This is the second post in a two-part series on video lighting for beginners.
Good video, that’s video that makes a visual impact with audiences, depends principally on 3 main factors: light, sound and image. The quality of any video, though, begins first with light.
People are doing videos as entrepreneurs to spread the word about what they have to offer. The main goal is to be embraced as a trusted, respected authority in your industry. These are the qualities that open more doors.
The look of your videos says a lot about you; this goes far beyond what you say on camera. Audiences subconsciously draw conclusions about you from the quality of your videos.
Think of it this way, imagine stepping into someone’s office and being confronted with a messy desk. Be honest, you probably wonder if that’s what it looks like inside that person’s mind.
On the other hand, if it’s neat and orderly and decorated with antique furniture or modern art – that’s likely to leave a positive impression.
When it comes to video, a professional look is important if you want to be taken seriously in your niche. A critical part of shaping that professional look is lighting.
Given how often you have to do video today, hiring a video production company for each occasion isn’t practical. For the most part you are going to have to gear up and set up to shoot your own videos. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn how to light yourself for video.
We’ll be giving you a crash course on basic video lighting so you can be seen in the best light on video. The better you look, the better you’ll be perceived by your most important customers and clients.
Here’s what we’ll be covering in this blog:
1. A basic lighting kit for video—a beginner’s starter kit for great video lighting.
2. Video lighting basics—fundamental, easy-to-grasp lighting principles
3. Setting up lights for video—proper placement of lights to pull off the best look in your videos
4. The video lighting tips you need to know—insider pro tips to make lighting your videos easier and more effective
5. How to set up video lighting at home—at home lighting techniques for a one-man/woman show
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One way to set yourself apart from other entrepreneurs using video is by putting in the effort to ensure your video looks top notch.
Social media platforms are packed with videos that are of, shall we say, dubious quality. Folks new to video may think lighting and image quality aren’t that important. After all, there are millions of videos online that look like they were shot in a windowless basement, yet those videos have loads of views.
There are, indeed, poor quality videos with high-quality view counts. However, the goals of those video content creators may be different from yours. Your mission is to convince people of your credibility and to become a respected authority and the go-to expert in your niche.
With these goals in mind, making sure your video content is the best it can be is just common sense.
Proper lighting for video will give your videos a sharp and professional look, which will send a message to audiences—you’re someone worth paying attention to in your industry.
Now, we know the topic of lighting can be intimidating. We were there ourselves! It takes some effort to become proficient at this skill, particularly when you are trying to light yourself for video.
However, through trial and error, we’ve become pros at lighting ourselves. So, the good news is you can spare yourself the stress we endured because we’ll be giving you our hard-earned, tried-and-tested techniques on how to light a video.
1: A basic lighting kit for video
When it comes to video lighting kits, there are so many options to choose from it can be overwhelming.
On one hand, plenty choice can be a good thing. On the other, it can prolong research and decision-making as there are so many lighting kits to evaluate. Given that many lighting kits aren’t exactly cheap, you want to be certain you’re choosing the one that’s ideal for your needs and budget.
For us at No Fuss Video, after kissing a few frogs, we settled on two lighting kits. They’ve been in our video toolbox for several years—the Impact Qualite LED flood light kit and the Ikan iLED312-V2 Light Kit. We’ve found them both to be just the thing for our video creation.
The Impact Qualite LED Flood 2 light bundle is a great starter kit. It includes two LED (White, daylight) lights, two stands and two softboxes. The Ikan iLED312-V2 Light Kit comes with three lights, three stands, three diffusion filters, six batteries, three battery chargers and a kit bag.
We recommend the Qualite LED 2 light bundle for video newbies on a budget. It’s reasonably priced, provides sufficient lighting and is easy to assemble; all important factors when it comes to video lighting for beginners.
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2: Video lighting basics
The fact that you’re reading this blog says you are at least interested in putting out the best looking video you can manage. We don’t treat that ambition and drive lightly. So we want to give you instructions to be able to light yourself for video.
There’s more to lighting than just the proper placement of lights; several other elements come into play.
Let’s go through some basic terms you’ll need to know before we get into setting up lights for video.
Exposure in video refers to the amount of light allowed into the camera lens. At the risk of getting overly technical, the amount of light permitted into the camera is controlled by something called an aperture.
This aperture in conventional cameras can either be opened or closed down to regulate the volume of light. On your smartphone you can merely increase or decrease the exposure of your image.
As video is created when the camera converts light into images, the amount of light fed into your camera determines the quality, clarity and sharpness of your video – too little and the image can appear dark and indistinct, or underexposed. Too much light and the video can look ‘blown out’, overly bright, or overexposed.
White balancing is one of those steps many newcomers to video tend to skip. Some people mistakenly assume it’s a concern for more advanced video experts. In fact, the white balance procedure is one of the most basic steps to ensuring your camera produces a good quality image.
When shooting with cameras like DSLRs, it’s important to perform a white balance. This step helps the camera see the colour white as white and, as a result, red as red, blue as blue and pink as pink etc. By ‘white balancing’ the camera the images produced will be an accurate representation of the colours in your frame.
When you white balance your camera, always do it with the lighting you’re shooting your video in. Consequently, if you’re shooting with natural light, where the lighting is subject to change, you may have to white balance your camera a few times to keep pace with changes in the available light.
The method varies from one camera to the next, but it typically involves focusing the lens on a white card or sheet of paper to perform the procedure.
Adjusting your colour temperature setting is closely similar to the white balance process, at least, in the context of the effect it produces. Without diving into too much film school theory, white balance helps the camera see colours correctly with the available light.
Colour temperature offers the videographer more flexibility with adjusting the look and feel of the video through manipulation of the colour temperature setting.
Think of it this way – without proper instructions from you in the form of camera settings a camera doesn’t necessarily know how to interpret what it’s seeing.
Our eyes are incredibly sophisticated biological lenses and sensors. Humans have the ability to see the world with all its varied colours – most of us, that is. Our eyes and brains can accurately process the light that enters our retinas to colour the images correctly.
Colour temperature in a camera (DLSRs, camcorders, cinema cameras) is a measurement to help it interpret different kinds of light appropriately. For the kind of video you’ll be shooting it can either look ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ depending on the kind of light you’re shooting with.
Measured in Kelvin, the lower your colour temperature setting the more orange or ‘warm’ the video will appear. A higher colour temperature yields a bluish or ‘cooler’ look.
Adjusting your colour temperature helps the camera get the best image according to the kind of lighting you’re working with. Now, determining the best kind of image is very much in the eye of the beholder. Some video creators prefer warmer tones while others like cooler tones. Our preference has always leaned towards a warmer look in our videos.
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3: Setting up lights for video
So now you know what you should be looking for in a basic lighting kit for video and understand the need-to-know lighting terms, it’s time to get to work on setting up your lights to produce sharp, vibrant video.
There are several lighting techniques you can use. Among the most popular are the 3-point lighting and 2-point lighting techniques.
You’ll use the 3-point lighting technique if you have a kit like the Ikan iLED312-V2 Light Kit.
As the name suggests, there are three lights in this setup:
- The key light provides the main source of light for the subject of the video shoot, which is most likely you.
- The fill light ‘fills’ in the areas of the subject that aren’t covered entirely by the key light.
- The back light (or hair light) is positioned at an angle behind the subject. It gives the image greater depth and creates a distinction between the subject and the backdrop
The diagram below provides a visual explanation of the 3-point lighting setup.
[Diagram of 3 point lighting]
You will use 2-point lighting if you have a kit like the Impact Portrait Light Kit.
The 2-point lighting technique is a more basic lighting setup. It involves the key light, again providing the main source of light on the subject, and the fill light, illuminating any areas not lit by the key light.
2-point lighting is particularly useful when you are shooting in a tight space.
The diagram below provides a visual explanation of the 2-point lighting setup.
[Diagram of 2-point lighting]
To take the look of your videos up a notch, you can use accent lighting.
Accent lighting, as the name suggests, highlights specific details in your video like a bookcase or painting. This will give your videos greater depth, making them more appealing to viewers.
It’s great to put a bit more thought into accent lighting particularly when you’re setting up video lighting at home. While it’s important that the subject (you) is well lit, equally important is your backdrop.
We like to have a cosy, welcoming vibe for the videos we shoot in our home. That’s why we use a lot of accent lighting to complement the overall look of the video.
Tasteful lamps are typically used as part of our backdrop. String bulbs to illuminate bookshelves or counter tops also create an inviting effect.
Simple touches like accent lighting add character to your video expressing something about your brand or business. What you want to keep in mind is accent lighting is ideally subtle, not overpowering. A soft touch is all you need to create dramatic effect.
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4: The video lighting tips you need to know
Look through the camera lens
Remember what we’ve said about the way our eyes perceive images as opposed to the way the camera sees them. You might turn on the lights in the room where you’re all set to shoot and it looks great – to your eyes, that is.
You need to gauge how the lighting in image will look through the camera because that’s how viewers will see it. Now, when you are looking through the camera lens, obviously your main subject will not be in the image—you! What you’ll be scanning for at this point is how the rest of your image looks, that is, your video set or background.
Do a test recording
This is where you’ll check how YOU look in the image and whether you’re properly lit for your video. Record a few seconds of video with you in position saying a few words to the camera. Then play the test recording back on your camera or, better yet, your computer to evaluate your lighting.
It’s an extra step, but one you should not miss when you are recording yourself. Better to get it right the first time. Chances are if you press ahead without doing a test recording and the final result looks not so great, you probably won’t want to reshoot the entire video.
Evaluating your exposure
Most DSLRs and more sophisticated cameras have exposure meters that help you gauge whether there’s too little or too much light coming into the camera. If there is too little light you can adjust your aperture to let more light in. Too bright and you can close the aperture a bit. For more advanced light manipulation, shutter speed and ISO also control exposure levels in the camera.
The exposure meter doesn’t, however, tell the whole story. So it’s important to use the exposure meter in conjunction with other features like the zebra pattern function available in some newer DSLRs and mirrorless cameras which are increasingly popular.
The zebra function will help you determine which areas of your frame, or image are either too dark or too bright. This feature is particularly useful when shooting outdoors. Even with the exposure meter and zebra function we still recommend doing a test recording to be sure the image looks properly lit.
Evaluate your colour temperature
As mentioned earlier, when using colour temperature along with lighting to set the tone of your image, you can tweak your settings to achieve the desired look. Given that our preference is for a slightly warmer image, we usually go for a lower colour temperature setting.
One look you definitely want to avoid is an overly cool tone. This will result in bluish images, and that’s generally not a good look for a business-oriented video.
Watch out for shadows
One of the challenges you’ll come up against when learning how to light video is combating shadows. Harsh shadows not only look unprofessional, but can be distracting for viewers, pulling them away from the information you’re trying to convey in your videos.
There are loads of videos online in which the shadow is so well-defined it looks like there’s a second person in the image! Here are a few tips to minimize distracting shadows to a minimum in your video shoots:
- Put some distance between yourself and your backdrop: This will soften or eliminate shadows thrown by your lighting onto the wall or backdrop behind you.
- Use soft boxes or diffusion umbrellas: Temper the intensity being thrown off by your artificial lights with softboxes or diffusion umbrellas, thereby, reducing shadow. The Impact Portrait Light Kit comes with softboxes and the Ikan iLED312-V2 Light Kit comes with diffusion filters.
- Light the wall or backdrop: If there’s a prop like a plant or vase that you want to include in your shot but it’s causing harsh shadows, we recommend two things: 1. separate the prop from the wall and, 2. throw a light on the wall or backdrop to soften the shadow.
Now, you don’t have to set yourself the task of eliminating all shadows. What you want is to reduce them so they won’t compete with you on camera.
Given that you’ll be shooting many of your videos at home you need to be mindful of reflective surfaces. Your home wasn’t designed for shooting video but for living. As such, there will be reflective surfaces and items that could cause dizzying distractions in your videos.
Be mindful of framed paintings, pictures and mirrors that will catch the light you’ve set up and throw it back at the camera. Remove any reflective material or item that isn’t absolutely essential to your video shoot.
The one thing you won’t be able to remove, though, is your glasses. If you’re presenting on camera and all the viewers can see are the lights reflected in your glasses that’s a significant distraction.
There are two ways to fix that nagging problem. You can get a lens coating on your glasses to eliminate the reflection or you can buy a polarised lens filter to attach to your camera lens. This will also cut the reflection thrown off by your glasses and most other reflective surfaces in the room for that matter.
Experiment and practice
We’ve given you some advice on the different lighting configurations you can work with (3-point lighting, 2-point lighting). Different spaces, though, demand a different kind of setup. Getting the right look with your lights, backdrop and shadow elimination will take a bit of trial and error. A smaller room won’t give you as much flexibility with your lighting set up, but that shouldn’t put you off working with what you’ve got.
It may be necessary to move some furniture around to get the best effect. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Your first priority is to ensure that you are properly lit. Then you can work out lighting the rest of your space to ensure it has a professional feel.
You may also find it quite useful to look at several YouTube videos. Analyse which ones appear to have gotten the lighting right and see if you can copy their strategy. While you’re there take a look at videos that seem poorly lit.
Developing a critical eye for video quality is a key step to improving the quality of your own video content.
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5: How to set up video lighting at home
Even though we come from a journalism background and got used to shooting in a purpose-built television studio, nearly all of our video content is shot in our home today; the rest is shot in the great outdoors.
Rooms in our home have been converted into makeshift video studios. Now, we are a two-person team, but there are occasions where one of us is shooting solo.
Here are some tips for getting that professional lighting look in your home studio, even if you’re on your own.
- Whether you’re sitting or standing, fix the lights at a level higher than yourself and pivot them downwards. This will reduce shadows thrown on your backdrop.
- Use a simple 3-point or 2-point lighting graphic as a simple reminder of how to position your lights correctly.
- Avoid mixing lights. If your video lights are cool in tone (white LEDs) but the room lighting is warmer or yellow this will confuse your white balance setting. Go with the dominant light source and switch off the room lights.
- When settling on the room to be used to shoot videos, be on the lookout for any items such as glossy paintings, mirrors or glass surfaces that will reflect your lights.
- Do a sample recording of you on ‘set’ with your lights on. Review the footage on your computer (as opposed to just playing it back on camera)
- Beware of dreaded hotspots, areas of overexposure, in particular on your face and forehead. That means the lighting is too intense and you need to adjust the exposure to even out the spread of light on your face.
- Once you’ve set up your lights and created a professional look, if possible, leave the set up as is. This way you won’t have to spend as much time trying to recreate the same look the next time around.
- If you can’t leave your gear undisturbed, mark on the floor with tape exactly where your lights were positioned as well as where you were sitting or standing.
These are some of our home lighting techniques that we use for our video shoots; they’re more than enough to get you started.
Keep in mind, you aren’t going for perfection here. Just be sure you’re sufficiently lit and the backdrop has some accent lighting that warms up your set and the look of your videos.
So what we’ve given you here are the basics for lighting your videos efficiently and effectively for your purposes – promoting your business or advancing your career.
This isn’t about pulling off some sort of cinematic flourish. All you’re going for is an even spread of light over yourself and your video set that tells viewers you’re committed to getting it right. The result of that commitment is a sharp, vivid image that is watchable for audiences.
Viewers will subconsciously make a connection between the quality of your videos and the quality of your products and services and your competence to deliver what they need. Proper lighting is a huge step in that direction.
By applying the fundamentals we’ve shared here, you can create video content that will help shine a spotlight on you and your business.
Read part one of our series on video lighting for beginners:
Part One: How to Get Good Lighting for Video Without a Light Kit