How to make a spotlight

by Dave Curtis on 03/22/2011 · 1 comment

in Ideas,Media,Video

Making better marketing videos often comes down to having the proper equipment and adequate proper lighting is one of the top priorities for any serious video project. This article and video provides a fast, inexpensive and easy way to create spot lights that are fairly professional looking and made to handle high heat.
If you’re into either photography or video or both (whether for Search Engine Optimization purposes or not) then you know how much things tend to cost when you’re looking to upgrade. I found a way to build a decent spotlight for just around $25 with the bulb included using barbecue starters available almost everywhere (I suspect perhaps only when in season though). Here’s my video on this.

The basic things you’ll need to build two of them will be a few basic cheap-o work lights from any big brand store like Walmart, Target, Lowes or Home Depot. Once built they can be either clamped to poles or easels or whatever’s handy or else suspended using clamps from pipes in the ceiling or on doors. I did an emergency test run on Mar 22, 2011, at a bar with a restaurant called JJs in Ybor. I had the light with me to show someone and sure enough the music crew’s lights were inadequate for doing a video. I wound up suspending the bright spot from the tripod just under the camera itself.

I also thought of using a couple of dimmers in the wire or at the base so you can use really bright powerful bulbs (remember these things are made of barbecue starters and work lights so they’re made to handle heat) and then just adjust the brightness down or up rather than have to have a bunch of different wattage bulbs you would need to switch out. Sure that boosts the price of the whole thing up to more than $25 each, but you can do it over time when you’ve got the money – meanwhile to dim a bright bulb you just move it further away.

Getting back to JJs in Ybor, the spotlight was a definite hit. The CJ was using the clubs less sophisticated sound system designed for basic band plug-ins so the performers were less than pleased with the sound quality – which is fine, I get to go back with the modded spot-light at next week’s re-shoot. That gave me time to rig a crossbar for the top of the extended height tripod. The crossbar will allow me to balance both spots so the weight is evenly distributed. I also removed the old rivets that were holding the charcoal holder base piece and drilled through the work-light aluminum so I could bolt the reflectors in place. I also picked up a dimmer switch from Lowes for about $7.50 – so with the PVC elbows and pipe, plus the nuts and bolts and a drill bit (I couldn’t find my drill bits at home so I had to buy one), that came to another $23.00 bringing the total cost of the project (sans the work-lights which I already had) to about $43.00. Here’s what it looks like though:

You should note that the head of the tripod is raised about 8 feet off the ground, and to use it I stand on a 2 foot step stool I got from Lowes to see through the viewfinder. What I did was I took a hack-saw and cut the head off of the tripod about 4 inches down from the top. I then attached a hose clamp to the bottom portion so it wouldn’t slip down and get lost if I lowered it too far. I then took the head of the tripod with me (again, to Lowes) and bought a length of aluminum pipe that fit the portion of the head of the tripod that was still extending down. I cut two lengths from the pipe – one that was approximately 2 feet long and one that was about 9 inches. The 9 inch piece is for normal photography and the  2 foot piece is for shooting over the heads of crowds in clubs and on the street. SpiderPod sells extended height tripods and standing platforms for about $2,000. Mine cost me about $20 (pipe and step-ladder).

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Doug Brittain March 4, 2013 at 12:47 am

Hi Dave: Thx for this; I’m going to give it a go. Coupla ?’s. Any cheepie ideas
on how to affix say at least two but better still, four “barn doors” so that the
coverage of the spot’s light can really be focussed down to a thin beam in certain photo applications? I’m sure I can jury rig something but if you’ve already thought of this you might be able to save me some time. Also . . any
advice on a light bulb that’s bright but won’t start to melt? I tried a photo
light with a tinfoil “snout” last week at my photo course and the bulb itself, started to smoke and burn. Thx for any help you might be able to provide.

Cheers,

Doug

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