The Basics of Lighting

Lighting is one of the areas of video that you don’t really notice, unless it’s done poorly. If you’re just starting out in video, here are some things you should know about lighting.


Light Placement

The ideal setup used in video shoots is called a ‘three point lighting’ setup. This setup is made up of a key light, which illuminates the subject primarily from the front and slightly to the side; a fill light, which ‘fills in’ light from the key light, usually directly opposite the key light; and a backlight, a light positioned behind the subject which helps separate the subject from the background. And while this is the ideal setup, there are ways to do your own lighting in such a way that still looks good on camera. In general, you want the majority of the light to be in front of and slightly above your subject. This will give the most natural look. A light on the left and the right usually works well. Watch out for harsh shadows under the eyes or under the chin, as these are some places shadows like to appear. These same rules apply when using natural light.


Hard Light vs. Soft Light

The two main types of light are hard light and soft light. With hard light, the transition from highlights to shadows is very abrupt. (Think of a spotlight.) Soft light has a slower progression from highlights to shadows. This is the idea behind a softbox; it diffuses the light.

Soft light is best for most videos. You can diffuse light with things like a sheet or by bouncing it off a wall. Sometimes cloudy days are better than sunny days for video shoots because the light is diffused through the clouds and it doesn’t create hard shadows and contrast.


Color Temperature

Each light source has a color temperature, or the hue of the light. Some LED lights have a blue hue to them, so they are referred to as cold. Tungsten lights are more orange, or warm. Neither of these are bad. Though you don’t want to mix warm and cool lights on the same subject, because the two will conflict and it will make color correcting difficult.


White Balance

Now for the camera side of lighting. The camera settings for white balance adjust to what temperature of light is available. Typically there is an automatic setting and then presets like daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, etc. These settings are to make something white in a scene look white in the camera. Using the wrong white balance will result in a shot that’s too orange or too blue. Choose the setting that matches the lighting in your location. (If you are outside on a cloudy day, use the cloudy setting.)

Lighting is a skill to be mastered. But it doesn’t always have to be complicated. A common lighting saying is that, “All light is good light,” if you use it right.

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