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Basic Video Lighting Tips

5 Basic Video Lighting Tips (You Need To Know)

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Lighting is an essential part of filmmaking. In this article, we look at 5 basic tips to improve your video lighting.

Cameras are exciting, which is why we spend all our money on them, but unfortunately, it’s only once you’ve drained 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!

1. 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.

On the other hand, 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 money and make you look like a cinematography genius.

Download Sun Surveyor (on both Apple and Android) if you want to give yourself the inside scope of weather conditions, sun placement (including a live camera mode) and sunset.

2. Practicals

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 sure to see 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. Also, you can change the atmosphere simply by changing the light shade or putting a 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?

3. Light The Scene

So the director says ‘we’re going to do this closeup, 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. Also when you get to the edit you may realise none of the shots match up.

Instead, if you can light for the entire space then you’ll reduce the number of setups. This means you can run most if not all of the shots with minimal adjustments.

Firstly, set up your key light somewhere realistic that doesn’t change or restrict your wide shot. Secondly, try thinking about putting those practicals in so they are there for the close-ups.

You can always cheat 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.

Trust me, I’ve been there. 🙈

4. Use Smoke

Get yourself a fog machine, these things are brilliant, and a lot of fun. If you are shooting with the sun blasting through some side windows, by adding the haze you’ll get atmospheric looking light rays. This helps bring character to your frame, as well as soften any harsh lights you may have and give a more even spread.

You can buy expensive fog machines, cheap fog machines or even haze in a can, so maybe start off cheap and see if you like the effect. Once you use one you’ll be hooked.

Make sure 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. Getting an even balance of haze throughout is the skill, and don’t add too much, we’re going for atmosphere, not 90s rave.

5. Diffuse

The key to great cinematic video lighting is creating a soft effect as opposed to a harsh one (unless that’s the look you’re going for).

To do this can be a bit expensive with grids, diffusion domes and dimmable lights, but there are cheap alternatives. You can pick up small diffuser umbrellas off amazon with a knuckle adapter so you can fix them 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 on a budget then try greaseproof paper to work as a diffuser.

Video Lighting Tips – Wrapping Up

In short, there are many options out there for lighting video but these are our 5 top tips that are the most effective. Have a play and remember don’t be afraid of building your own DIY setups or trying more budget lighting options.

You’ll be a far better cinematographer than you were before!

Aram Atkinson
Aram Atkinson
Aram is an award-winning writer, director and DOP. He specialises in commercials and high concept dramas.
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