Basic Video Lighting Tips
Cameras are exciting, which is why we spend all our money on them, but unfortunately it’s only once you’ve depleted your bank account you realise you should have bought some lights too…
Video lighting isn’t cheap, good lighting anyway; Quasar, Aputure, Kino, they will all set you back a couple of hundred easily. But there are some tricks you can learn to improve your video lighting when you have forgotten to buy any!
Use natural light
I was on set with Paul Ozgar this week, and he shot an entire music video using nothing but natural light, both interiors and exteriors, it was incredible.
Natural light is both your best friend and your worst enemy, with a mind of its own and an annoying habit of disagreeing with your production schedule. BUT! It’s free, and when right the sky is the best soft video lighting you could ever wish for, giving you that perfect spill on your subject’s face. Being able to use natural light and knowing how to block your scenes in relation to the sun can save you thousands of pounds and make you look like a cinematography genius.
Download Sun Surveyor (on both Apple and android) if you want to give yourself the foresight of weather conditions, sun placement (including a live camera mode) and when that beautiful golden hour will appear for those stellar flare shots.
Practicals are cheap, stylish and as the name suggests, practical. A practical is a video light that is in the frame, such as a lamp or a ceiling light, if you keep your eye out next time you’re watching a film you’re bound to see far more practicals than you ever realised existed.
By placing a light in the scene it allows you to have more flexibility on where the light is positioned in relation to your actors, and you can change the atmosphere simply by changing the light shade or putting some gel near the light (be careful with putting gels near consumer lightbulbs). If you have a lamp or two at home then you could simply buy a few different lightbulbs that fit to give you different lighting options. Don’t fear the lamp in the corner of the shot, you might think it ruins your frame or looks odd but in reality how often do you question a lamp being in a shot?
Lighting for the scene, not the shot.
The director says ‘we’re going to do this close up, then this wide, then this insert shot then this mid’. Now you could light each shot individually, but it will take time that you possibly won’t have and when you get to the edit you may realise none of the shots match up. If you can light for the space, so you can run most if not all of the shots with minimal adjustments; set up your key light somewhere realistic that doesn’t change or impede on your wide, and try thinking about putting those practicals in so they are there for the close ups, you can always cheat them and reposition them for the close ups but if you can light your wide with the close ups in mind you will save yourself all sorts of headaches in production and post-production.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
It’s a bit foggy in here…
Get yourself a fog machine, these things are brilliant, and a lot of fun. If you are shooting with the sun blasting through some windows, by adding the haze you will pick up these light rays on camera and bring a lot of character to your frame, as well as soften any harsh lights you may have on to give a more even spread. You can buy very expensive fog machines, cheap fog machines or even haze in a can, so maybe start of cheap and see if you like the effect, but once you use one you’ll get hooked. Be careful to bare in mind you have enough haze to last the shoot, there’s nothing worse than shooting half a sequence that has a soft haze and the other half looking super sharp, so getting an even balance of haze throughout is your primary objective, and don’t add too much, we’re going for atmosphere not a swirling whirlpool.
Video Lighting with Umbrellas, bounce and greaseproof paper.
The key to great cinematic video lighting is creating a soft effect as oppose to a harsh one (unless that’s the look you’re going for), and to do this can be very costly with grids, diffusion domes and dimmable lights, but there are cheap alternatives. You can pick up small opaque umbrellas off amazon with a knuckle adapter so you can fix it next to your LED lights and drastically reduce the harshness. Alternatively you can use them as a bounce or buy a reflector, and use the light already present to give more shape to the light. But if you’re feeling really tight with the purse strings, then try greaseproof paper to work as a diffuser.
Always make sure you are being very careful about the placement of anything near hot lights, LED panels you should be ok but there is a reason you need electrical qualifications to be a gaffer. But start playing around with these 5 tips and I guarantee you’ll be a far better cinematographer than you were before! If your really low on funds then check out our other article about video lighting on a budget.