Video Editing

Simple video lighting that looks awesome

Posted March 22, 2017
Written by Tobi Raub
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**** Last updated on 19th May 2020 ****

In this article we’ll show you some simple video lighting techniques. Namely we’ll show you how to do a three point light setup. This is the most basic lighting configuration. Using this setup will ensure you and your camera have ample light to expose with.

Smartphone cameras are very powerful. Some photographers have gone as far as to say that they take better video than pro-DSLRs. But whatever device you’re using, arguably the most important thing to manage while filming is light.

What is simple video lighting?

Not everyone reading this is a professional. Chances are, you want to make a good looking video without tonnes of time and equipment. The simplest way to get a good looking video is to have the best lighting possible. We’re going to tell you how to best modify the light you have available.

What lights should I use?

The cheapest, most simple video light setup we’ve discovered involves 3 Neewer LED Camera Lights and 3 cheapo 7 foot light stands from Amazon. These lights run off double A batteries and are very powerful considering their size. They don’t need direct power, don’t get hot and each light is low in cost. Each light comes with a set of filters that make them usable with different colour temperatures.

The coolest thing about these lights is that you can use them with Sony and Panasonic Lithium Ion batteries, which takes an already powerful light and makes it even brighter. The only flaw is that they feel a bit flimsy compared to more professional lights. Still, if you want a powerful and compact lighting setup, these are some of the best lights you can use.

If you want to go even cheaper, you can use any existing standing lights. Just make sure you have matching colour temperature between the bulbs and have some diffusion material. The aim is to have the softest light possible.

Why is soft light important?

Soft light is desirable because it will light your subject without creating dramatic shadows. Lots of shadow on a subject’s face can look unflattering or too dramatic. Deep shadows would look great in a horror film, but it’s not good for what we want to make. There are a few different ways to achieve soft lighting, which include:

  • Putting some diffusion material in front of your lights. Actual diffusion paper works best, but any opaque white material works too (Some people use baking paper!).

  • Bouncing the light off some white material such as a reflector (In a pinch white cardboard and Styrofoam can be used as bounce cards).

A common trick, even amongst pro cinematographers, is to take a powerful light source and place it within a white paper lantern. You don’t have to go this far, but as long as the light isn’t too direct or harsh, your subject will be evenly lit.

The three point lighting setup

So we have our lights, we’ve made sure they’re a similar colour temperature and they’re all soft. Let’s get to the crux of this article: a simple video lighting setup you can tweak and modify to suit your own purposes. The three point lighting setup is made up of a Key Light, which is your primary light, the Fill Light, which fills in any shadows produced by your key light, and the Back Light, which separates your subject from the background. It looks a little bit like this: 

If you’re interviewing somebody, remember that the key light must be on the side that they’re facing and as close to the camera as possible. The fill light goes on the opposite side of the key light and fills in any shadows that it generates. If you want to get creative and have a more cinematic look you can set the the Fill Light a little dimmer than the Key Light.

If you want no shadows whatsoever, make the Key Light and Fill Light the same setting. The Back Light doesn’t need to be soft. We’re not especially worried about it being too harsh. The objective of the Back Light is to help the subject stand out from the background, especially if the background is dark or the subject has dark hair or clothing.

How to position your lights

When setting up your lights, make sure they’re a little higher than the subject. Never light your subject from below unless you want them to look like they’re telling a ghost story. Universal Pictures used to light Boris Karloff like this when he played Frankenstein’s monster because it looks unnatural.

If your subject is wearing glasses, there are a few things you can do to avoid annoying reflections. If their glasses don’t have a UV resistant coating, try making your lights higher or taking them further off to the side. Getting your subject to lower their glasses down their nose will help by lowering the angle of the lenses. Any combination of these tricks should mitigate any reflections caused by glasses.

The reason we use the three point light setup is because it draws the audience’s attention to the subject. Also if we’re filming using our smartphone, we’ve made things easier for the camera by providing more light.

Simple lights, camera, action!

Now that you understand this simple lighting setup, it’s time to create your video. If you’re looking for tips for other elements of filming, like what camera to use or how to record sound, take a look at those links. Also, remember you can enrich your videos with additions from our Video and Audio Stock Library. Happy video making!

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