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Lighting Basics for Video Making. Everything You Need to Know About Lighting for Video.

videographerQuality lighting will make your video look MUCH better, no matter what kind of video you are making or what kind of camera you are using.

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 FOR VIDEO: 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. That right there 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 are two video tutorial showing you the basics of lighting that I just mentioned. Below the video is a second tutorial more info on video lighting basics. Every beginner video maker should watch these two videos.

Make Use of Natural Light to Make it Easier

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. Installing shutters on your windows instead of curtains might be a good way to control the light coming in. With shutters, you can open and close each individual one as you want, meaning that for video production, they may be ideal as you can adjust how much or how little light comes in. They will be available from most places, such as on the shuttercraft website for example.

lighting for video production tips
I used the windows and the ceiling lights for this interview set-up. You can see the camera tripod in front of the door, pointing to where the interview subject will be.

If you do set up supplemental lights, you don’t necessarily need to use fancy lights or professional lights. (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. If there is a specific room that you film in, perhaps installing some wall-mounted gooseneck lights would be wise. 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 given in degrees kelvin. On this scale, sunlight, which looks blue to a video camera, measures about 5700 degrees kelvin and incandescent bulbs, which are seen as orange by a video camera, come in at 3200 degrees Kelvin. Sunlight actually changes its color temperature throughout the day.

Degrees kelvin is a measurement of color, not physical temperature, like standard hot and cold. The image below gives you all the color temperatures of the many different sources of light.

temperature scale and lighting

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.

TWO TYPES OF LIGHT: DIRECT AND DIFFUSED

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 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.

Lighting Basics for Video Making

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.

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. Don’t make this mistake, position yourself so the light is not behind you.

Good lighting for video 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 just learned.

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

Lorraine Grula

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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. 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.
    Lorraine

  2. 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.
    Lorraine

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!
    Lorraine

  5. 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.
    Lorraine

  6. 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.
    Mike

  7. Pingback: go learn web.
  8. 1 THOUSAND thank yous to you Lorraine! You explain very well, (and leave out unnecessary confusing info for us amateurs )
    I’ve read MANY articles/asked photography-video people about which type of lights and ……………..
    You my lady are practical, simple, back to basics, and communicate it in the same way! Perhaps its the artistic-creative side of me instead of the “computer” high tech brain of other people.
    Sincerely,
    Hayko Inukai Pattison
    Chef Instructor

  9. Hi Kayko.

    Thanks so much for your comment, it made me smile. I am very glad you enjoyed the tutorials. I really enjoy helping people learn video.

    Lorraine

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