After my blog post about lighting from your local hardware store, I wanted to take it one step further and instruct you on two homemade lights that have been my staple on close-up lighting. One is and incredible broad soft subtle source key light that is so beautiful with the ambient quality that comes from it. The other is a very directional soft source that I used with Herb Ritts for many years when I was his assistant. You will need some carpentry, skills so prepare to strap on a tape measure, a screw gun and some common sense. Remember measure twice, cut once, whatever that saying is.
Cocktail and Buffet Tray Light
Something that I first used on The Greatest Game Ever Played to simulate oil lamp light was what my gaffer Johnny Lewin and I called the Cocktail Tray or the Buffet Tray light. These bizarre names were based on the platform that we mounted our rope light on. I had Johnny go to a Restaurant supply store and buy a cocktail tray and a buffet tray. Take a screw gun and drill a 5/8” hole into the center of the tray.
Buy a 6” - 5/8” threaded rod at Home Depot.
Now take two electrical box 1/8” thick 4.5” x 4.5” metal plates. Drill a 5/8” hole through the center of both. Take two 5/8” nuts and put one plate on one side of the tray and slide the threaded rode through the hole in the metal plate as well as the tray. Screw the nut so that there is 1/2” exposed on the front side of the tray. The front side should be the one that has the side edges that stop the drinks from spilling all over the waiters or waitresses. Then take the other metal plate and put that on the back side of the tray. You are creating a metal sandwich. Now take the other nut and screw it down the long exposed rod and pinch it so that it is tight to the tray. You have just created a very cheap baby nail- on plate that would costs hundreds of dollars in the movie business.
Now take your screw gun and drill four holes in the corners of the metal plates and through the tray and into the other metal plate.Take 1/8” metal bolts and bolt the 4 corners of the metal plates so that they won’t come loose and spin.
It is time to give it a nice coat of flat white paint, two coats. Once this dries you are ready to mount your rope light. Start in the center and wind it up in tight concentric circles until it fills the whole cocktail tray up. I drill small 1/8” holes and then zip tie the rope light to the tray. Do not use sticky tabs; you need to drill and a fix the rope lights to the tray. The rope light clustered together like this heats up big time and will melt any sticky stuff. Been there, done that.
Check out the image below. The Buffet Tray light is on the floor just out of frame left. This is giving him an upward glow. I love the feel of this light. It is the kind of light that Kino Flo is developing with their LED technology. Millions of micro LEDs to create the source instead of 9 high output or 50 medium size, like a Light Panel LED, which are very hard. Hundreds of small tungsten wheat grains of light in several circles, mounted to a tray.
I made a 4’ diameter one for Greatest Game. In the middle of Shia LeBouf preparing to putt into a coffee cup at night in his bedroom, the rope light came crashing down to the floor, scared the crap out of us. You make the Buffet tray size the same way, just much more rope light required. Now, you have just built one of the most eco-friendly beautiful key lights I have ever used. If this is too warm for your taste, you can easily add 1/4, 1/2, or full CTB gel to the Cocktail or Buffet Tray light and make it whatever color temp you would like. This usually limits this light’s ability, because it takes down its brightness, but now with the higher ISO cameras, it will give you the ability to filter the light and still keep its amazing soft indirect quality.
The Stupid Light
This light was introduced to me by Harris Savides, ASC when I gaffed for him. It was so simple, we called it Stupid. Then I took this technology and used it with Herb Ritts for years on many of his famous prints. You start by buying a metal reflector from an industrial High Bay Metal Hallide fixture at Grainger.
You start with a metal reflector from a industrial High Bay Metal Hallide fixture at Grainger. Then cut a 6” long 1” x 3” piece of lumber.
Then buy a Mogul socket that has the ability to be screwed into wood. Mount it in the center of the 1 x 3. Attach this to the back of the silver reflector through its mounting holes with 1” drywall screws with the socket landing in the center of the reflector.
The final edition is a 500 watt silver tip globe. What makes this such a beautiful fashion light is that all the direct light is reflected by the silver tip globe into the large silver reflector. I have diffused the front of the light several times if a softer less controllable light is required. I have also cut a donut hole in the center to that I have an outer ring of diffused light with a harder light center, very cool looking.
The final edition is a 500 watt silver tip globe. What makes this such a beautiful fashion light is that all the direct light is reflected by the silver tip globe into the large silver reflector.I have diffused the front of the light several times if a softer less controllable light is required.I have also cut a donut hole in the center to that I have an outer ring of diffused light with a harder light center, very cool looking.
On Swing Vote I wanted to use this light for the media section of the final debate. I wanted the reporters to look great with a beautiful fall off under their chins and separation from the background. Here is a segment from the film. I rigged the Stupid light directly over camera and blasted them.I lit them hotter than the background so that it had a three dimensional quality.
Every one of these lights can be used as a Key light, Fill Light, and or Back Light.This little wood and metal shop craft project will change the way you light. Let’s see how your carpentry skills are. KNOCK IT OUT!
What interesting lights have you built?I would love to see your creations.