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Video Lights For All: How to Build a Complete 3 Head Kit on a $100 Budget

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
This post is part of a series called How to Broadcast Live Video.
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This post is part of a series called Video Lighting.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial you will learn how to create a simple, sturdy video lighting kit that works great for interviews, presentations, instructional videos, and much more! Most of parts can be found at your local hardware or home improvement store and the rest you can find online.

Even better, the whole project will cost only about $130-150 USD, depending on the quality of lamps you choose. If you shop locally, avoid shipping costs, and buy used stands you should be able to put this kit together for about $100 USD.

What You Will Need

Utility Clamp Lights

Even if you have bigger, better lights these clamp lights are quite useful for all kinds of lighting tasks.

Clamp lights can be found at hardware, home improvement, or discount department stores for around eight to fifteen dollars depending on the size. I like to have at least one larger clamp light, around eleven inches in diameter, in my kit to accommodate a larger lamp or two smaller lamps. I use this brighter light for my key light and I use smaller eight-inch clamp lights for fill, background, hair light, or kickers.  You can even make a little paper snoot for them and tighten the beam right up! 

  • 10" clamp light
    I got my 10.5" model at my local Home Depot and I have not found the same model anywhere online. This model from Amazon is similar, but more expensive. Check with your local stores first!
  • 8" clamp light
    This model looks identical to the clamp light I used, but it is more expensive than you might find at your local store.

High-Quality Lamps

CFL lightbulb
Fluorescent Tube jeancliclac , PhotoDune

In the video I used a few high Color Rendering Index (CRI) CFLs and one inexpensive LED bulb.

  • The CFLs I used were 26 watt BlueMax lamps. I have found these to produce pretty good color for the price.
  • If you want the best looking CFLs, though, it is going to cost you a bit more. The Kino Flo 26 watt CFLs are excellent.

The LED lamp I used was a cheap Philips 100 watt equivalent LED I got at Home Depot. I won't even bother giving you a link to that lamp because the color reproduction is not good. If you are going to order a LED bulb online, get one with good color and save yourself the hassle.

Right now, the most popular color temperature for home use is 2700 K, which I think is gross looking. Your best bet is to go with either 3000 K (or as close as you can get to 3200 K) or 5000 K. These two color temperatures are the best for most cameras because all cameras will have a daylight and a tungsten white balance preset.

I have found that the daylight white balance with the BlueMax CFLs is almost perfect with one camera, but on another, it looks too green and has to be fixed in post-production. The good news is that the green is minor, and once the adjustment is done the colors are quite nice. I normally use Kino Flo lights and those do have to be color corrected in post too (they are a bit blue and lacking green), but perhaps not as much as with the BlueMax lamps.

No matter what you choose, you want the highest CRI rating you can get. A CRI of 90 is a reasonable minimum for video and photo work.

Utility Clamps

Spring Clamp
Clamp ibphoto, PhotoDune

You will need a few small clamps for securing the clamp lights to a light stand.

These can also be found at your local hardware or home improvement stores. If you are setting up in a more permanent location you could save a little bit of money by using a zip-tie to fix your light to the stand.

Light Stands

Get stands that are at least 7-8" tall if you are going film taller humans standing up. You will need to get the lights above the eye line and 6' stands wont get it done.

Bottom line, don't go for cheap stands. Get the good ones. A quality stand will last for decades! Check local used-equipment stores, too. Stands don't have to look pretty to work.

Diffusion Material

With CFL and LED lights you might be able to safely get away with wax, parchment, tracing, or drafting paper to diffuse your lights, but I like to use the real deal: diffusion filters from Rosco. Both of these have a beautiful diffusion quality and can be used on hot lights:

For more options, check out Lee Filters. I use Rosco because I can get it locally, but both are pro filters. 

Gaffer Tape

Every kit needs gaffer tape! Use it to stick your diffusion filters to your lights.

  • Industry tape is tough and strong, but won't leave a gummy residue on your gear.

Now You're Ready to Roll

Have fun putting your DIY utility-light video lighting kit together!

We cover how to set up these lights in the video, but for another look at the three-point lighting setup, check out Ben Lucas's tutorial:

I also have two courses related to this tutorial, one on DIY gear and hacking, and another all about light.

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