Lighting for video can be a very complicated subject, especially when you are dealing with large spaces and groups of people, boom microphones and moving camera shots. When shooting simple talking head videos, close ups, medium shots or most cutaways, good lighting can be boiled down to one simple concept. Shine the brightest light on the most important thing you want people to see.
The most common mistake made in video lighting
The most basic level (and probably the one that is most often done poorly) is when there is one bright source of light (like the sun coming in through a window, for example.) Since you typically cannot move the window or the sun, move the camera and/or the person who is talking so that the sunlight is shining on their face. Avoid having it directly in their eyes (somewhat off to one side is ideal) and most of the time that will be enough of a change to make a decent-looking video image.
There are other forms of light
If you only have artificial light available things can get a little bit more complicated, because enough light to see is not always enough light to make a good-looking video image. This is especially true when you have little to no control over the position and/or direction of the light source(s). Many videographers bring their own lights with them on location because video lights are designed to be bright, compact, efficient and highly controllable. Even without using video lights you can get an acceptable image by paying attention to what you are looking at and moving things and people around a bit.
What to do with the lights you find
If there is a lamp and you can move it, use that to shine a bright light on the person talking (remember not to shine the light in their eyes; from the front and off to one side a bit usually works well.) Keep lights that are distracting and pointed at odd things turned off or reposition them so that they do not draw the viewers eyes away from what is most important to conveying the message of the video.
Natural light moves
One thing to keep in mind if you are shooting a video with more than one shot in it is to be consistent with your lighting. Remember that sunlight is constantly changing and it can look weird to have one shot kind of dark, with the sun low, followed immediately by a very bright shot with the sun up high especially if they are filmed in the same location.
Other “not as bright” lights
Any other lights you have available can be used to further refine the lighting of your shot. You might consider lighting the background separately to give some depth to the image. Also, having only one light shining on your subject can render a kind of “harsh” looking picture. Try using other lights to balance out the lighting by aiming them from the opposite side (as your main brightest light) or even behind the subject to separate them from the background. Be on the look out for shadows and be aware that they are a factor in the look of your video lighting just as much as the highlights (brightest areas) are.
Speed trumps “perfection”
Getting a perfectly lit shot is an exercise in frustration, I highly recommend that you practice getting well-lit shots quickly, everyone involved in the production will thank you for that, including yourself.
I’m here to help
Let me know if you have any problems when making your videos or if you want to have any specific questions answered, before you get into trouble with your video productions. I’ve been shooting, editing and delivering videos since 1989 and I’ve learned a few things since then that could be helpful to you.
Who I am:
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