Quality lighting for video doesn’t have to be difficult. You do not have to rely on a bunch of expensive professional equipment either, although professional light kits are great.
LIGHTING BASICS: THE KEYS TO GOOD LIGHTING
The biggest things that matter are the placement of the light relative to your subject and the amount of diffusion. These are the basics of video lighting.
If you are able to learn these basic principles of lighting, then you can adapt whatever equipment and supplies you have and make it all work.
This post will tell you the basics of what you need to know to achieve quality, professional-looking lighting for your video production.
First, here is a video tutorial showing you the basics of lighting that I just mentioned. Below the video is more info on lighting basics.
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 when videotaping 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.
Now you may have heard that you should do the exact opposite of what I just said. Lots of video production advice will tell you to block out all the window light and set up your own lights. Well, if you want to spend a lot of time lighting every inch of your scene that indeed, that is the way to go. However, that is really time consuming and takes lots of professional light fixtures. I promise that using natural light works, you just have to know how to do it.
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. A low wattage bulb (20 watts or so) is not too bright or uncomfortable to do that.
Normally you point a light away from someone’s face and at the ceiling or wall 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, most home lighting fixtures use regular incandescent bulbs, which is fine. Really. Light coming from any source will do for video making, although there can be some color issues. This is because the color of light changes, depending on the source. Most light looks white to the human eye, but not to a video camera. For example. sunlight is blue and incandescent is orange when seen by a video camera.
You might have heard about something called the Kelvin color temperature scale and lighting.
The kelvin color temperature scale is how the color of light is measured. The scale is in degrees kelvin. Sunlight is blue at about 5700 degrees kelvin and incandescent bulbs are orange at 3200 degrees Kelvin.
Degrees kelvin is a measurement of color, not physical temperature, like standard hot and cold. The image below gives you all the color temperatures.
Video cameras have an adjustment on them called “white balancing” which adjusts the color balance so your shot’s colors look natural.
And honestly, unless you are shooting professionally, 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 and will still get natural looking color.
If your shot looks too orange or too blue, a bad white balance is probably the issue but more than likely, a bit of a mix will be ok because the camera will be able to handle it. If you want to learn more about this, read this post on white balancing and color temperature for video.
Now let me give you some additional 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.
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 at 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.
A photographic umbrella is used to bounce the light. Umbrellas give 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.
DIRECTION IS IMPORTANT
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.
I see lots of ceiling light fixtures and other lamps right behind someone’s head in webcam videos. Don’t make this mistake, 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!