Lighting Basics for Video Making

videographerQuality lighting will make your video look MUCH better, no matter what kind of video you are making. That doesn’t mean it has to be hard.   Nor do you have to rely on a bunch of expensive professional equipment. I show you how to get great lighting just using desk lamps and windows.

If you are able to learn the basic principles of lighting, then you can adapt whatever equipment and supplies you have and make it all work. This post, plus a few others that are linked to here, will tell you everything you need to know to achieve quality, professional-looking lighting for your video production.

This post is a jackpot of information about lighting for video, containing three video tutorials you can watch now!

Watch the first video to discover how to get professional-looking lighting on your talking head video.

I show you a technique for easy three point lighting.  You’ll also discover the critical differences between direct lighting and diffused lighting on the face. Help! I look old enough! Lighting is everything on faces!

The second video shows you even more tips on basic lighting techniques.   Then, the third shows you an incredibly easy and cheap way to drastically improve your lighting by diffusing it. Using a cool lamp (a compact florescent) I was able to use a standard piece of typing paper as diffusion filter!

Enjoy and here’s to better video making!

For even more free video tutorials on lighting for video, click here for another detailed post from your friends at Video Production Tips!

Making it Easy!

For easy video production, learn to make use of natural light.  By natural light I mean any light streaming in through the windows or doors and any light coming from any lamp available in the room.  The first thing I always do is see if I can open up the blinds and curtains and let the sun shine in!  I also use simple home light fixtures to supplement that natural light.   You can achieve very professional looking lighting this way, you just need to know a few tips about how to place the lights relative to your subject.

lighting for video production tips

I used the windows and the ceiling light to light  this interview.

If you do set up supplemental lights, you don’t need to use fancy lights or professional lights at all.  (Although they are nice!)  I often use desk lamps and floor lamps with regular bulbs or compact florescent bulbs.

I like to use gooseneck lamps because they are easy to point exactly where you want.  Clip on lights are very handy and can be tucked in anywhere.  With these small low-wattage lights you can actually point them directly where you want the light, even if that is right in someone‘s face, it is not too bright or uncomfortable to do that.   Normally you point a light away from someone’s face in order to diffuse it but a low wattage bulb pointed right at someone’s face can highlight the face real well and it will be reasonably diffused due to the white paint inside the glass of the bulb.

Now, home lighting fixtures use regular bulbs, which is fine. Really. Light coming from any source will do for video making.  There are some issues with using light from different sources, like sunlight vs. incandescent.   You might have heard about something called the Kelvin color temperature scale and lighting. That has to do with different light sources providing light of different colors and that can mess up the color of your video.  Sunlight is blue at about 5700 kelvin and incandescent bulbs are orange at 3200 degrees Kelvin.

temperature scale and lighting

While this is true, it’s one of those things you do not have to be too concerned with in most cases.  Modern cameras do not have much problem with mixed light.  If your shot looks too orange or too blue, this is probably the issue but more than likely a bit of a mix will be ok.  If you want to learn more about this, read this post on white balancing and color temperature for video.

Let me give you some background information on lighting so you can better understand how to make ANY situation you are in work as best as possible.

When you are talking about light it can be broken into two broad categories.   Direct light and diffused light. There are examples of both all around you.  Let’s first talk about the sun, which is the ultimate light source.   On a sunny day, you have 100% direct light.  The light is glaring down at you and coming from one direction only.    Light travels in a straight line and can bounce, but not bend.  A bright sunny day has harsh, deep, dark shadows.  The edges of the shadow are distinct.

Lighting Basics for Video Making

Light becomes diffused when it gets bounced around.  Clouds act to diffuse the sunlight.  The light hits the bright, reflective water particles and bounces around in straight lines and predictable angles.  On a completely overcast day, you have 100% diffused light.  There will not be ANY shadows.  There is so much light bouncing around, that it is essentially coming from everywhere all at the same time.  All shadows get filled in.

Now you know the two extremes of 100% direct and 100% diffused light.  Most light is somewhere in between. The fastest and easiest way to tell is look for shadows.  How dark are the shadows?  How distinct is the line of the shadow?  The more blurry the line of the shadow the more diffused the light.

Room light is usually fairly diffused.  In fact, we as domesticated humans usually go to some effort to diffuse our room light since diffused light is easier on the eyes.  Lamp shades, the inside of light bulbs painted white, all those are efforts to diffuse the light.

If you look at a professional light kit, all the accessories are gizmos and gadgets that exist to either direct your light or diffuse it.   Barn doors are used to direct the light and point it at a small area.  Black aluminum foils are also used for that purpose.

Lighting Basics for Video Making

A photographic umbrella is used to bounce the light.  It gives you a moderate level of diffusion.  A soft box gives you a higher level of diffusion than an umbrella.  You also have all kinds of filters, cloths and gels you can buy for your lights to provide diffusion.  They are measured in percentages.

One super easy way to achieve diffused light without having ANY special equipment is to point the light, not at the face, but at the ceiling or a wall. It will bounce against the ceiling or wall and hit the face as diffused light.

Diffused light is kinder to the face.  Diffused light is softer.  Wrinkles, bumps and other imperfections show much less under diffused light.  This means the vast majority of video should be lit with diffused light.

Now that you know about diffused and direct light, the next thing to talk about is what direction the light is coming from.  The direction the light is coming from makes a big difference in lighting.

The biggest mistake I see in talking head videos is bad lighting, with the light coming from BEHIND the person. Light coming from behind the person will create a silhouette.  Sometimes this can look nice and if you are trying to hide someone’s identity, this is what you want.  But 99% of the time, this is the OPPOSITE of what you want.  You want your light falling on the person’s face, not behind it.

silhouette lighting

Silhouette lighting has its place. This shot of my daughter is gorgeous but you do not want to light a talking head video this way unless you are trying to hide their identity.

I see lots of ceiling light fixtures and other lamps right behind someone’s head in webcam videos.  Position yourself so the light is not behind you. Good lighting is all about positioning.  Experiment around with what you have and make it look as best as possible just by following the basic concepts you have not just learned!

Thanks for reading Video Production Tips, I wish you happy video making!

Lorraine Grula


  1. Good Article!!! It makes a huge difference, I recommend this tips to anyone.

    Mark Burykin
    Tampa Video Production

  2. desk lamps that uses compact fluorescent bulbs are much better than those that still uses incandescent lamps:.”

  3. Hi Mobile Hard Drive
    I indeed love compact fluorescent bulbs. They are color balanced to day light and they do not get hot. They use less electricity too. Incandescent bulbs get hot and are orange compared to day light. They still work though. I am a firm believer in that you can pretty much make anything work if you know how. Since compact fluorescent bulbs do not get hot, I have even used regular typing paper as a diffusion filter. I demonstrate that in the third video on this page. You could not do that with a bulb that gets hot or it is a fire hazard. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  4. ligh emitting diodes for home lighting are the best because they consume less electricity**`

  5. Hi Compatible ink.
    Light emitting diodes (LED) are wonderful because they stay very cool and use very little electricity. I have some in my kitchen and I love them at night. I have never used the ones made for video, but in looking at them, it seems like they are a tad expensive and do not put out a great deal of light. Of course cameras today do not need tons of light.

    UPDATE I now have used the LED lights for video. I LOVED them. Because they take such a small amount of electricity, the lights ran off standard AA batteries. The batteries will last forever. I love how cool the light stayed. They put out plenty of light. The only con against these lights is expense. They are quite a bit more money than old-fashioned tungsten lights.

  6. well, there are already Light Emitting Diode base floor lamps these days-`~

  7. Chris Dilworth says:

    thanks very much for your lighting tips. I will go right away and start to apply. I an Electrician and sometime I am ask to do gaffer work. I don’t have a clue what is. I am told to do with lighting technique etc.

  8. Hi Chris.
    Glad the lighting demonstrations helped you. A gaffer is defined as the chief electrician on a TV or film set. Normally, a gaffer would not be in charge of the artistic aspects of lighting but just those things directly related to electrical issues. Good luck and have fun!

  9. i am using LED lights for our home lighting because they can save my electric bills ,~.

  10. Hi CC Running Shoes
    LED lights are fantastic for home use. They do indeed save a ton on the electric bill. Not only do they use less electricity to begin with but they do not create heat. I have heard incandescent bulbs referred to as little heat factories that happen to put out a bit of light. Thanks for visiting Video Production Tips.

  11. *.” I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives great information `**

  12. Lorraine, Thanks for the great tips. I know I will use them all. I hope you do not mind I have put a link to your site on mine. If you would like it removed just let me know.

  13. Hi Mike.

    Links back to my site from other wonderful sites like yours are always welcome! Glad to help.


  14. Thanks for your good Tips!

  15. I can unquestionably tell that you know what you are talking about! I wish a lot more people today wrote as well as you and had as much comprehensive expertise on their subject matter.

  16. forums that are across the same subject matter? Thanks a ton!


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