed, Rifa’s make excellent, and very efficient, bounce lights.

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

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