If you’re just starting out, lighting for video 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. But there are further nuances to light and shadow to consider when planning a video shoot.
The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to prepare and plan properly. We’ll guide you through the process we use to get perfect lighting for all your videos.
Step 1: Prepare for the shoot
Whether you’re doing photography or video, it’s a good idea to scout your location ahead of time. Consider the natural lighting entering through windows and casting shadows – be wary that weather can change quickly. If you have an adequate set of lights (we’ll get into what qualifies as adequate shortly) it’s best to avoid this natural light due to its volatile nature. Natural lighting can change in an instant if the sun decides to hide behind clouds, and for video this can be a big issue as lighting changes from shot to shot. The best shooting environment is one in which you have as much control over lighting as possible.
Step 2: Pick out your lighting options and types
At TechSmith we have a drawer full of cheap clamp lights. At around $10 a pop these lights are versatile and can be mounted in a variety of ways. Unfortunately lack of dimming control and included diffusion can lead to harsh lighting. Light with no filter is known as hard light. Diffusion helps spread light evenly, creating soft light, and can be improvised even on a budget. So when working with clamps lights it is highly suggested to use some type of diffusion material. These lights can also be bounced off a surface like a wall, ceiling, or reflector to create soft light, which is infinitely preferable to blinding your subject and creating an unflattering image.
Sets of purpose-built studio lights can be acquired for $100-$500 with everything you need to set up. These sets commonly use large florescent lights and include effective diffusion material. Kits with included stands are much better for quickly setting up lighting and generally provide higher total light output. Often these lights have a few switches on the back to control the number of lit bulbs, which provides a greater level of control over your total output.
In the higher price range of lighting options it’s likely you’ll be paying 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 investing in these lights it’s a good idea to rent them locally or online and ensure they’ll suit your needs. If shooting video is something you plan to do on a regular basis, it may be worth the investment 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 do just as well for basic shoots.
Step 3: Set up 3-point lighting
The most common setup for lights is called 3 point lighting. This configuration consists of a key light, a fill light, and a backlight which can also be called a hairlight. The key light should be brightest of the three and provides the bulk of light to your subject. The fill light eliminates shadows caused by the key light. Your fill should be less intense than your key so while it still eliminates shadows, it doesn’t match your key light so closely it creates a flat looking shot. The backlight separates your subject from the background, creating depth and also preventing a flat looking shot. Your backlight can be hard light (no diffusion) as it won’t create shadows visible to the camera on the subjects face regardless.
3 point lighting
3 point lighting will serve you well in interview setups, promo videos, webinars, and a variety of other shooting situations.
Step 4: Choose your light color temperature
Not all lights are created equal. Based on the filament in the bulb, lights can appear “cooler” or “warmer” on camera. This is perceivable with the human eye as well. Consider how a doctor’s office looks (cool fluorescent light) compared to a comfortable living room setting (warm tungsten light.) This concept is called color temperature and can be measured on a scale of kelvin (see image below.) If avoidable, it’s best not to mix lights of different color temperatures. If lights are mixed temperature it 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
Glasses wearers, while generally considered to be amicable and friendly folks, can be your worst enemy when it comes to lighting. Glare on glasses can be a big issue, especially lights with larger diffusion boxes. One trick that helps with glasses is raising up your lights higher on their stands. If you have someone who can assist, have them raise the lights and 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 3-point lighting image above, your key would be closer to 3:15 and your fill would be 8:45. If your talent is comfortable with removing their glasses, that’s always a good last resort but certainly not always an option. It’s best to accommodate your shooting subject as best you can before asking them to adjust their appearance for a technical reason.
With the basics down, feel free to experiment with lighting that works for you. Try adding lights to your backgrounds, shaping lights, adding gels, or try green screen! Just be careful, like many things in video and photography, learning lighting is a slippery slope that can lead to thousands of dollars in equipment and a masters degree in lighting design. Do you have any lighting tips for those on a budget? Anything you’ve learned about that you’d like to share? Join in on the comments below!