If you’ve ever been in a professional studio you were likely blown away by the sheer volume of lighting equipment and were maybe a bit depressed when you thought about what it all must have cost. And my friends in the video business are even more annoying with their envy-inducing rigs like Skylight Balloon Lights. I fell like The Joker in the Batman movie asking where they get all those marvelous toys. Still, even with the collection of lighting equipment available, I’ll still turn to low-cost lighting hacks in a pinch and there are one or two I use regularly because I don’t need the expensive rigs enough to justify the cost.
Milk Jug Diffuser
One that’s been around a while that doesn’t miss is the Milk Jug Diffuser, also called the Milk Jug Ring Light.All you need is a gallon plastic milk jug and a pair of scissors or razor knife. Cut out one side of a milk jug, and at the narrower end cut a hole the just slightly smaller than your lens filter.Fit it on the end of your lens and the milk jug should stick up high enough to act as a diffuser for your on camera flash. It looks funky, but works. I’ve also taken a shorter piece of milk jug material and taped it over the end of my hand-held flash with gaffer tape.
Complete DIY instructions here.
I’ve used Chinese lanterns in both video and still photography shoots and they make a really interesting diffuser. They’re big enough inside to work if you need to put foil on one side, and you can point your flash up, down or away from the subject and get a different effect. They’re very light, easy to move around, you can even hang them from the ceiling and hang the flash unit from the metal frame inside.
They come in a variety of shapes, colors and rib designs. Even the big ones are fairly inexpensive. If it gets wrecked on set, no one is going to lose sleep over it.
Do keep in mind they are not fire proof, so don’t go putting halogens or hot lights inside.
Another great feature of Chinese lanterns are they come with an internal wire support you can gaffer tape to the light stand.
So, you can spend $600 on an Octobank or $2 on a paper lantern, get a very similar effect and be able to run it up as high as your light stands will go. I don’t have my soft banks anymore, but still carry my paper lanterns around.
The $35 Beauty Dish
With a Fong diffuser, an aluminum foil turkey pan and some gaffer tape you can make a beauty dish.
Cut a hole in the middle of the turkey pan and fit the diffuser through it, tape if necessary to hold it in place. Foil or gaffer tape over the end of the diffuser and blaze away. Results are surprisingly good.
Complete DIY instructions here. For as often as I really need a beauty dish, I’ll risk looking a little low rent.
Craig Brewer made his first full-length movie called Hustle & Flow with nothing but shop lights and a handful of photo bulbs. Anytime we get separated at the hardware store, my wife knows right where to find me. I’ll be in the section with the shop lights.
I’ve used halogen shop lights on photo shoots and video sets as both primary lighting and for lighting background elements. I carry a set in the truck anytime I’m headed out for a shoot.
Sometimes the temperature is off, but nothing I haven’t been able to correct with $20 worth of gel filters from Adorama and a handful of clothespins.
The new LED shop lights are the right temperature and don’t out nearly as much heat. Perfect for when you need a shadow fill or colored gel for a background effect.
The Foamcore Strip Light
I think everyone has seen this one before, but it’s worth repeating. A little harder to put together because you need a glue gun and a space to work, but it really makes a nice strip light. Almost as good as any of the commercial units I’ve used. If you take your time and put them together neatly, a lot of people won’t even notice you made them yourself!
Great instructions here.
Got a favorite lighting hack you use? Share it with us in the comments.