Lighting for a Middle School Studio

In this second of three installments, Rob Z will show us how he lit a middle school studio at Amherst Tech TV to make the most of the features in Adobe’s Visual Communicator namely the very forgiving chromakey or green screen capabilities. 

Last month Mr. Z talked about the Visual Communicator software and initial construction of the studio.  In the next installment, Rob will bring it all home with Going Live! If you click on the links to the right of the articles, you can see how Rob Z uses Visual Communicator for the video component of the presentation.

Having now built our studio and painted our walls for chromakey use.  Its time to light it all up.  How do we do that Mr. Z?

We’ve found that softbox lights are one of the best ways to light a school TV studio.  Softboxes are used in still photography and video because the light passes through a silk like material, and creates soft even lighting on people.  It also reduces harsh shadows on your background.

We currently own four softbox lighting units.  Our three older models use 500 watt halogen bulbs, while one newer model uses compact fluorescent bulbs.

The newer softbox consists entirely of compact fluorescent bulbs, mounted in a 12 bulb array.  These are manufactured under the Savage brand name, and were purchased from adorama.com  They offer six, twelve, and twenty four bulb models.  If you can afford it, I recommend going with the 12 or 24 bulb models, as it takes a lot of light if these are more than 10 feet away from your newscasters.  These did not come with any stands, so in place of buying a light stand, I used leftover pieces of UniStrut to make a hanging bracket.




The older softboxes we own are manufactured by JTL, and again were purchased from adorama.com  We bought these as a 3-light kit, which included the stands shown here that I’ve used to hang these upside down from the ceiling.  Although this 3 light kit is cheaper outright to buy, and comes with the stands, I still think you’d pay more in the long run, as replacement bulbs are over $40 each, and won’t last nearly as long as compact fluorescent bulbs.  Plus, halogen bulbs run hot, while compact fluorescent bulbs run cool and use less electricity.

Another consideration is how many lights do I need?  I recommend at least two for shining directly onto your newscasters.  The lights shining on your background should be separate from the newscaster lighting.  By going with two separate zones of lighting, you’re less likely to have issues with shadows.  As you can see here, we use standard overhead lights to illuminate the green and blue walls in our studio.  These are positioned behind the newscaster sweating area, to prevent shadows on the wall.

Finally, if your budget is really tight, or even non-existant, you can get away with using clamp on lights such as these that are available at hardware stores.  I painted the inside shell white, and for a few years these did the trick.  As you can imagine, the lighting is more intense when shining on a person, so we instead shined these onto posterboard, creating bounced reflectuive lighting.  The good news is that the latest version of Visual Communicator 3 is very forgiving, and allows for uneven lighting with sliders you can tweak.

Next Installment:  Our studio goes live using Adobe’s Visual Communicator.

Check out more of Rob Z’s presentations and great student videos from Amherst TechTV at www.SchoolTube.com. Rob Zdrojewski has been introducing students to structural engineering, robotics, and communication technologies at Amherst Middle School since 2001. With a specialty in digital video and TV production, he built the nationally recognized Amherst Tech TV program based on Adobe® Visual Communicator® software. The program's website, AmherstTechTV.org, serves as a model for other schools, and Zdrojewski both advises and trains fellow educators in TV production.