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Lighting for Video-Basic Lighting Tips

Did you know that I a cheap, standard def camera with great lighting will get a better shot than an HD camera with crummy lighting? Yes, it’s true.

Improve your lighting and greatly improve your videos!

Making mistakes in what DIRECTION the light is coming from is the single biggest lighting mistake I see when I watch online videos. It is an easy mistake to correct. Discover how to not make that mistake plus a whole lot more by watching these video tutorials on lighting. Then too, the text article below the videos goes into even more detail on lighting basics for video production.

LIGHTING CREATES A MOOD

Artistic lighting can be the perfect mood creator and emotion enhancer. Notice how even game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? feature dramatic lighting? That’s not an accident. In fact, lighting that incredible takes a lot of work and costs a lot of money.

And it works. Aren’t you on the edge of your seat every time Millionaire introduces a new contestant with the intense back lighting and reverberating BONG!? All that fanfare makes the audience think God Almighty is about to come strolling out. Nope, just another housewife from New Jersey who loves the show.

I was convinced one of the reasons for Millionaire’s massive success was because it was the first game show to add lighting techniques usually reserved for a horror flick.

The lighting in this picture is fairly dramatic. That effect is created by using harsh, directional light instead of diffused light.
The lighting in this picture is fairly dramatic. That effect is created by using harsh, directional light instead of diffused light.

The more stark and shadowy the light, the scarier your Halloween video will be. Dark shadows created by low-angle, intense, direct lighting is one of the first things you’ll ever learn about lighting for film and video production if you go to film school. The low angle creates unusual shadows.

If you’re not real picky, dark, shadowy, spooky effects are easy to create. It helps to have professional lighting equipment but today’s cameras are so adept in low light situations that a standard 25 watt light bulb stuck in a cheap lamp without the shade can be used to good effect too. Any light source can be used really. Move it in close to your subject and even a low-wattage light can make a big difference.

One of the most basic things to learn about lighting for video is to realize the difference between two types of light.

* Directional
* Diffused

Directional light is harsh. It creates deep shadows. Outside on a bright sunny day is a good example of directional light. the sun is the only light source and it is very intense.

Diffused light is like being outside on an overcast day. If the sky is completely cloudy, the clouds act just like a diffusion gel used by a professional photographer. The sunlight bounces around in all the clouds and the result is diffused, shadow less light.

Diffused lighting and directional lighting create completely different effects and therefore have totally different uses when lighting for video.

For a more technical explanation of diffused and direct lighting, think back to high school physics. Light always travels in a straight line. Turn on a flashlight and the beam goes straight, it doesn’t curve around the building. In order to get the light on the side of the building, you’d have to move your flashlight or else bounce and reflect the light coming out of the flashlight.

Diffused light happens when light is restricted by something which causes it to change directions, bounce, if you will. Clouds cause the rays of the sun to bounce around in every direction which makes the light look soft and diffused. Essentially, the clouds make the light seem like it’s coming from a million different sources and not just one, blinding source. A professional photographer uses many things to create diffused light from directional light.

The light is pointed at the umbrella, which bounces the light and makes it softer and more diffused.
The light is pointed at the umbrella, which bounces the light and makes it softer and more diffused.

Diffused light is simply more pleasant for most environments so indoors, almost all artificial lighting gives you diffused light. Think of a standard, incandescent light bulb. Have you ever wondered why most light bulbs are painted white inside the glass? The white paint acts to diffuse the light, just like clouds. Diffused light is more pleasing to the eye. On top of light bulbs being painted, people further the diffusion process by adding lamp shades.

One blinding light source like the sun outside can not only be irritating, it makes you look ugly in pictures. Generally speaking, quality pictures of faces are always diffused light unless the face is Freddy Krueger. Soft diffused light will help erase wrinkles and other imperfections.

On an overcast day, the light is diffused and soft. Almost no shadows are seen except perhaps some faint ones with fuzzy edges. This is why most video producers would prefer to shoot outdoors when it’s cloudy. Diffused light simply looks better is almost all situations. Some people may decide that they only want a certain level of light when taking photographs outside. This could be in the form of streetlights – or as the French would say “Lampadaire exterieur” if you wanted a low, soothing level of light. This could especially be good if you are filming in a garden.

If you’re shooting inside, most professional photographers go to the effort of creating diffused light, not directional. Lighting manufactures have invented lots of simple gadgets to make professional photographic lights mimic this cloud effect. Silver and black umbrellas, diffusion cloths and gels, reflectors and bouncers are all standard equipment in a professional light kit and the all exist to help diffuse the light. Professional lighting equipment is fun if you have the budget for it.

This is a light with a softbox. The softbox diffuses the light even more than an umbrella.
This is a light with a softbox. The softbox diffuses the light even more than an umbrella.

The act of diffusing your light does decrease your intensity however. Some people argue that painting the inside of light bulbs white just wastes money since you’re burning 50 watts but only getting the light intensity of a 40 watt bulb. However the majority of people are willing to waste a bit of energy in order to get a more eye-pleasing effect. When you’re taking professional quality pictures, it becomes critical.

If you want diffused light but don’t have an expensive soft box, simply point your light source toward the ceiling or wall and bounce it. The light reflects (bounces) off the wall or ceiling and becomes diffused. Never point the light directly at your subjects unless you want really harsh, directional lighting.

A white ceiling or wall is the most evenly reflective and so works best as a bounce. If your walls and ceiling are black, you can tape white poster board to your wall and bounce it against that. (Don’t get it too close to the poster board with your lights though, because fire is truly an issue. Lights get hot! Be careful when you handle them. I always tried to turn my lights off for at least ten minutes to let them cool down before touching the fixtures.)

Bouncing your light against walls and ceilings does wonders to create a bright, diffused look that looks nice on video. Unless you purposely want a spooky, dramatic look with lots of shadows, no doubt diffused light is the look you need.

Thanks for reading Video Production Tips

Lorraine Grula

Internet Video

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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. Really Fantastic Way of teaching..I learnt a more and more that i expected..Hats off Lorraine Grula..Thanking you

  2. Hi SR.Buvanjibharat
    Well thanks so much for your comment! I am so glad to know that you got a lot out of the blog post! Good luck with all your video projects!
    Lorraine

  3. Hi Lorraine,

    Interesting videos offering beginners low-cost, functional alternatives to more advanced (expensive) equipment. I found your site while looking for a refresher on 2-3 point studio lighting (back in the 80’s I had a portrait studio and also shot weddings). Not that you’re going to reshoot, but I have a couple of thoughts to offer: 1) While we tend to relate wattage to brilliance, this is at best a tenous relationship. Watts measure energy consumed. Think about your 1200 watt toaster oven – is it brighter than a 100 watt bulb? Luminosity is measured in lumens, and the lumen values are what should be one of the drivers for lighting selection. And, lumen values are printed on the boxes the lights are sold in. 2) Mixed lighting – I note you were using tungsten and daylight. If someone has the goal of producing superior videos, the white balance in that mixed lighting situation is going to present additional challenges. So, I believe the topic is at least worth mentioning. (FWIW, I have done the same and while it’s worked with reasoable results, it’s never been as good as it would have been if I’d stuck with a single source of light temperature.)

    Best Regards,

    Bob

  4. Hi Bob.

    Many thanks for your insightful and helpful comment. You are 100% correct. The distinction between wattage consumed and luminosity is especially important when you compare and contrast the different light sources used these days such as compact florescent and LED. I guess you caught this old gal used to using nothing but tungsten halogen lights (for the most part) getting lazy with her terminology!

    And yes, mixing light sources has its issues but my point is that for a certain level of video production, where you are not sweating the small stuff, allowing yourself to mix light and make do with that can make shooting more practical and economical for newbies and low budget projects, which is primarily the demographic I target with this blog. But absolutely, if superior and professional quality is essential, then increased reliance on professional lighting fixtures that are uniform in color temperature is a basic tenant.

    A good deal of my experience shooting video out in the field is as a one-man-band documentary style shooter. I often had to rely on natural light and other methods of improvising with this or that to save myself time as we worked on incredibly tight deadlines.

    I always found if you got a good white balance in the mixture, mixing light was indeed not only practical, but sometimes would give a real nice effect. The inexpensive cameras of today sometimes seem to have their auto default white balance set to a mixture and can handle it remarkably well. I am sure that is not always the case, but I’ve had several where it seemed to be the case. I also really light the warm glow an incandescent bulb can give to a shot when the rest of the light is 3200, the color temp of tungsten light.

    Again, thanks so much for adding detail, depth and perspective to the articles here at Video Production Tips.com!

    Lorraine G.

  5. Hi Lorraine,

    Having shot a lot of stills “in the wild” (lots of underwater-flash, flash-fill and natural light) and in mixed lighting (when I owned my studio I did LOTS of weddings…), I know that you’re correct that mixed sources can work. And, using the camera’s white balance function can really aid in capturing good images. And further, depending on the sophistication of the editing software in use, and the operator’s level of knowledge and experience, amazing things can be accomplished on the computer. My main point was that it might help the uninitiated if there were a minimal caveat mentioned when mixing light sources.
    When it comes to videography, both analog and digital, I’m something of a newbie; I rely on my years of shooting with totally manual still cameras and handheld meters to help me get a leg up on what I’m doing with the camcorders.
    Of course, the first thing to keep in mind: have some fun; experiment when possible, and keep learning as things move into the future. In my limited experience with corel, vegas pro, and the adobe suite, there’s a nearly infinite universe of creative expression possible. It just takes time, lots of images, and some $$$ (although the $$$ are getting exponentially more affordable).

    Bob

  6. Why thank you so much again Bob for providing a delightful and insightful comment. Again, I agree with everything you say. 🙂

    I never did any underwater photography but gosh that always sounded so fun! I certainly love the water, with or without a camera.

    I agree, have fun with video, or whatever art you are doing. Sometimes I confess that means saving your back muscles and opening the window shad instead of hauling around a heavy light kit. Shame on me!

    Video is one of those tasks that has such a wide spectrum of expectations and techniques. All related to time and money of course.

    Thanks Bob!

    Lorraine

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