If you follow some basic lighting principles, you can get impressive results from even the cheapest of lighting kits. This is great news for businesses with smaller budgets or folks just starting out with video. As an experiment, we went to Home Depot and built a lighting kit with clothespins, clip lights, and LED bulbs.
While this is not the be-all, end-all lighting kit, it is an attainable and repeatable setup that will keep people on camera looking sharp and well-lit.
Please allow us to introduce Wistia's "Down and Dirty DIY Lighting Kit" – all for under $100.
Our trip to Home Depot
You can build almost an entire DIY lighting kit with items you can find at any hardware store. Places like Home Depot, Lowes, and ACE should readily stock everything you'll need.
The only thing you won't find is a light stand. We recommend picking up some inexpensive stands on Amazon:
The effectiveness of this lighting kit hinges on good quality bulbs. Look for daylight balanced bulbs with a high CRI (color rendering index). This will help to produce the highest quality and most flattering light possible. Also, make sure you purchase bulbs that are dimmable. We'll explain more about this later.
Here's the shopping list that ran us about $60.
(x3) Clamp lights - $9 ea.
(x3) Daylight LED bulbs (buy different wattage options for flexibility) - $5.25 ea.
(x3) Spring clips - $1 ea.
(x3) 12ft Extension cords - $2.75 ea.
(x1) Package of clothespins - $2.50 ea.
(x1) Medium gauge shower curtain - $6 ea.
If you want to save a trip to Home Depot, here are Amazon alternatives:
(x3) Light stands - $15 ea.
(x3) Scoop lights - $15 ea.
(x3) CREE 60W Daylight LED Bulbs - $4 ea.
(x3) Spring clips - $1 ea.
(x3) 12ft Extension cords - $7 ea.
(x1) Package of clothespins - $4 ea.
(x1) Shower curtain - $9 ea.
Setting up your lighting kit
The awesome thing about using clamp lights is that they can mount just about anywhere.
Start by clipping the clamp lights to the top of your light stands. The built-in clips aren't super strong, but you can use spring clips to secure everything.
Take the shower curtain and cut out two 12" squares. Then use your clothespins to attach the squares to the front of two of your lights. This will help to create a softer, more flattering light on your subject's face. In the industry, this effect is called "light diffusion."
Lights, camera, and subject placement
The goal is to eliminate shadows and create soft, flat lighting on your subject's face. Here's a diagram to help you set up your shot:
Place the two key lights slightly above your subject's eyeline, about 3-4 feet apart from each other. The light facing the background will help to create contrast and hide the subject's shadow.
Just because you're hacking together a DIY lighting kit doesn't mean you can't get a little fancy! If you've got another $25 to spend, the following are some helpful upgrades to consider while you're out shopping.
Pick up higher-wattage light bulbs to give yourself more options for lighting. Consider getting some 75W and 100W bulbs.
Buy a lamp dimmer and give yourself the ultimate lighting control!
Plug the dimmer into the two lights pointing at your subject, and you can easily adjust the amount of light hitting your talent. Just make sure your bulbs are dimmable, or else your lights will flicker as you dim them.
Durable scoop lights
Home Depot carries some durable plastic scoop lights that have stronger clips. They're worth the few extra dollars, if you're looking for a longer-term solution.
Lighting on the fly
Sure, you can go crazy with intricate lighting setups, or even use the fabled "3-point lighting" technique to create dramatic shadows on your subject's face. But when you're shooting interviews or talking head videos for your business, it's best to prioritize the content over flashy aesthetics. Learn even more about our lighting philosophy in our comprehensive "Lighting on the Fly" guide to video lighting.
If you follow basic lighting principles, you can get pretty good results from going lo-fi. How did you build your first lighting kit? What are your favorite lighting techniques and tricks?