One of the key factors separating poor quality video content and professional-looking film is the difference made by lighting.
A well composed frame can be totally transformed by a well placed catch light in your subject’s eyes, or by placing a practical light source in the background to fill out shadows and add depth to your shot.
When we scan an image our eyes are naturally drawn to light sources. A sparkle in your presenters’ eyes can be the difference between a viewer staying with your video till the credits roll and switching off part way through. But how do you get that magic spark without breaking the budget on kit?
Here’s our top 3 tips for lighting videos on a budget.
Lights, Camera, Background!
Using background lighting as a feature is a great way to add production value to your shoots, especially when all you need is a few cheap fairy lights on a thread.
This is a favourite trick of Youtubers that works great for any sit-down interview or product shot. When your only light source is behind the camera your images can quickly start to look flat.
A cheap and cheerful way to brighten up your shots and create depth is to string some coloured lights across the back of your scene. Easily sourced for as little as £1 – these can provide a soft, coloured glow behind your subject.
This works especially well if you are able to shoot with your lenses “wide open”, or with a low F-stop such as F/1.4, creating a nice blurry background. This will throw your fairy lights out of focus creating soft spots of “bokeh” that glint in the background.
You can even use your fairy lights in front of your subject, by hanging them from lighting stands close to the lens, as in the image below!
Build your own Reflector Boards
This is an especially good tip for shooting outside. However it also works just as well for interior shooting where you’re reliant on the sunlight as your key (main source of light).
Good lighting isn’t just about how much budget you have to throw lights at a scene. It’s equally as important to think about how you will control or ‘shape’ the available light you have.
Some of the common ways we do this on set is through the use of bounce boards or reflectors. These are often large sheets of polystyrene which are painted black on one side to block light, and white on the other to reflect it.
A good reflector can be made by covering one side of a stiff off-cut of cardboard with tin foil. You can also cover one side with black paint so you can reflect light onto your subject from another light source.
in addition to this you can use the black side to stop light spilling where you don’t want it and causing bright spots on walls and surfaces (called ‘flagging light’).
You can also use baking trays covered in the same materials for a super durable reflector that won’t blow away in the wind!
Practical Video Light-source Bargains
The lighting choice du-jour for freelance cinematographers at the moment is LED lighting. Razr are now making fresnels that burn as brightly as any Arri professional fresnel for a fraction of the cost.
Any number of third party suppliers sell iPad-size bicolour LED panels that can be quickly put up and packed down without having to wait for the lights to cool down.
The average price for a good third party bicolour LED panel with a stand and batteries to run it still comes close to around £100-150, but there are other practical options that can be had for a bargain price.
If you’re ok with forsaking control over brightness/intensity and colour temperature, caravan lights and other large LED torches might be a great option.
I’ve picked up a daylight balanced LED strip designed for caravans for as little as £12 from a home hardware store, and they can be bright enough to provide a decent output as a fill or back light for an interview.
Checkout this tutorial below about how to build a high powered LED panel for £40!
One final thing to remember is you’ll never be able to balance sunlight using cheap practicals. So if your main source of lighting is the sun you’re better off using reflectors and flags to help you shape the natural light available. It’s easier than trying to combat a strong sunny key light with a tiny caravan torch as a fill.
If you want to try some of these lighting techniques for yourself, try eliminating other light sources (e.g. by drawing the curtains/blocking the windows). This means you can really see what a difference your practical lights can make.