Video Lighting Made Easy
Author: Cliff Dahlberg
If you want to improve the quality of your videos, good lighting is a great place to start. One of the simplest ways to light your subject is by using a method called Three Point Lighting. As its name suggests, this method uses three lights to illuminate your subject: key light, fill light, and back light. Let’s take a look at what each of those lights do and how to use them.
The first light you’ll set up once you’ve decided on your frame is your key light. This is the light that will play the dominant role in illuminating your subject. To determine the light’s placement, picture the subject you’re filming being at the center of a clock. The camera is at six o’clock, and depending on where you put the key light, you get a different lighting effect on the subject’s face.
Varying the positions of the key light changes the light’s effect (see below)
For interviews with subjects looking at an interviewer off camera, place your key light on the same side as the interviewer to the side of the interviewer farthest from the camera.
Also, make sure that your key light is higher than your subject, not at their eye level. If the light is at eye level and off to the side, the light will create shadows that streak across the subject’s face, which isn’t very flattering.
The next light that you will position to help shape your subject is called a fill light. This provides some illumination to the dark side of your subject without being as powerful as the key light. Now, even though ‘light’ is in its name, the fill light doesn’t need to be a light at all. A really simple (and cheap!) way to add a bit of fill illumination to your subject is by using a “white card” — a piece of white tag or poster board – matte finish works just fine – attached to a stand which will reflect enough of the key light to do the job. Just make sure the card is actually white, not cream or off-white since this can tint the color being reflected on your subject. Anyway, you can of course, use an actual lighting instrument instead; and if you’re using a dimmable LED panel, start with your fill light being half as bright as your key light – that should get you in the ballpark and you can adjust as much or as little as you want from there.
For placement, your fill light should be set at 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock on the opposite side from the key light.
If you’re using a white card instead of a dimmable light and you feel like your subject is too dark on that side, then you can adjust by moving the fill card closer to the subject.
The last light used in three-point lighting is the back light. If you only have two lights (or one light and a white card), take a big sigh of relief because the back light is the last light that we’re covering. The back light illuminates your subject’s shoulders and/or hair.
If you’re wondering, “Why would I even need to shine a light on someone’s hair or shoulders?”, here’s why: If your subject’s hair or clothing is the same color as the background, they blend into that background and make the person sort of disappear.
Using a light to brighten a subject’s hair and/or shoulders will help to distinguish them from the background. To be effective, this light should be placed between eleven and one o’clock and should be much higher than the subject at a pretty steep angle (clock graphic). The reason for this is that you don’t want this light to shine into the camera lens, which will wash out your image.
So quick recap: Three-point lighting includes a key light, fill light, and a backlight. But most of the time you can get the job done with just two-point lighting – the key light and the fill light. It’s science, not rocket science, and it makes a world of difference in your finished video!