This is the first post in a two-part series on video lighting for beginners.
Good lighting is one of the unsung heroes of great video. It can mean the difference between looking drab and looking fab for your audiences.
In the world of video marketing, a little lighting know-how can go a long way towards making both you and your business shine online. It’s probably reasonable to assume that the objective is to put out content that reflects well on you and your brand.
Now, for those just getting started with video, you may not be ready to invest in a professional lighting kit. If you fall into this category, no need to worry! Using natural lighting for video can produce professional-looking videos, a look that inspires confidence in audiences about who you are and what you offer.
Given that we’ve been producing videos for over a decade, we’ve built up an extensive video equipment kit. Still, we still shoot a lot of our videos with natural light. We’ve definitely learnt a lot about using natural light in video through trial and error over the years. In this guide, we’ll be dishing on the techniques that have brought us the best results. These are the techniques you need to know to make sharp, crisp videos with natural lighting.
Here’s what we’ll be teaching you:
- What is Natural Light—natural light as distinct from artificial light.
- Should You Use Natural Lighting for Video—the benefits of using natural lighting, particularly for newcomers to video.
- How to Shoot a Video with Natural Light—easy tips for making the best of what nature provides.
- How to Diffuse Window Light—controlling natural light indoors to get the most pleasing look in your videos.
- Diffusing Natural Light Outdoors—how to tame natural light outdoors for professional-looking videos.
Lighting is important for entrepreneurs keen on making videos to increase their authority and credibility because it gives video content a professional look.
Whether you’re shooting with your smartphone or a DSLR, all cameras need light to produce quality images.
When you look at videos on YouTube, Facebook or LinkedIn, you hardly ever pick up when a video is properly lit. If, on the other hand, the video is dark and grainy, you better believe people immediately notice. In that sense, it’s definitely worthwhile to learn the fundamentals of lighting so you can produce high-quality videos. Assuming that you want to stand at the top of the heap in your industry, your videos must reflect that commitment to excellence.
Now, you don’t have to worry about being a lighting pro. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a great skill to have, but for your purposes, you just need a level of proficiency that will make your videos shine.
So, are you ready to learn about using natural light in video?
Video, in its most basic sense, is the conversion of light into images.
1: What is Natural Light?
When learning a new skill, it’s always best to start at the beginning, even if it may seem obvious or too basic. Let’s start off then by ensuring we all understand what we mean by natural light.
Simply put, natural light comes from the sun. That is, it’s not man-made, artificial lights. You can use the light streaming in through your windows and doors, or you can shoot your videos al fresco, which is fancy talk for outside.
2: Should You Use Natural Lighting for Video?
Sunlight can be a pretty effective light source for your business videos; you just need to learn how to use it. As it happens, there are several benefits of using natural light in video.
Easy start for video newbies: For those new to video content creation, we usually recommend starting off with natural lighting for video. Once you master this lighting technique, it will be easier when you’re ready to graduate to a professional lighting kit because you’ve already learnt and practised the core principles of lighting.
Faster setup time: Most of us know the light availability in our homes and offices because we spend so much time there. It’s fairly predictable where the light from the sun will be in different rooms during the course of the day; when it isn’t overcast at any rate. This means using the sunlight coming through our windows or doors as the light source for video shoots can be a relatively quick setup process.
Adds outdoor shoots to your video content: Learning to make natural lighting videos will give you the flexibility of shooting some of your videos outdoors. This will add variety to your video content helping to keep audiences engaged.
Beautiful, eye-catching lighting: Using natural lighting in video can produce a softer, warmer light. This creates a really beautiful and flattering tone on the subject which, in this case, is you. You’ll get that soft, warm light during the golden hour, which is roughly an hour before sunrise and sunset.
Cheap lighting for video: It doesn’t get cheaper than free, now does it? Well, let’s qualify that. We do recommend getting a few inexpensive tools to control the sunlight, but they’ll cost you nowhere close to a professional light kit.
3: How to Shoot a Video with Natural Light
While there are significant benefits to shooting with natural light, this technique isn’t without its drawbacks. You have far less control over natural light than you do with artificial lights. There are no knobs to tweak and you can’t move the sun around like you would a light stand.
With these factors in mind, we’ll be giving you our techniques for shooting both indoors and outdoors with natural light. First, we’ll start off with shooting videos indoors.
Tips for shooting indoors with natural light
With artificial lights, we position the light source in relation to the subject (that’s you). With natural light, we position the subject in relation to the light source, the sun.
As they say in life, nothing is truly free. The sun will provide light, but not without your having to make adjustments to get the best out of this free source of illumination.
1. Choose the right room
Pick a room in your home or office with a large window that will let in sufficient light to properly illuminate your video. If you’ve got a room with two windows then you’re cooking with fire. A sliding door can also work quite well.
2. Choose the right time of day
If you’re using an east or west-facing window as your light source, we recommend choosing a time of day to shoot your videos when the sun is not directly in front of the window.
The sun does not stay in the same position for very long relative to the room you’re shooting in. When shooting video with natural light, you have to cater for fluctuations in light levels. Those fluctuations are more pronounced when the sun is directly in front of your window. Whenever we use a window in the direct path of the sun, we start shooting our videos just before the sun is directly overhead. In other words, right after it clears the window. That’s about 9:00 a.m. in our time zone.
3. Position yourself well
You can position yourself facing the window so that your entire face is lit by the sunlight coming in.
Alternatively, you can also position yourself with the window to your side. The window will throw the sun’s rays on either the left or right side of your face, depending on the layout of the room. You will then light the side of your face that is not window-facing by using a reflector to bounce the sunlight from the window onto the unlit side of your face.
We use a piece of equipment called a C-stand to hold our reflector in place. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to spring for a C-stand, you can simply prop the reflector on a chair to catch the light streaming in through the window.
A cardinal rule of using natural lighting is this: Avoid positioning yourself with your back to the window. Without artificial lights to illuminate your face, the resulting backlighting will make you appear dark or ‘silhouetted’ in the image. The rest of it will be washed out or overexposed. Not a good look at all and a common rookie mistake.
4: Diffuse the light
Now, even though we’re not shooting at a time of day when the sun is directly in front of the window, there can still be fluctuations in light caused by the changing position of the sun or passing clouds.
To tackle the challenge of fluctuating light, you’ll have to learn how to diffuse window light. Don’t worry, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. We’ll explain more about this later on.
Depending on the size of your window, sometimes a professional diffuser can take away too much of your natural lighting. In cases like this, we opt for a thin white sheet as this lets in more light than the diffuser.
Pro Tip: When you’re shooting indoors with natural light, it’s a good idea to switch off any lighting fixtures in the room. Cameras usually rely on the available light to determine how the image should look. If there’s a clash between the sunlight and the light in the room, it may affect the way your video looks.
Tips for shooting outdoors with natural light
Living in the Caribbean as we do, we try to use as much of the scenery as we can in our videos. So, we have a fair understanding of how to best wrangle sunlight outdoors to create visually-arresting video content.
Outdoor shoots are particularly useful if your business is outdoorsy, like a company that markets fishing gear or sells camping equipment. More simply, it could be that you’d like to shoot a video in your garden to take advantage of the aesthetic charm.
Just like shooting video indoors with natural light, shooting outdoors with natural light does require some know-how. Here are some of our best tips we’ve accumulated from shooting outdoors for more than a decade.
1. Scout your location
Check out your location before your shoot, so you’ll know where you need to be in relation to where the sun’s rays are falling. It’s also important to be mindful of how your surroundings will impact the eventual look of your video.
Shooting under tree cover, for example, might feel like a convenient way to avoid an overheated look on camera. However, it can also create leaf shadows on you that will be a distraction for viewers. Do some simple recordings on location to gauge what the image will look like.
2. Avoid the midday sun
Shooting when the sun is at its highest point will throw harsh shadows on you in your video. If you had a big crew to handle a diffuser to soften the sun’s light, that would be a different story. For a small operation, the best time to shoot outdoors is in the early morning or late afternoon.
We usually shoot outdoors between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in our time zone, which is Atlantic. If you really want to impress people, shoot during the golden hour to give your video a nice, warm tone. That’s about one hour before sunrise or sunset.
3. Do not shoot against the sun
Avoid shooting with the sun directly at your back. You will be dark and underexposed, while the background will be extremely bright and overexposed or ‘hot’.
While shooting against the sun is a technique used to achieve a cinematic flair in videos, this might not be the look you’re going for in your business videos.
Now, there is an exception to our advice. You can shoot with the sun behind you if it’s during sunrise or sunset because the light at those times of day is softer.
4. Position yourself with the sun to your side
It’s possible to do your video recordings facing the sun directly, but that’s best done in the very early morning or late afternoon when the sun is less fierce. This is the flattering golden hour we’ve already mentioned.
If the sunlight is too intense, let it light one side of your face rather than facing it head-on and squinting directly into it. You’ll have to use a reflector to ‘bounce’ light onto the side of your face that’s in shadow, though. If you don’t have someone to hold the reflector in position, you’ll need to use a C-stand to hold it.
5. Pick your weather conditions
Changes in natural light can result in differences in the look of your video. When a large cloud covers the sun, the light change is drastic and you have no choice but to wait for that cloud to pass. This usually just takes a few minutes on a relatively clear, sunny day.
On a cloudy day, however, light fluctuations can be too long or frequent to wait out. Now, if you aren’t necessarily going for a bright, sunny look, cloud cover can work to your advantage. Shooting on a day when cloud cover is extensive allows you to get consistent, even light for your videos.
So, always check the weather report. With today’s sophisticated weather-monitoring apps, you can get an accurate report several days ahead of a planned shoot.
Pro Tip: Even if your business isn’t outdoorsy, you may want to consider shooting some videos outdoors. This can be a refreshing departure from all your other videos done indoors. Visual variety can help boost audience interest and engagement.
4: How to Diffuse Window Light
Unlike artificial light, you can’t tinker with the sun’s intensity. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t any way to decrease or increase its brightness.
When shooting indoors, the sun’s rays pouring through the windows can be potent. The result can turn up in your video as an unflattering, harsh light on the side of your face. So, it’s important to tame the harshness of that glare. You also want to minimise fluctuations in light caused by the changing position of the sun or clouds passing by.
When light is diffused, it is flat and even, reducing harsh tones or unflattering shadows on the face.
Grab a white sheet
All you need to do to diffuse natural light is drape a thin, white sheet over your window. This down-home remedy will produce a more even, flattering light on your face and minimise any sharp fluctuations in your lighting.
It’s better to have your windows closed if you’re going to use a DIY diffusion technique. You don’t want any breeze adding flapping sound effects in your video shoot. Additionally, the fluttering of your sheet in the breeze will only increase light fluctuations.
Use a professional diffuser
As the name suggests, this is a simple piece of gear used for diffusing natural light. Our reflector also functions as a diffuser. It’s cheap and gets the job done. We clip ours onto our window. You can also use a suction cup or a C-stand.
We like using a professional diffuser because it’s more flexible in the number of ways it can be used.
5: Diffusing Natural Light Outdoors
Sometimes, you may also need to dial down the intensity of the sunlight when shooting your video outdoors. This usually only becomes an issue closer to the time when the sun is directly overhead, that is, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
We typically try to avoid shooting after 10 in the morning. In the Caribbean, it can get pretty hot. Apart from having to cope with harsh overhead lighting, the sun can have a wilting effect on even the most enthusiastic on-camera presenter! Still, there are times when it can’t be avoided, so it’s good to know a few methods to get around the challenges posed by these outdoor conditions.
Some video cameras have what’s called in-built neutral density (ND) filters that reduce the intensity of sunlight allowed into the camera lens. This lets you control the exposure or light level, so the colours in your video are captured as true to life. ND filters, though, are usually associated with more sophisticated equipment. DSLR and smartphone cameras don’t have these baked-in light filters, but they can be purchased as add-ons.
ND filters can be a complicated topic for video newbies. So, for those new to video, we usually recommend simpler methods for taming natural light when shooting outdoors under an intense sun.
Again, we can’t tamper with or move the source of natural light—the sun. It all comes down, therefore, to position. The simplest way to diffuse natural light outdoors is by choosing how we position ourselves in relation to the sun.
Stand under a tree
Yes, that’s right, stand under a tree! The idea is to use the leaf cover as a natural diffuser to filter out the intensity of the sun.
Now, earlier, we talked about the possible complications of shooting beneath a tree to reduce the harshness of the sun on your face. Having patches of light falling on your face making you look like a disco ball won’t be a good look! Still, not all trees are the same and some offer a better spread of shade than others. Again, you want to do a test recording to see how it looks on camera.
Use a building
We don’t mean shoot inside the building but use the shade of the structure outdoors. Shooting in the shade minimizes shadows created by intense sunlight.
Position yourself in the shade created by buildings so that your videos have diffused natural light. Just be mindful, you can’t be part in the shade, part in the sunlight. It’s either you’re shooting in the shade OR the sunlight.
Pro tip: When shooting in the shade, position a reflector in front of your face to bounce some light onto it for a more flattering look. It may take you a couple tries to find the light and bounce it, but you’ll get it with practice.
A well-lit video demonstrates a commitment to quality. Viewers will see the quality of your video as proportionate to the quality offered by your business.
Get Good Lighting for Video with Natural Light
Lighting your video doesn’t have to be expensive or overly complex. It’s one of the reasons why we’re such big fans of using natural light in video.
You can start immediately with what you have: your smartphone and the sun, which usually comes up every morning. Unless, of course, you live in or near the Arctic and Antarctic.
Just remember, the sun sets the rules for its use, not the other way around. Use the simple techniques we’ve shared and you will eventually become skilled at shooting crisp, vibrant video that will show audiences you and your business MEAN business.
Read part two of our series on video lighting for beginners: How to Light Yourself for Video with a Basic Lighting Kit