Ceiling Lights For Video: Converting Them into Useful Box Lights

We all have overhead lights in our homes and offices. They’re great for general illumination or when you’re trying to find something, but for video, they suck.

Crappy shadows especially if you have glasses because they’re usually a point source. 

How can we make them work for us? And how do we contain the light spill from it?

Let's use a type of light we make on film sets called a coffin or box light.

Box Lights

What we used to do, build a square or rectangle out of batten, attached foam core to the sides, white side in, black side out.

Box light frame we would build onset with wood batten, fluorescents, and diffusion.

Foamcore would be added to the sides and top, white side in, to contain light spill.

We would attach fluorescents to top of the frame, and diffusion at the bottom. If needed, drape a duvetyn skirt to the sides and hang the whole from the ceiling. Great for soft pools of light on pool tables, card games, and the like.

We were building large soft boxes. Sometimes 4’x8’ in size.

Basically, we were building a softbox, just a custom version. So we can do the same with our ceiling light. We need to make it wider and therefore softer. No longer a bright point source and contain that spill. Well, Manu moved into a new office so we’ll use his ceiling light as a guinea pig.

Building the Box Light

First, we decided on the size of the frame by using stretch canvas frames from an art store, normally used for oil painting. The sides come in many different sizes and artist normally put them together using their built-in tongue and groove corners, and stretch canvas across them. Nice.

Canvas stretch frames with tongue and grove corners for easily assembly.

We’ll just stretch silk material over it, the same one we bought on Amazon for our own diffusion frames. 

We decided on 24x24” frame and we’re using 1/4” MDF board to hang it from.

We bought plastic Edison light mounts but you can buy porcelain as well. We stretch our fabric around the frame and staple it. We’re going to use LED bulbs that generate almost no heat. Four 60 watts equivalent dimmable, at 800 lumens each, 3200 lumens total.

Four Edison sockets mounted to 1/4” MDF for our box light base.

We attach them to the board and wire them up, hots all together and the neutral which we’ll attach to the ceiling.

We attach the frame using screw eyes and light chain. We decided on 14” drop. Gave us enough distance for the bulbs.

Our diffusion frame hanging with chain from our MDF base. Now we need to add the sides and duvetyne skirt.

We added showcard to the sides, white side in, to help reflect light back in and we cut out vent holes. Very little heat but just in case.

We added velcro to the bottom of the sides for adding a black skirt. We can roll it up using clothespins or binder clips

The skirt helps keep the light spill of our walls. Generally, a night interior look is sold by cutting light off the tops of the walls. There’s not daylight spilling light everywhere, just localized light.

Our box ceiling light with showcard sides and a duvetyne skirt to focus a soft beam of light straight down.

We replaced the light switch with an electronic dimmer which works with dimmable LED bulbs.

Other Solutions

Could you do something simpler? If you have a fluorescent it’s already a wide source, just put in high CRI daylight bulbs, 80 CRI or higher, and 5000 k. 

And attach a duvetyne skirt to it. You can also throw in sheets of 216 or opal inside the fluorescent cover to help spread out the two bulb hot spots if you like.

If you’re thinking china lantern, I would say maybe. They’re great for adding ambient light because they spread light 360. But here, we don’t want that and also, the can hang very low. An 18” hangs 18” down into our precious frame.

So turn those despicable overhead lights into something glorious and filmic for your productions.

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