Should cinematographers aspire to own extensive lighting kits?

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      So I was thinking back to something David Mullen ASC told me awhile ago, about the “the desire to spend a lot of money to own a lot of lighting equipment” and looking back, it brings up something i haven’t considered and kinda accepted as a yes uncritically, and thats whether cinematographers should even aspire to own lighting gear. I took it as a yes owing to online spaces beating the drum that cameras aren’t important but that lenses and lights are, “Invest in glass and lights” they say, which isn’t completely wrong, but just kinda misleading as people say this, but then when pressed on what they mean on lighting, they always mean lighting gear (either in the individual fixtures themselves or in how many fixtures) that is really only good for interviews or really small spaces and not in any filmmaking scenario that takes in larger spaces (as it would defeat the idea of the Ultra portable lighting kit you can have with your personal little camera bag and take with you around the world like all of those travel vloggers), as from the past year I’ve been seeing lighting setups and the conclusion I’ve come to is that the amount of light needed is heavily underestimated by alot of amateurs, including myself. I can only see someone hitting ceiling after ceiling with lighting gear and going for more and more in response, which then I ask, why bother? Why not avoid the hassle and just stick to renting what you exactly need? I always answered this to myself by saying that maybe the rental outlet may not have what you exactly need or in locations you may not know what availability you will have access to, hearing about your expansive use of maxi brutes and other tungsten lights or Sean Bobbit’s of six 18ks for a gymnasium really sobered me on this, making me take a step back on whether to really go for an extensive lighting kit to own, even if i was going to rent it out, let me know your thoughts

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    • #169441

        I guess it really depends on how you choose to market yourself, im on the renting the gear camp, but there are benefits and downsides to each approach, if you have gear you can make it work for you, but at the same time if you dont choose correctly, you might spend quite a bit of money on gear that never gets rented, an acquaintance runs a camera rental exclusively for Red cameras, some lenses too, he invested a pretty penny on the whole DSMC 2 systems, really good gear but he struggled to make the equipment earn any money, lo and behold Red just a couple of years after brings the V Raptor and completely eats the market for the Monstro, wich is now an expensive paper weight on the rentals HQ, its still a superbly capable piece of equipment, but no one wants to rent it, in the end it was just a money dump, i guess my point is, if you are smart about owning gear, you can make a profit off of it, but its pretty easy to get it wrong or just have bad luck and end up with gear no one wants to rent, though i think this is more the case with Camera equipment, harder to get it wrong with lighting gear, in any case i hope this is somewhat useful if at all for you.


          As a gaffer I’d say leave it to the gaffer to worry about buying lights. You can own 3 or so solid lights as a DP for small jobs but otherwise it’ll limit your creativity to be stuck with with your own. Also you are correct that there is a never ending ceiling to buying grip and electric gear.


            Interesting, as a gaffer maybe you could give me your thoughts on this.

            I recently was on a shoot, had talked with the director and we’d figured out a look and I’d come up with a basic lighting plan. I was still to meet the Gaffer. When we finally did get the chance to meet immediately he was annoyed I had a lighting plan and spent most of the time trying to convince me the look I was going for was wrong.

            The plan in my head was a rough idea of how we’d visualised the shot but I was quite happy to defer to the Gaffers expertise to improve upon or suggest better options not to crap all over the plan and threaten to walk unless we gave him complete control of the lighting.

            I asked him to show me what he was thinking so he started putting lights and stuff in place, and while it was very nice. Both myself and the director didn’t like the look as it wasn’t fitting with the style we were going for on this particular production.

            He then quit, I ended up lighting it myself. The whole process was a massive waste of time.

            I’d be curious as to another Gaffers opinion and other DOP’s because it was the first time I was challenged this way and as working with Gaffer’s was/is relatively new to me I am curious to know Was I in the wrong for having a look/mood I wanted to achieve and a basic plan for doing so?

            I eagerly await peoples thoughts.


              Your approach was totally normal. Sounds like a guy to stay away from in a collaborative environment like filmmaking. Even if he was right (which he apparently was not), the way he handled the situation is an immediate red flag. In my experience, these people are not only a toxic factor to an already stressful process, but often actually lack skills and try to mask it with such behavior.

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