Whether you are shooting on an iPhone, or a high-end camera, lighting is probably the most important element to think about when making better content videos. Regardless of what light source you use, you should understand at least the basic principles of lighting to create videos of high quality.
Lighting can be broken down into 3 main elements – direction, colour and diffusion. Depending on the type of projects you shoot will depend on which element is most important to you. This article will give you an overview of what you can do with lighting.
The best way to learn how to light is to take a camera (a phone, the camera on your laptop) and shoot some footage using different types of lighting setups.
Lighting for video and reels is not limited to the content in this article, once you learn the basics you should start experimenting with different types of lights.
Once you’ve mastered lighting, it will become second nature and pretty soon you’ll be able to pick up any light and get great looking shots right away without even thinking about it.
The basic principles of lighting for video
Key light is used as the main light source. It is also commonly called your “Sun” or “Main Light”. The key light essentially determines the look of the shot and sets the mood.
Backlight is where the subject is facing towards the light source. This type of lighting is good for creating silhouettes, as it can separate your subjects from their backgrounds making them stand out.
Fill light is the light source used to fill in the shadows created by key light and/or backlights. With more complex lighting setups, you can have multiple fill lights to even out shadows across the subject’s face.
Side Light is where the subject takes up less than a third of the screen, with the light source to one side creating a highlight on one side of the face.
Top Light uses a light source directly above the camera, causing a lit top to appear dark on one side and bright on the other.
Lighting colour and tempreture
Your white balance setting determines how the camera interprets colours in a scene, so it’s important to have this set correctly for the type of lighting you are using.
Your white balance setting should be set according to your key-light source – for example, if you’re shooting outdoors with the sun as your key-light, then use your custom white balance (set it to “sun” or something similar). If you’re shooting indoors under tungsten light bulbs, then use your custom white balance and set it to “incandescent”, or if you’re shooting under fluorescent light, then use the custom white balance option and set it to “fluorescent”.
Colour temperature refers to how red, yellow, blue the light source is.
If there is more yellow/red, then this is said to be “warm” light. A “cooler” light source has more blue in it and will result in more cool colours being reflected onto your subject or scene.
is an objective measure of how bright or dark a light source appears to be, measured in degrees Kelvin (K). A light source with a low KT value will be less bright than one with a high KT value.
Typically, you want to use the whitest possible light without going over 5500K for video or photoshoots.
- Hot lights (tungsten) These are bright, quick to heat up but the heat dissipates quickly. Tungsten bulbs tend to have a low KT and warm CT making them good for indoor lighting. Tungsten bulbs generally come out at 3200-3240K.
- Cold lights (fluorescent) Fluorescent lighting tends to have a high KT and cool CT making them good for outdoor shooting, especially on an overcast day. Fluorescent lights tend to run around 4200-4500K.
- HMI Lights (halogen) These lights are brighter than tungsten and daylight, but not as bright as the sun measuring 5600-5750K, with a CT that is slightly on the cooler side.
- LED lighting is becoming increasingly popular as they produce a lot of light without producing much heat. Good quality LED lights can range from 3200k to 7200k.
- Daylight is measured at around 5600K. A cloudy sky or cool white can be found between 6000K-7500K. A clear blue sky can be found at 10,000K.
Once you understand the basics, experiment with different angles and lighting setups. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes to your video.
Video light setups (in order of increasing difficulty)
This is the easiest and cheapest way to light your video – you simply record when there’s a lot of natural light available.
The problem with this method is that it can be inconsistent because you rely on sunlight or other strong sources of light available in your particular environment. The other downside is that, if you have a video with a lot of action, it can be very hard to keep the lighting consistent throughout.
One backlight and one sidelight
This is probably the most common type of lighting for videos. It’s not overly complicated but it gives you a nice depth because you have both a backlight and a sidelight.
The downside to this is that it might be a bit more difficult to keep your light sources consistent throughout the video.
Two backlights and one sidelight
This is basically what you see in most regular TV shows etc.
The advantage of using two backlights instead of one is that you get really nice highlights on either side of your subject.
The downside of this setup is because you have two lights, it can be a bit trickier to keep them both going at the same time and the lighting more consistent.
There are a few variations on this setup but overall, three-point lighting gives you nice highlights from different angles. The master light(key light) is positioned to the right or left of the subject, just off camera and facing the subject
The fill light is positioned opposite to the master light and is used to reduce shadows on the face ie if your face looks too dark in certain areas, add a small amount of fill light.
The backlight is placed behind your subject and creates a rim of light around your subject’s head/shoulders.
You can also experiment with having two backlights, instead of one. It gives you even nicer highlights but the lighting is less consistent than three-point lighting.
This is quite a complicated setup – basically it consists of two backlights aimed at either side of the subject’s face
The main light is positioned above the subject and slightly in front of him/her. A small fill light should also be used to reduce any shadows on the face.
This type of lighting is very similar to Rembrandt lighting except that there are no shadows under your subject’s nose.
The two backlights are again aimed on either side of the subject’s face
However, instead of having one main light in front, you have a second light positioned at an angle above and to the right or left of your subject. The master light (or key light) is used to create shadows underneath the nose.
Matrix lighting is a very complicated setup that consists of many different lights. It’s used for formal portraits but can also be used to film interviews etc
The key light is placed directly in front of the subject and slightly higher than his/her head. The fill light (or kicker) is positioned on the opposite side, lower and angled upwards to reduce shadows. The backlight is placed behind the subject and slightly lower than the key light, on the same side as the fill light.
Hollywood lighting is usually used for interviews or very close shots of a person’s face. It consists of the main light above and slightly in front of your subject, aimed at the cheekbone.
There’s a second light, called a hair or backlight which is placed directly behind your subject. It prevents shadows from falling across the face and creates a rim of light around the head/shoulders. Fill lights should also be added to reduce any shadows on your subject’s face.
Colour correction for lighting
Gels are colour filters that adhere to the surface of your light source and can change or correct its CT.
Gels vary in densities so they allow you to control the amount of colour filtering required.
For example if you use a blue gel on your tungsten light, it will look normal but it will appear slightly cooler than before. Most commonly plastic or glass, coloured red, green or blue which are attached to lights to change the colour of the light. They can either be placed directly in front of a light source or using a flag (a piece of cloth with the gel taped onto it) to block out any unwanted light.
Other lighting equipment
Flags are used to block light from reaching certain areas ie you can use it to block light from hitting your background or foreground.
Scrims are used to reduce the intensity of a light source ie it’s useful if you have too much spill lighting or if you want something, in particular, to be seen clearly, but everything else needs to be needed for lighting a shot.
Gels are used to change the colour of the light, or at least make it appear another colour. You can use them to match tungsten lights with daylight film, for example to warm up or cool down a shot.
Reflectors are mirrors/aluminium sheets that reflect light.
Honeycomb grids are used with spot lamps to project a narrow beam of light onto a specific subject.
Snoots are utilised with spot lamps to achieve greater beam control. A snoot is a tube-like device that fits over a studio light or small flash.
Barn doors can be used to control the spill of light and block any unwanted light from reaching certain areas. You can use it to prevent light from spilling onto the background so that it remains pure black.
Diffusion material is used to soften the light from a hot or cold light source; it can be anything from cling film to thick white cloth to silk, depending on how much you want the light to spread.
Lighting rig this is a fixture lighting that contains many individual lights usually mounted on arms which you can move around and position as needed.
Cable/plugs/adaptors are used to connect different equipment together so that everything works properly and switches on etc.
Apple boxes are useful if you need to bring lights up or down, ie higher or lower etc
Tripod is used to keep your light source steady and positioned exactly where you need it.
Hot/cold reflectors are used mainly for tungsten or hot lights but can be used to warm up cold lights as well.
Softboxes are used to soften the light from a hot or cold light source. They create very nice, even lighting with no shadows or hotspots.
When putting together your lighting kit lights for video, you need to take into consideration that they need a lot of power to run. If you are plugging them through an extension cord or battery, make sure your extension cord is not too thin and can handle the load.
Lighting is the most important aspect of producing high quality video and it’s vital to get right. It’s worth taking time and care over your lighting setup to achieve the best result possible.
Good lighting may take some practice and you may not get it right the first time but if you know the basics, such as key light and fill light, you can make changes to improve your shot. The more effort you put in, the better your video will look. Get out there and start practising!
If you need help producing videos for your marketing reach out to Hardcraft Digital for a free consultation.