What's The Best Light for Stop Motion?

When people start experimenting with stop motion, they usually concentrate on learning how to make objects move. But what most of them don't realize is that lighting a scene is also as crucial.

We sincerely believe that even the simplest stop motion animation would look cinematic with correct lighting. So we're here to give you the rundown on how to light your sets properly and achieve professional-looking social media clips!


The sun isn't stop motion's best friend.


You can always create quick stop motion clips with the sun as your light source. But if you're animating hundreds of frames, we don't recommend you use natural light at all.

Why? Mainly because the sun moves throughout the day. Even animating a few frames could take you five minutes. And by the time you finished shooting your last frame, the sun would have already been in a different position.

Clouds can also cause issues when animating. If you're shooting on a cloudy day, the light coming from the sun would vary depending on the cloud coverage.


So, what type of light source should you use then?


Since you can't use natural light (the sun), the next best option is to use artificial light.


There are all sorts of artificial lights you can use for stop motion animation. Let's check out some of the most popular options for you!


Desk Lamps


If you're still learning stop motion, desk lamps are the best options for you because they're readily available.

But if your lamp has an orange incandescent light bulb, we highly suggest that you replace it with a daylight-balanced version. Why? Because you'd want your light to match that of the sun's as much as possible.


Sure, the daylight-balanced bulbs from your local store don't always give you a hyper-realistic sunlit look, but it's still a whole lot better than using an orange incandescent bulb.

LED Lights


These days, LED lights are more common than standard incandescent bulbs. They're not only brighter, but they also use less electricity.

What makes LED lights perfect for stop motion is the fact that they come in different colors. Some types of LEDs even let you change colors through a remote or an app!


You can get LED light bulbs that easily screw into standard desk lamps, but you could also buy panels or lamps with built-in LED bulbs.


Continuous Studio Lights


If you're ready to try professional lighting, you should consider getting continuous studio lights.

There are so many types of professional lighting for stop motion. Some of the most common include incandescent, fluorescent, Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide (a.k.a. HMI), and LEDs.

In our studio, we use the Godox SL60W. It's a little more than a hundred dollars, but it's truly an affordable professional option. It has a Bowens mount to allow you to attach all sorts of lighting accessories from softboxes to snoots.


Flash


Flash is one of the more unusual choices for lighting stop motion scenes. But many animators with a photography background (like us!) use it a lot.

So why should you use flash? Well, mainly because it's already available to you if you're a photographer.


But flash also offers a lot of benefits that continuous lights can't. First, it's many times brighter than constant light sources. Second, it also tends to create punchier lighting than other options.

The problem with flash is that it uses a lot of power. You'll also cause a lot of wear and tear to your flash unit if you use it to animate hundreds or thousands of frames.

So our recommendation is only to use if it's the only professional light source you have and if you're only animating fifty frames or less.


Before using the light, test it for flicker!


Have you ever tried recording someone on your phone in slow motion while indoors? Whenever you do that, do you notice a flickering effect? That's also what happens when you use the wrong light when animating.


Flickering can be so distracting that it can ruin good animations such as the one you see below.

Although our eyes may not notice it, artificial lights don't produce light with constant intensity. Instead, they release energy in super-fast pulses that humans usually can't detect.


But since a camera captures a scene frame by frame, there are times when it ends up capturing the minute changes produced by these light sources. As a result, you end up with a flickering effect that's impossible to fix in post-production.


So how do you fix flickering?


Unfortunately, you can't fix flickering in post. That's why you must prevent it from happening in the first place.


Knowing which lighting to use will require some trial and error. Sometimes, even professional lights can cause flickering.


To test if your light causes flickering, turn your camera's timelapse mode. Set it to take pictures of your scene using the light you want to use. Let your camera automatically take a series of pictures for about a minute.

If you use the wrong light, you'll end up with a flickering effect you see above

After you finish your timelapse, playback your footage and check whether you notice flickering. If there's any, you need to consider using another light.


Another option is to look at some of the most popular bulbs that other stop motion artists use. For instance, we can guarantee you that the SL60W doesn't produce any flicker since we work with it regularly (and so does Youtube stop motion animator Animist!).

You can also prevent flickering with a manual lens!


Even when you use a light source that doesn't cause flickering, you may still end up with flickery animation if you're using the wrong lens.


The truth is that many newer lenses with electronic parts in them are prone to causing flickering.

An old Nikkor manual focus lens from a Nikon film camera

Why? Because even when disabled, the internal circuitry that controls autofocus may still sometimes make the aperture move ever so slightly and cause flickering.


If you suspect your lens is the culprit behind your flickery animations, consider using a manual lens instead.


So why a manual lens? Since it has purely mechanical parts, the aperture won't accidentally move due to errant signals from any electronic circuitry.

A closeup of a manual lens aperture

Thankfully, manual lenses are exponentially cheaper than modern electronic lenses. You can buy them used often several hundred dollars lesser than newer options.


Although manual lenses are older, they often fit camera brands such as Nikon and Canon that had cameras back in the days of film.


But even if you have a modern digital camera such as Sony that never had any film-based products, you can still buy an adaptor for them to allow you to use manual lenses.


Of course, using a manual lens isn't necessarily a prerequisite. If the autofocus lens you already have doesn't cause you any problems, then why change it? But at least in case flickering does occur, you'll know exactly what to do.

 

Now that you know which type of light sources to use, it's time to learn how to work with them to capture professional-level animated clips! Let's head to Part II next week to learn more!