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Lighting in Extremely Small Spaces

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/25/2010

Lighting is always important in digital video, but it requires space. Here are some ways to adapt your digital video lighting to very small spaces.

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    Professional Lighting

    Controlled lighting is the defining feature that separates home video from professional video. A professional and premeditated lighting set up will make lower end video camera produce broadcast quality images, allow you to control the personality and character of your video project, and really alter everything about the location. Unfortunately, most lighting kits and lighting setups will require a fairly liberal amount of space as you have to have room to construct the lighting pieces and give them space from the subjects and backgrounds. Here are a few tips to work around these problems in very tight spaces.

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    Take It Out

    One of the first things you have to look at when dealing with a small room is whether or not you can move much of the video equipment out of the room itself and still have it interact with the space. This is true of the lighting equipment, but also the camera and sound equipment. Begin blocking out the location the way you envisioned it and then see if you can begin arranging lights so that they go through windows from the outside or through doorways and adjoining rooms. This can often transform your location into a workable situation without actually compromising the image quality.

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    Removing Lights

    There is often going to be enough room for a few stand up lights, but not for a proper three point or four point lighting set up. This may require that you begin reducing the number of lights that you are using, but you have to continue to keep the principles of three and four point lighting setups so that you can make this work. In a four point lighting set up you have a key light, and fill light, a backlight or edge light, and a background light. The background light often take up quite a bit of room because you have to position it far away from the subject and background, so this will be the first to go. Next the fill light usually is removed because you may have enough reflective fill from objects in the room, and if not you can try to position a bounce card or reposition their body so any available light will fill up their face. The most essential light in the four point lighting set up is the key light, so you will always have to maintain this. Try to maintain the exact positioning of the four point lighting set up if you are focusing on a single person even if you have removed several of the lights.

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    Creativity is going to be essential in a tight space, so you may have to put your grip hat on. This means that you are going to have to begin arranging and constructing places that you can place lights so that they do not use their normal intrusive stands. Try using large scale clips and clamps to position lights on existing furniture or ceiling apparatus. Try to bring lights lower so they can be tucked in corners or behind low lying objects. There are not concrete rules about lighting and so you can try to adapt your set up to what you have to work with.

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    If you are in a tight location outside then you have a much different situation to deal with. If it is daytime then you are only going to want to deal with a single bounce card and you will keep the sun to the person's back. Since the sun will bounce directly on the bounce card it will be powerful enough to act as a key and the sun itself will act as the backlight.