How to Get the Perfect Lighting for Video

Perfect Lighting

Let’s be honest, learning how to get good lighting for your videos can be intimidating for beginners.

If you’re just starting out with video production, lighting your video shoot can be tricky. There is a big difference in how our eyes perceive light compared to a camera lens.

Cameras need WAY more light to produce a quality image than you might imagine. Additionally, that light needs to come from the right direction.

If you haven’t invested time or money into your lighting process, it’s time to start.

Do yourself a HUGE favor and prepare and plan properly.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional to get great lighting!

We’ll guide you through the process we use here at TechSmith to get the perfect lighting for all your videos, regardless of your budget or experience.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How to get great webcam lighting
  • How to prepare for a video shoot
  • How to choose a lighting type
  • How to set up three-point lighting
  • How to choose your light color temperature
  • How to fix/avoid glare

Free Lighting Course!

Watch this FREE online course by TechSmith Academy to learn the basics of lighting your video.

Watch the free course!

Not all videos need professional lighting, such as (insert examples). But if you do feel that some extra production could be helpful, here are some great tips and tricks for how to get the perfect lighting for video.

Webcam Lighting

Setting up lighting for your webcam doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure you have enough light. If you don’t, add some! We discuss the different types of lighting you can purchase later in this blog.

2. Make sure your face is lit evenly and doesn’t have unwanted shadows. You may have to adjust the position or location of your light sources to do this. 

For a low-budget solution, try shooting with a window behind your camera and the light shining on your face. Using natural light is a great option if it’s available. If not, there are plenty of cheap ring light setups that will work just fine.

For more information specific to webcam lighting, check out this great video:

Get the perfect video lighting setup

Step 1: Prepare for the shoot

It’s always a good idea to look around your location ahead of time. Consider the natural light entering through windows and casting shadows, and be wary that weather can change quickly and affect your lighting. That beautiful sunshine can disappear in an instant.

Even it doesn’t disappear permanently, constantly shifting light as the sun goes behind clouds and re-emerges can wreak havoc on your lighting. Be prepared for any changes or make adjustments to keep your lighting consistent.

The best shooting environment is one where you have as much control over lighting as possible.

Step 2: Choose a lighting type

Video lighting on a budget

Ultimately, if you have some amazing natural light in your shooting location, that’s by far the best (and cheapest) option. However, if you don’t have access to natural light or you find it especially inconsistent for your shooting purposes, there are plenty of other lighting types to choose from.

If you choose natural light, make sure it illuminates your face evenly and doesn’t cause unwanted shadows.

At TechSmith, we have a drawer full of cheap clamp lights. At around $10 each, these lights are versatile and can be mounted in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, the lack of dimming control and diffusion can lead to harsh brightness. 

If you choose this option, use lightbulbs of the same temperature and brightness in each lamp to ensure consistency.

There are a few types of lighting to be aware of as well. Light with no filter is known as hard light. Think of the difference between a lamp with a bare bulb and one with a lampshade. Without the shade, it’s brighter, but the light can be harsh and cast deep shadows.

Diffusion helps spread light evenly, creating soft light, and can be improvised even on a budget. So when working with clamps lights, we highly suggest using some type of diffusion material.

You can buy diffusion paper and tape it over your lights, or even cut up a frosted shower curtain. Feel free to get creative!

These lights can also be bounced off a surface like a wall, ceiling, or reflector to create soft light, which is significantly more preferable to blinding your subject and creating an unflattering image.

The mid-range lighting option

If your budget is a little higher, you can buy purpose-built studio lights for $100-$500 with everything you need to set them up. These studio lighting kits commonly use large lights and include effective diffusion material. However, more and more LED options are available that offer more features and control that are similar to the higher price point choices.

For best results, try to find a kit with included light stands for easier set up. They also generally provide higher total light output. These lights often have a few switches on the back to control the number of lit bulbs, offering  a greater level of control over your total output.

The high-end option

In the higher price range of video lighting kit options, you’ll likely pay as much for one light as you would for a whole mid-range kit.

In turn, you’ll find many more fancy features, such as full-range dimmers, wireless control, ability to change color on the fly, better diffusion, and stronger output.

Before purchasing these lights, it’s a good idea to rent them locally or online and ensure they’ll suit your needs before fully investing in them.

If you plan to shoot high-end camera video on a regular basis, it may be worth the higher price. But unless you have specific requirements for these fancier features, it’s a waste of money to invest in such expensive lights when something cheaper will work just as well for basic shoots.

Step 3: Set up three-point lighting

The most common setup for lights is called three-point lighting. It consists of a key light, a fill light, and a backlight (sometimes called a “hairlight”).

Imagine that your subject is at the center of a clock, with the camera at six.

The key light is located approximately at four. It should be the brightest of the three and provides the bulk of light to your subject.

The fill light is approximately at eight, and eliminates shadows caused by the key light. Your fill should be about half the intensity of your key so that it still eliminates shadows, but doesn’t produce a flat-looking shot due to the fill and key lights matching too closely.

The backlight located somewhere between one and two, separates your subject from the background. This creates depth and prevents a flat-looking shot. Your backlight can be hard light (no diffusion), as it won’t create shadows visible to the camera on the subject’s face.

Pro tip: Look at your subject through your camera’s lens. That way, you’ll be able to see your lighting as your viewers will see it. This perspective may reveal issues you couldn’t see with your own eyes.

Three-point lighting will serve you well if you want to make YouTube videos, demo videos, webinars, and much more!

Three-point lighting will serve you well if you want to make YouTube videos, promo videos, webinars, and much more!


Attribution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX066IHgZEM

Step 4: Choose your light color temperature

Not all lights are created equal. Based on the type of bulb, lights can appear “cooler” or “warmer” on camera. The human eye perceives this difference, too.

Consider how a doctor’s office looks (cool fluorescent light) compared to a comfortable living room setting. Warmer light typically has more yellow color, which cooler light has more white or light blue tones.

This concept is called color temperature, and can be measured on a scale of kelvin (see image below.)

As we stated earlier, it’s best not to mix lights of different color temperatures. I suggest finding daylight color bulbs, which is around 5000K.

For LED, it’s helpful to be able to adjust the color by temperature to ensure even coloration. Mixed temperatures can lead to improper color balance, which can lead to unnatural-looking footage.

Color temperature on a kelvin scale

Step 5: Look out for glare

Glare on glasses can be a big issue, especially with fixtures that have harder, more direct light.

You can often fix it by raising up your lights higher on their stands. If you have someone who can assist, have them raise the lights while you look through the camera viewfinder until the light is no longer visible in the glasses lens.

If raising the lights doesn’t help, try moving your key and fill lights farther out, while keeping them relatively equal to one another.

In the three-point lighting image above, your key would be closer to 3:15, and your fill would be 8:45.

If your subject is comfortable with removing their glasses, that’s always a good last resort, but certainly not always an option — especially if they’re reading from a teleprompter.

It’s best to accommodate your shooting subject as best you can before asking them to adjust their appearance for a technical reason.

Next steps

With the basics down, feel free to experiment with lighting that works for you. If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t be discouraged! Like many other things, lighting takes practice to achieve consistent results. Keep at it, and you’ll be an expert in no time!

For a more in-depth video walkthrough of the lighting process, check out this course from TechSmith Academy.

Free Lighting Course!

Our FREE TechSmith Academy course will walk you through the basics of lighting your video.

Watch the free course!

Frequently asked questions

How much does it cost to light my video?

You don’t have to spend a fortune to light your video if you don’t want to. There are plenty of low-budget or even free options, like natural light. However, if you plan to make videos often or need higher quality, you might spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

What color bulb should I choose?

That depends on what atmosphere you’re going for- blue, “cooler” lights will give you more of a doctor’s office feel, while red, “warmer” lights will feel more like a cozy living room. Regardless of your choice, it’s important to never mix bulb colors.

How do I avoid glare?

Glare isn’t the end of the world. But if it’s bothering you, try raising your lights higher on their stands.

Can I use ring lights for videos?

While ring lights can be ideal for webcam videos, we don’t recommend them for productions where the subject is further away from the camera.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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