How to Build and Use the Swiss Frame Book Light
The Swiss frame book light is a valuable tool for any DP or gaffer because it is a versatile diffusion setup that will make the talent look amazing.
Book lights have long been the gold standard for turning hard, focused lights into soft, flattering lights. Bouncing a bright light source off a reflective surface, then diffusing it through fabric, yields a doubly diffused, wrapping light source that looks amazing on talent.
The common downside of using a book light is the space and amount of gear it requires. A typical book light needs one stand for the light, one or two for the bounce (depending on the size), and another one or two for the diffusion. So, between three and five.
A Swiss frame book light gets around both of these limitations, while still creating a wonderfully soft light source with a smaller footprint and only two stands. It’s quicker to set up, and you can place it closer to walls, the camera, or any other obstruction you’re working around.
The light or lights (if you need extra output) go directly on the floor. Set the bounce frame at a forty-five degree angle above the light, and drape the diffusion and clip it to the top edge of the bounce.
You can further shape the setup and reduce spill by placing negative fill on one or both sides of the angled bounce — or let the sides add to the ambient light in the room, making the shot look less “lit.”
The Swiss Frame Book Light gets its name because it resembles the peaked houses of the landlocked republic that are so good at withstanding deep snowfall, but it also invokes the feeling of the versatile Swiss Army Knife. I built it with small, cheap lighting stands for a 3×5-inch bounce, as well as using C-stands to hold a large 8×8 clay coat.
Secure and Adjust Lights
Like any diffusion, make sure you secure the setup with sandbags. Just because the wind isn’t blowing right now doesn’t mean there won’t be a sudden gust. The Swiss frame book light is less tolerant of wind than most setups because the diffusion hangs loose and will move around, even in a light breeze.
You can easily adjust the Swiss frame’s height because the bounce sets the position of the whole light. You can drop it down for a floor-style light, or raise it up and place a cutter underneath for a cosmetic drop-shadow under the chin.
It’s also quick to swap out or add an extra layer of diffusion in order to soften the light. Using something light — like Opal Frost — will give you more output and preserve the circular shape of the bounced light. Heavier diffusion — like full grid or Voodoo cloth — will cut down on the light output but give a shapeless, omni-directional source.
If you’re really into saving money, you can clip the whole diffusion roll to the top of the bounce to avoid cutting it, then just pull down the length that you need.
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