A Guide to Grip and Lighting gear

We all know that we need light to be able to make films. And the light needs to be placed appropriately to do what it does best; light for the camera.

So, to start off, we’ll look at the basic types of lighting gear you will come across used to light for cinema, then we’ll break down what Grips is, and what it has to do with lighting.

Lighting Gear

Other than the sun, you will need a source of light that you can control to illuminate your scene and subject.

Fire is the oldest source of light and probably the most abundant after sunlight. But it’s temperamental and difficult to manage. Plus, we live in a modern world, so other than as a prop in a scene, we obviously won’t be using fire.

In comes electricity. It’s fairly cheap, easy to control and easy to get. And paired with certain elements, you can generate usable and controllable light. This allows us to have different types of lighting equipment, which we’ll now take a look at.

The most common types of lighting equipment are Tungsten Filament, Halogen Quartz, Fluorescent, HMI and LED.

TUNGSTEN FILAMENT BULBS

Tungsten Filament bulbs are as the name suggests, filaments made of Tungsten enclosed in a glass bulb that is filled with an inert gas.

They are dirt cheap, can generate a decent amount of light, they are easy to move around and very easy to control.

Tungsten Filament bulbs are probably the cheapest way to create light and despite their inherent disadvantages, still give one decent value for money when on a tight budget.

Their two biggest disadvantages are overall light output is not very bright, and they are quite inefficient and generate a lot of heat. Although you can increase the number of bulbs to increase the collective light output, this also increases the amount of heat generated.

Tungsten lights tend to be very hard since they are usually very small in size, so they often need to be used in conjunction with modifiers. For more on hard lights, you can see this video that I created on the topic.

HALOGEN QUARTZ

Halogen Quartz bulbs are similar to Tungsten Filament bulbs in that they use a Tungsten Filament to generate light and are enclosed in glass filled with an inert gas. But unlike regular Tungsten bulbs, Halogen Quartz uses a different type of glass that has a much higher Quartz content so that it can withstand much higher temperatures without breaking.

The filament is enclosed in a tube that is filled with Halogen specifically which allows the Tungsten Filament to run much hotter without breaking down (hotter than its melting point) and thus give more light.

Halogen lights are also relatively cheap for their light output and quite common, but just like the regular filament bulbs, they are not very efficient at converting electricity to light and generate a lot of heat.

Some of their advantages are they have very accurate and excellent color rendition, they have a wide output from 500W to 2500W, and can be turned off and on multiple times with zero wait times for warm up or between switching on and off.

You will find these in use in most traditional construction flood lights and security lights, car headlamps and in cinema, on the lower end of film lights.

Just like Tungsten lights, Halogen lights are hard so light modifiers are needed to soften and control the light.

FLUORESCENT

Fluorescent lights are tubes filled with mercury vapor and the inside walls of the tube coated with a fluorescent powder. When electricity passes through the tube it excites the mercury vapor which gives off UV light. The UV light isn’t particularly useful on its own, but when it hits the fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube, the whole tube glows, giving us useable light.

Fluorescent lights, unlike Tungsten and Halogen, are much more efficient in converting electricity to useable light. They also give off very little heat compared and are fairly mobile. They also don’t need a lot of power to run and you can run several banks of fluorescent lights off household electricity.

They do cost more than Tungsten or fluorescent lights but because of how much more efficient they are, you need less wattage to get the same light output.

In most shoot setups, fluorescent lights are used in banks.

What is a bank of fluorescent lights you ask?

Well, one tube might not give you that much light to work with, so the tubes are clustered into ‘banks’ of fluorescent tubes to increase the overall light output. So, you may end up with a 4 bank or 6 bank light which means you have 4 or 6 tubes per light.

Fluorescent lights are also soft lights by design unlike Tungsten and Halogen lights which are hard lights. And when they are in a bank, you get an even larger and softer source of light, which means you don’t have to spend as much on modifiers to get soft, even light.

There’s also a newer type of fluorescent bulbs that are smaller, some as small as household Tungsten bulbs. These are called Compact Fluorescent Lights of CFL’s.

They are designed to replace traditional Tungsten Filament bulbs. They still work the same as the bigger straight fluorescent tubes, just sized down into a compact form factor. They are also incredibly efficient don’t need a lot of power to run and give off a lot of light.

CFL’s are also soft lights by design, but because they are physically smaller, they may not be as soft as the larger fluorescent tubes.

A major disadvantage of Fluorescent lights is flicker, especially with household lights. The flicker is especially evident when you’re shooting at frame rates that are not in sync with the electricity frequency of the region.

For example, if you’re shooting at 30fps or 60fps but the physical location you’re in has a electric frequency is 50Hz, you’ll see a lot of flickering in your video.

To eliminate this problem, fluorescent lights for film use an electronic ballast to control them.

Another disadvantage of fluorescents and CFL is poor colour accuracy, especially with lights meant for household use. The chemical composition of the phosphor coating in the tube directly affects the colour of the light. You might sometimes get colour casts and colour shifts from cheaper or older fluorescents.

HMI

Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide, or HMI in short, is a type of light that was developed specifically for film and entertainment lighting applications.

An HMI bulb contains mercury vapor mixed with other metal halides enclosed in a Quartz-glass bubble. Electricity is passed through the mixture in the bulb by two electrodes which excites the mercury vapor mixture and it creates an arc which generates an intensely bright light.

HMIs lights are some of the brightest lights you can get for film lighting and are usually the go-to source of light for most productions because the light output is at a temperature of 6000K, which matches daylight very closely.

They are also really bright compared to the  previous lights, which means that fewer individual units are needed to generate a lot of light.

HMIs range from 500W to 20,000W and are powered by ballasts because of the high voltages needed and most are powered by standalone generators.

Older HMIs were powered by magnetic ballasts which had horrible flicker when shooting at irregular frame rates, but these were replaced by electronic ballasts which are flicker free.

Many modern HMIs can comfortably shoot up to 10,000 fps and higher.

Unlike all the other light sources, HMIs are the heaviest and bulkiest. They require a few minutes to come up to temperature when they are turned on and once turned off, and they must cool down for at least 10-15min before turning them on again. If you don’t give them time to cool, the bulb could blow and the ballast could possibly get electrical damage.

HMIs also emit a significant amount of harmful UV light, they need UV treated lenses and UV treated bulbs especially if they are open faced. So cheap knock off bulbs are a definite no-no.

The biggest downside to HMI bulbs is are significantly more expensive than any other types of bulbs.

LED

LED, short for Light Emitting Diodes is an old technology that has only recently evolved to a point where LEDs can produce enough quality light to use on a production.

LEDs, like the name suggests, are tiny diodes that emit light when electricity passes through them. They are incredibly efficient, converting over 75% of the electricity passing through them to visible light.

LEDs are monochromatic by default, which means that they can only emit one wavelength of light, which translates to one colour.

So, to overcome this, manufacturers will often put together Red, Blue and Green LEDs to recreate white light that has the full spectrum of colour.

LEDs can either be daylight or Tungsten balanced, switchable between the two, or have variable temperature and colour control by using the individual RGB diodes to achieve any colour on the spectrum.

The main advantages of LED lights is they are often small and lightweight, that they don’t need ballasts to control them, they can be powered by batteries, and often don’t get as hot as other types of light.

Because of these aadvantages, they are becoming increasingly popular on productions to light smaller and tighter spaces.

They are also getting brighter while still drawing a fraction of the power needed by HMIs, Halogen and Tungsten lights, and are now beginning to replace Tungsten and Halogen bulbs between the 100W- 400W range.

LEDs come with many more advantages such as

  • They put out soft, even lighting with almost zero UV artefacts and contamination.
  • They are dimmable, down to almost 5% brightness with near zero colour shift.
  • One light can output different temperatures and colours without the need for gels.
  • Excellent dimming by means of pulse width modulation control.
  • They have a long lifespan and are environmentally friendly (No mercury or other toxic metals that can leak in case of an accident).
  • They are light weight, quite rugged, and hardy, with no risk of explosions incase of accidents unlike HMIs.

The biggest disadvantages of LED are the costs involved for the amount of light output one gets, and the technology still isn’t able to affordably produce as much light as some of the high wattage HMIs.

Light Fixtures

We’ve covered the different types of light that can be used on set. Now let’s cover different types of light fixtures.

There are two common types of fixtures: Open Faced and Fresnel.

Open Faced fixtures are just a bulb inside the light housing, a reflector to direct the light one way and a clear glass panel at the front to protect the bulb. They do not have lenses attached to the front of the light and cannot be focused. Open Faced fixtures are often used to create hard light that casts hard shadows.

Fresnel fixtures have a lens at the front of the housing to focus and direct the light in various ways. A Fresnel lens is the most common. It’s a type of lens that is divided into concentric circles. It evens out the light and allows one to vary the beam of light from spot to flood by moving the bulb closer or further away from the lens.

A fresnel lens

Fresnel fixtures also accept other types of lenses that modify the beam of light by intensifying, widening or narrowing it more than a regular Fresnel would.

If you want to know more about the different light fixtures and why they are the way they are, then this video is a must-watch.

Now that we know the different types of light available on set, they need to be rigged and setup to light what’s being filmed.

This is where the Grip comes in.

Grip

But first, what goes on in the Grip department?

The definition varies slightly depending on which part of the world you’re in. In the US, the Grip department takes care of all rigging needs on a set.

In Europe and Australia, the Grip and Grip Department is only in charge of rigging the cameras and other equipment the camera will directly use like cranes, tracks and stabilizers.

Let’s look at some key players in the grip department.

The Key Grip

Key Grip is the person in charge of setting up equipment to support the camera(s), crew and lighting equipment.

The Gaffer

The Gaffer is the person in charge of all electricals on set and as such, all lighting fixtures are under him.

How the Key Grip and Gaffer work on set

The Director will communicate his vision to the DOP, Gaffer and the Grip. The DOP will then discuss with the Gaffer and Grip on how best to light and move the camera to get the needed shots.

The Gaffer and the Grip will then convert all this information into lighting positions and equipment needed to support the camera, lights and to shape the light.

The Gaffer’s main job is to do the actual setup of the lights and electricals on set, and make sure that all aspects of the electrical department are working as they should.

They need to have extensive knowledge of all things electrical such as how much power they need on set, whether or not to bring generators on set, what to do in case of emergencies, and so on and so forth.

In any case, the key takeaway here is, in terms of lighting, grip is defined as the equipment that is required to support light fixtures and modifiers.

The C-Stand

Steel Baby Boom Arm

The C-stand is the do all be all stand on a production. The C-stand, or Century stand in full, is constructed with heavy duty metal, consists of a collapsible base and two riser columns and a baby pin on top.

In addition, a C-stand includes a gobo head and a gobo arm, which provide the ability to articulate a light modifier without moving the stand itself. The legs of C stands are designed to be nested, so many stands can be placed next to each other and take up very little floor space.

The gobo arms on C stands make them especially useful for placing lights overhead in situations where a regular light stand would be visible in the shot.

To know more about C-stands in detail, read my article on the anatomy of a light stand.

The Magic Arm/Noga Arm

A Magic Arm, or Noga Arm is a piece of mounting equipment that has a ball head on both ends to allow movement in any direction, a mounting stud on one end, a pivoted joint in the middle and a mounting plate with a stud on the other end to mount a small piece of equipment.

It’s like an extra arm that you can attach anything with a standard ¼’’ thread to and it allows you to mount small sized equipment at impossible angles.

It’s very useful for mounting field monitors on cameras, and mounting small lights or mics in very awkward angles.

Clamps

Clamps make up a big portion of any grips arsenal of tools, and there are several different types, but we’ll look at 3 common types that you will definitely find on any set.

The A Clamp

This is probably the most common type of clamp on a set. It’s simply a large metal peg with rubber tips to protect what it’s clamping.

It’s used to clamp relatively thin stuff, like gels to lights, sound blankets, flags, reflectors and thin bounce boards. They are the do all clamps on a set and advisable to have a few on hand.

The Cardellini or Vise Clamp

This is a vise jaw clamp that opens between 2″ to 6″ depending on the model, and the other end is typically a stud. Cardellini makes many varieties of the clamp.

I’ve found these clamps to be extremely versatile of lighting work.

The Mafer Clamp

Mafer SuperClamp

Also known as a Super Clamp, it’s two hinged metal jaws that can bite down on pipes, poles and other round mounting points with ease. The jaws have a rubber pad on them to make sure there is no slippage once tightened.

They sometimes come with baby pins welded to provide mounting points for lights and other equipment, or they can come with snap-in receivers to take spigots with threaded studs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lighting and grip equipment. If you want to learn my nine (and only nine) suggestions to buy to light short films or feature films, watch this video.

I hope you have found this article useful in understanding basic lighting and grip gear. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

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