Build your own DIY Kino Flo style lights with incandescent bulbs
There is no doubt that Kino Flo produce some very good lights. But they’re not exactly easy on the wallet. Sure, you can go out and buy several fluorescent tube fittings and try to build your own that way. But, like any fluorescent light, including the Kino Flos, they’re not always the most colour accurate. Incandescent tungsten light bulbs, however, are a different story entirely.
In this DIY tutorial from Indy Mogul, DP James Codeglia shows us how we can build our own. In the movies, these types of lights are called “covered wagons”. James has used lights like these while working on several movies with J.J. Abrams. They’re a similar size and form factor to the Kino Flo lights, and can put out a decent amount of power but are way less expensive.
The construction is simple. It’s essentially a board with lights attached. To reduce the height profile of the unit, James added small blocks of wood to the long plank using wood glue and mounted the lights sideways. With the bulbs mounted this way, they’re a lot closer to the wood. So, thin aluminium panels are screwed onto the board to act as reflectors and help bounce even more light forwards. They also help to prevent the lights form burning the wooden board.
The lights are wired in parallel so that if one bulb blows, the others will remain lit. It obviously won’t provide full power until the bulb is replaced, but at least it doesn’t die completely.
After the sockets are mounted, a speed rail is also added, which allows it to be held by a grip head on a C stand. Then a cage assembly is added over the top of everything. This helps to hold the diffusion material evenly and a distance from the lights.
Exactly how you attach this cage is up to you, but if you nail it down, it’s going to be difficult to swap out a bulb if one blows in the middle. Nailing it down does present the most secure option, though. And as shown in the video, you can always cut out the centre piece of wire to provide easy access to the inner bulbs.
Finally, it’s just a case of adding gels or diffusion material. Remember, though, that these are incandescent bulbs. That means they’ll get hot. Very hot. So whatever you use to colour or diffuse your lights, make sure it’s rated to handle decent temperatures.
You can take them a step further by adding dimmers to adjust their brightness. This is something James mentions in the video as something he’ll do to these in the future.
A fantastic and inexpensive DIY alternative, especially if your shooting area is a little on the chilly side.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.