While trying to figure out the best way to light your film, you’ve probably heard about Fresnel Lights. Fresnel lights are a tool found on almost any film industry (or theater) set in the world, and are an essential part of any cinematic tool kit.
We’re going to be discussing what Fresnel lamps are, their pros and cons, how they can be used in your films, and finally, where you can buy some for yourself!
What Are Fresnel Lights?
Fresnel Lights, (pronounced fray-NEL – It’s French), are lights commonly used in theater and cinematic productions. They may also be referred to as wash lights.
While people simply refer to them as Fresnel lights or lanterns, Fresnel lights are comprised simply of regular bulbs and a Fresnel Lens. The Fresnel Lens Designed by Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the 1800s. He was a french physicist developing lenses for lighthouses. You know, those large towers with massive, long-distance, uniform beams of light.
While Fresnels are mostly renowned for their use in live theater, they are still a very essential part of any filmmaking arsenal. They are known for their even light distribution and being very simple and straightforward to use, control, and redirect.
Here’s a diagram demonstrating how Fresnel lenses differ from traditional ones.
As you can see, The ridges around the lens redirect the light and cause the light to be consistent in strength at all points of the beam, rather than being stronger in the center. This creates a soft, completely even beam of light. It’s perfect for going direct with no diffusion, or for shaping the set in general.
Fun fact: When light is shot into a Fresnel lens from the opposite direction, it is concentrated into one point, making it ideal for heating pools, car headlights, or concentrating light into photovoltaic cells.
Pros And Cons Of Using Fresnel Lights
Like any type of lighting solution, there are some benefits and drawbacks to using Fresnel lights on your set.
- Very even lighting distribution
- Easy to control
- Easy to focus and cut with flags
- One of the most flattering direct lights
- Produces excellent crisp shadows
- Less bright than open face bulbs
- Less heat buildup than plano-convex lenses
- If you don’t want light scattered uniformly, you need a different lens.
- Hard to pronounce (haha)
How Fresnel Lights Are Used
Fresnel housings are some of the most common lighting devices you can find on a film set, but how are they used? Here are some of the most common applications of Fresnel lights in cinema.
- Used as sources for a three-point-lighting setup.
- Hard key for dramatic lighting / shadows.
- Artificial sunlight shining through windows.
- Direct lighting without diffusion.
- Lighting a very specific area with flags.
- Just about anything else!
Note: In live theater, Fresnels are typically used to back and top lighting from medium-ranged distances. The beam is quite soft and flattering as mentioned before, so it can also be used as a direct light source.
Now, let’s talk about a few accessories that are commonly used with a Fresnel light.
Barn doors are an attachment included with many Fresnel lantern kits that allows you to control the shape of the beam of light. They work especially well with Fresnels because it is a hard, consistent source. They are necessary for keeping light exactly where you want it, and are most common on smaller light sources.
Scrims are metal screens which you can mount in front of your Fresnel to reduce the intensity of the light. These are necessary if you are using Tungsten bulbs, or LEDs that don’t feature dimming functionality.
Gels are colored filters that can be placed in front of your lights to change the color of your Fresnel. This is useful for stylistic colored shots, or even just changing the color temperature aesthetic of your scene.
Where To Buy Fresnel Lights
Now that you know how they work and how they should be used, you might be wondering where you can buy some Fresnel lights. You can find them at most film equipment warehouses, or on Amazon. We’ll provide the links to some of our recommendations down below!
Note: Heads up, if you’re working under a key gaffer who is telling you what he needs, most Fresnel lights have industry nicknames. Here’s a rundown of what they’re called.
- 100W = Inky
- 200W = Midget
- 650W = Tweenie
- 1k Watts = Baby
- 2k Watts = Junior
- 5k Watt = Senior
If you want professional grade, best of the best lights, we recommend a brand like Arri. Arri is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to camera and lighting equipment.
Yeah, if you know anything about how the film industry, you definitely recognize these Arri lights. There’s not much explaining to do here. It’s simply the best product on the market, and the gold standard on everything up to and including Hollywood blockbusters.
If you aren’t working on an industry-grade set and you just want a few Fresnel lights for your own personal collection, there are some much cheaper options.
We recommend this 150W LED Fresnel from Ashanks. It get’s the job done for all consumer-level lighting needs, and has some awesome features like dimmability, focus adjustments, barn doors, and a wireless remote control.
You can even use included filters to change the color temperature! Reviewers are very impressed with it’s performance, and it’s the perfect fit for any small studio.
They also have a 100W model available for about $100 less if you don’t need as much wattage.
Note: If you’re going to be needing several heavy-duty, expensive fresnels for only a few shooting dates, we recommend going through a local rental house instead.
LED vs Tungsten Fresnels
When shopping around for Fresnels, you may notice that there will be several options in terms of bulb type. Some fresnels utilize LEDs, while others feature tungsten bulbs. So what is the difference between these two varieties?
Many Gaffers and Cinematographers like the color produced by tungsten bulbs as opposed to the LEDs, but there are many drawbacks to using them. Tungsten bulbs are very power intensive, and can generate a great amount of heat. These can sometimes even be very dangerous to handle and require special gloves to change when they get too hot.
LED fresnels are a more modern solution. They stay cool for longer periods, use less electricity, and often have features that allow them to be dimmed. Some may also be able to switch between warm and cool color temperatures on the fly without requiring additional filters. Unfortunately, a large LED can be much more expensive, so tungsten bulbs do have plenty of merit.