James Thurber said it best: ”There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” I don’t think it could be summed up better, especially from a man who was partially blind. Continuing from my previous blog about Developing Video Content for the Web, in which I introduced this series and discussed the ins and outs of purchasing a camera, today we’re going to delve into the world of lighting.
The one thing I want to reiterate from the previous blog is that just like there are many cameras on the market, there are also numerous lighting solutions. These solutions, depending on the amount of light you need and your choice of brand, can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Purchase only what is needed to accomplish your shoot professionally while staying within your budget.
In the production world, many people say that lighting is the trickiest, most complex aspect of shooting. This is definitely true if you are not prepared. Today I will go over the preparation, set-up, and equipment needed to accomplish a professional-looking web video. With that said, let there be light!
I want to start this by saying, ”No, it can not be fixed in post!” When preparing to go into shoots, don’t assume that any problems with lighting (or the camera) can be fixed with the editing software. You should always go into the shoot knowing the look and feel of what you want, then plan on the best way to accomplish it. If you must rely on the computer software to fix your problem, expect a longer time spent editing and cleaning up.
Benjamin Franklin said, ”By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” I mean, you wouldn’t run the NYC marathon without training, or enter into a business presentation without doing the research. First and most importantly, know the environment where your shoot will take place. Is this shoot going to be outside or inside? If shooting outside, what time of day? It’s difficult to go into all scenarios, so for the sake of not writing a full essay, I will focus on setting up lighting for an indoor shoot. If you plan on shooting outside, there are many great books including Film Lighting and Lighting for Digital Video & Television. Both are great references, which were required reading for me back in graduate school and which I still use today.
(Quick tips on shooting outside: Shoot on a partially overcast day, when the much softer light makes for a nice even tone. When shooting on a bright day, try to shoot near the beginning or end of the day, rather than midday when the sun is directly overhead – that’s when images tend to be blown out and uneven.)
Shooting inside, as I said before, is much easier due to your ability to control the environment. First, make sure there is enough room. When setting up for something like a newscast, in which there will be only one or two people, you will likely need three or four lights, depending on space. So make sure there is enough room to set up the lights and give the effect you desire. There is nothing worse than a tight, closed-in room, especially with lighting equipment heating it up like an oven. (You should always turn your lights off when not being used for long periods of time.) So make sure to choose the location wisely.
Second, close all blinds and turn off all overhead lighting, especially bad fluorescent office bulbs. You want to control the light, not the earth’s rotation: The sun moves throughout the day causing shifts in light, while overhead lighting is fixed and tends to make rooms too bright and uncontrolled.
Last, make sure the shooting area will not be affected by random events which can change the light. People moving around the room can sometimes throw shadows – so no walking near the lights while shooting is going on. Air conditioning can move objects such as plants or light objects in your frame, causing uncontrolled shadows – so make sure to turn it off before you begin shooting, not only for lighting but also for sound issues. Just try to keep your shooting space controlled.
Placement of the lights depends on the mood you are trying to present. Are you doing a stylized vibrant news show, or a critique of your favorite horror movies to post on a blog?
Keeping it simple, let’s go over a static shot where there is only one or two subjects. Again, you will most likely need only three to four lights, depending on room size. One or two lights should evenly light your background, depending on the size of frame, while one or two lights should illuminate your subject.
Now, your desired mood will determine the wattage of bulbs and placement of lights. Try using 150w on your subject and 150w -300w for background. Play around to find the tone you want while giving a nice depth of field and an even light on your subject. You don’t necessarily want to use direct light on either your background or subject, so it is best to use umbrellas (available in most kits) or a reflective surface (more on that in a minute) to spread the light evenly. When you have the desired setup, make sure to either mark the floor with tape or take a picture – this will ensure continuity throughout your future shoots.
As I mentioned before there are a lot of lighting solutions. I recommend going with a simple kit at first; most of the time this will solve most of your needs. You will most likely only need to purchase a few soft/indirect subject lights and reflectors to achieve your desired look. There are some great kits on the market for a very reasonable price.
For soft and even subject lighting, Dot Line Corps 2 Umbrella Kit or Wescotts Portable Studio Lighting Kit should do nicely. For the background, depending again on the camera framing, try Smith–Victor’s Photoflood Light Kit. All of these lighting setups will definitely work, especially in the world of online video.
As I mentioned above most light kits come with an umbrella for indirect lighting, though you can also purchase a reflector that best fits your budget. When it comes to reflectors, I say go with the good old poster board – it is cheap and disposable. But if you want something with a little more staying power and versatility both inside and outside, go with a collapsible reflector. You should also purchase a few extra light bulbs.
If you really feel lost trying to find the most cost-effective and sturdy setup, talk to a local or online store and explain your needs. RitzCamera, B&H, and Samys are all competitive online stores, and most of the time they have what you need is in their vast inventory. Another great thing about these places is that you usually can bargain between them. My advice is look into the exact setup you like, then have a little bidding war between the stores. You will be surprised how much the price can drop.
Lighting a video shoot does not have to be a tedious, stressful ordeal. Just remember to prepare, have backup bulbs, and always keep your lights off when not in use for long periods of time. The last thing you need is an unprepared shoot in a confined space where your actor is sweating like he/she is in the Sahara. That is just not good for anyone!
More to come…
Senior Video Producer
Without humor, life would be a joke.