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7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat

In this video tutorial, we’ve rounded up seven quick-and-easy camera and lighting builds to expand your filmmaking arsenal.

Of all the filmmaking innovations that the industry has seen, the do-it-yourself work ethic is still the most beneficial to the community. Filmmakers helping filmmakers is what makes this craft worth pursuing.

This tutorial is dedicated to limited budgets and innovative ways to light and shoot — and to make your life easier. So let’s run through some of the builds.

1. Pizza Pan Light

7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat — Pizza Pan Light

The simplest lighting fixture you can build yourself is the pizza pan light! The build is simple: just purchase a pizza pan with holes on the bottom, zip ties, and any type of rope or stringed lights. It’s important to mind the color temperature of the lights so that you get the hue you’re looking for.

In the example, the light wasn’t totally what I was going for, but that’s okay because the point is that you can get your own ring light for almost nothing (compared to an actual ring light).

2. Building a Candle Light

7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat — Candle Light

Candlelight might seem like an obvious light source, but shooting with actual candles can be tricky. They’re usually supposed to serve as a light source for your characters, but they aren’t actually bright enough. So what do we do?

For this build, all you need is a knife to carve out the back of a candle, then stick a light bulb (preferably an LED so that the bulb doesn’t break once the candle melts), then just tape the candle to the back, face it away from the camera, and the light should be bright enough to properly expose your actor — while offering the appearance of a bright candle. If you’re looking for more tricks for lighting with fire, check out one of our previous tutorials.

3. Building a Vanity Light

7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat — Vanity Light

So, for the vanity light, you really just need to find the appropriately sized light at any hardware store, and then buy an extension cord long enough to fit from the light to the nearest generator or outlet. Also, if you’re going to hang the light on a C-stand (which I highly recommend), you’ll need to purchase a baby plate. Once you have the plate, you can either screw it into the back of the light (watch out for the wiring) or you can gaff-tape it to the back (depending on how heavy the light is).

To wire the light properly, cut the female end off, then strip an inch off the extension chord. Once you’ve done this, you just need to connect ground to ground, neutral to neutral, and hot to hot — then cap them off with wire connectors. For a more in-depth visual representation of what to do, I’d watch the video. Remember to not cut into wires while they are plugged into the wall. 

4. Building a Dimmer Switch

7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat — Dimmer Switch

Just like the vanity light, you can buy the actual dimmer switch at a hardware store — as well as an appropriately sized box to accommodate the wires and the switch. So, first you’ll need to purchase an extension cord. Start by cutting the cord six feet away from the male end, then strip the cord just like you did with the vanity light.

Now the process is as simple as running the cord through the box and then attaching the hot, neutral, and ground wires accordingly (again). Then cap the connections with wire connectors, and fit it into the box underneath. Once you’ve done this, screw the switch and the box together, and you’ve got a dimmer switch!

5. Quacker and 6. Israeli Arm Clamp

7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat — Quacker Clamp

For these simple clamp hacks, grab a quick grip clamp, spring clamp, and an Israeli arm. With the quick grip clamp, you can imitate a quacker clamp (which is considerably more expensive). You can hold a reflector or really . . . anything. The best part is you can snap it right into a C-stand.

For the articulating Israeli arm clamp, all you do is just screw on the spring clamp to the end of the arm, and the clamp can hold things in front or to the side of the camera. In the video, I have the clamp holding a flashlight angled at the side of the lens, giving me a unique and mobile-looking lens flare. But, the beauty of this clamp is that it can hold anything — like a cool prism!

7. Build Your Own Hi-Hat

7 DIY Filmmaking Hacks: Creating New Lights to Building Your Own Hi-Hat — Build Your Own Hi-Hat

Lastly, it’s time to build our own hi-hat. The process is simple. You just need a piece of wood wide and thick enough to support your camera. For the example in the video, I chose a piece of wood that was 2 feet by 2 feet. Next, you’ll need another baby plate. Just screw the plate into the wood, and stick your gear head onto the plate. Voilà! Now you can attach a tripod head to the gear head and then put this bad boy anywhere to serve as a totally sturdy hi-hat.

For more DIY builds and hacks, check out these tutorials:

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