Lighting for Video

Lighting is crucial for video, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be complicated. Here are three simple tips on how to improve lighting for videos: 

Tip 1

Your Camera Needs More Light Than You

Despite the fact that cameras are getting better and better every year, it’s important to keep in mind that your eyeballs still work better than your camera.. If you’re in a dark room and it’s hard for you to see, then there is a good chance that your camera will have an even harder time. That’s not to say you shouldn’t record in dark spaces; just know that your camera won’t be able to see a lot of the detail that you do. For instance, if you’re recording a concert or a play with ‘moody’ lighting, then your camera might lose a lot of the detail of the performers that you are able to see. 

If you’re planning to record an interview, just plan to make sure that you have enough light in the space (either natural or supplied by you) to ensure that your subject is well lit. 

Tip 2

Light Positioning

This will sound simple, but you wouldn’t believe how often this rule is broken: keep the big light behind the camera and in front of the subject. If you’re outside, make sure that the sun is behind you. If you’re indoors, keep the windows behind you as best you can (or at least out of your frame). Especially on a zoom call! By keeping the light behind your camera and in front of your subject, you’re ensuring that the subject will be lit and the camera lens won’t be “spiked by light”– just a fancy way of saying that the light will wash out the rest of the image. 

If you’re wondering about all those videos you see where there are lights in the background, let’s just quickly clarify the difference between a “Key Light” and a “Practical Light”. The Key Light is the one that is providing the most amount of light to the frame. This is also the light that you are setting your exposure balance to. (Check out our video on how to do that here.)Practical Lights are ones that are in the frame but are usually dimmed down. They provide some light to the background (not the subject) and help create an overall feeling for the image. 

Tip 3

Keep it Simple!

It is easy to envision truckloads of lighting equipment when people say “video lighting”, but really you only need one or two lights, and sometimes you don’t need any special lighting equipment at all. The important thing is to keep it simple. If you’re lighting an interview or demonstration, focus on the “key light” that is the main light illuminating your subject. 

For any sort of handheld or B-roll lighting, use the natural lighting of the space as best you can. As long as your subject is well lit and the viewer can see the important parts (without needing to squint!) you’re good to go. 

Now just a quick recap about lighting. Make sure your environment is well lit because your camera needs more light than you do, then position your lights so that you have the main light behind your camera and in front of your subject, and finally KEEP IT SIMPLE! No need to be fancy to make a beautiful image. Sometimes just the light from a beautiful autumn sunset can create a lighting condition so magical that not even all the lighting gear in Hollywood can compete.