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How to Create a Bright, Friendly Atmosphere for Your Video: Diffused Lighting

Bright, diffused, and largely shadow less light is the best method of lighting for about 85% of all video production applications.  Bright, diffused light creates a pleasant, natural-looking atmosphere.

Luckily, this is also the easiest lighting effect to achieve.  One light pointed toward the ceiling might be enough.

Bright, diffused light is what you find in the vast majority of offices, schools, stores and homes.  So it looks perfectly natural and translates well onto video tape.  Light bulbs are painted white and lamp shades are used to help make the light more diffused.

Outside light is diffused on cloudy, overcast days.  A sunny day gives you direct light, which has deep, dark shadows.

This butterfly picture was taken on a cloudy day so the light is very diffused. There are hardly any shadows. Clouds act like a diffusion filter and cause the light to bounce every-which-way. T
This butterfly picture was taken on a cloudy day so the light is very diffused. There are hardly any shadows. Clouds act like a diffusion filter and cause the light to bounce every-which-way.

 

Diffused light means the light is coming from all directions, it is everywhere.  direct light is coming from one source.

Remember the two basic types of light:

  • Diffused
  • Directional

Directional light means an uninhibited beam of light is pointing straight at something.  The light is harsh, creating deep shadows.  Picture a cloudless day with the sun beating done intently.

Diffused light is the opposite of directional light.  Diffused light is bouncing everywhere.  It’s soft, and creates almost no shadows.  What shadows do exist have soft, fuzzy edges.  Picture a day that’s totally overcast with lots of clouds.

Supplemental lighting fixtures for video are almost exclusively tungsten-halogen, which by itself is very harsh.  Lamps (bulbs) made for photographic light fixtures are never coated with white paint to create diffusion in the same way standard incandescent light bulbs sold for home use are painted.  So if you want diffused light in your video production, you must take one of these measures:

  • Bouncing the light against the wall, ceiling or a reflector
  • Cover your light with a diffusion gel
  • Bounce the light against a photographic umbrella
  • Diffuse the light using a soft box

Bouncing the light is simple.  It requires no tools.  Just point your light at the ceiling or wall.  Ideally, the light should be about one foot away from the ceiling or wall to do this.  White walls and ceilings are best.  If the ceiling is too high or the walls are painted black, bounce the light against a white poster board you buy for a buck.  (Keep the poster board at least two feet from your fixture or fire is a real danger.)

Most ceilings are white, which is the perfect color to bounce off.  Light being bounced off the ceiling fills the entire room with bright illumination and looks perfectly natural on camera.

Even bouncing one light will make a small or medium sized room bright enough to capture beautiful video.

If you want to progress beyond bouncing, the tools you need for diffusing your lights are simple and fairly inexpensive.  They include reflectors, diffusion gels, photographic umbrellas and soft boxes.

In this professional light kit, you see two softboxes and one umbrella. Both are used to diffuse the light.
In this professional light kit, you see two softboxes and one umbrella. Both are used to diffuse the light.

Diffusion gels look like semi-transparent cloth.  Diffusion gels are much like color gels and they are clipped onto the front of your light.  The come in different densities.  Most density gels don’t provide enough diffusion in my opinion and they’re fairly worthless, but they help a little bit.

Umbrellas can be attached to the light fixture easily, then removed and folded for easy storage.  Umbrellas work by giving the light a bright surface to bounce off that’s only about one foot away.  Some umbrellas are silver.  More expensive ones are white on the inside and black on the outside.  Umbrellas produce beautiful diffused light.  One light on an umbrella might be plenty if your shooting area is small.

Soft boxes are a step above umbrellas, but they are really only practical for face shots because the beam of light they put out is quite small.  This is because soft boxes not only diffuse the light, they make it directional.  A soft box light will need to be placed extremely close to your subject to work well.

Soft boxes are made of heavy-duty flame resistant cloth.  They come with a flexible metallic frame that you stretch the cloth over and then fit over the light.  The inside of the soft box if very reflective.  The outside is black.  The front of the box is heavy diffusion cloth.  The black sides of the box shape the diffused light coming out the front into a directional beam that looks positively magnificent on a face.  Soft boxes are by far the prettiest diffused light method for face shots.

One word of caution about diffusing your lights.  Whenever you diffuse a light source, you decrease its intensity.  A soft box is not feasible with anything less than a 500 watt lamp because the intensive diffusion knocks the light’s intensity down so far.  I always use a 1000 watt lamp with a soft box.  the amount of light you get with a 1,000 watt lamp and a soft box is not very bright, but it sure is pretty.

Bouncing the light off the ceiling doesn’t knock the intensity down very far at all and the resulting diffusion you get is well worth this slight decrease in intensity.

Bouncing the light will also help your on-camera people feel more comfortable and they will not squint looking into the lights.


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Lorraine Grula


Lorraine Grula enjoyed a fast-paced, multifaceted career in the television and video business, producing, shooting, writing, and editing documentary-style videos in both news and corporate settings. Later, she got to teach media and video production in two high schools, which then morphed into instructional design and corporate training. Lorraine is now dedicated to sharing her vast knowledge with others who wish to learn the art of video making, with an emphasis on storytelling and creating professional-quality videos for the internet as simply, yet creatively as possible.

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  1. Thank you for this post, it was really interesting to read. I was looking for new product reviews about a Elinchrom Rotalux softbox but this was nice to read also.

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