Lighting is a critical element of any video, but getting the right light isn’t as hard as most people think! This isn’t rocket science, yet somehow many people overcomplicate things when it comes to video lighting setup, often spending hours on something that should only take minutes.
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In this video lighting tutorial for beginners, we’ll cover some simple techniques that will help you to get your lighting set up just right each time you create a video. Even if you’re new to filming, following these tips will get you great results in much less time.
So if you’re ready to light your video like a pro, let’s get started!
5 Helpful Video Lighting Tips for Beginners
The key thing to remember about lighting is that it doesn’t need to be perfect. As long as you follow these 5 easy video lighting tips, you’ll consistently get great results:
- Tip #1: Light Your Subject First
- Tip #2: Start With What You Have
- Tip #3: Use Three Point Lighting
- Tip #4: Leave Your Lights Set Up
- Tip #5: Position Lights Just Above Eye Level
Tip #1: Light Your Subject First
There are a few key fundamentals to lighting, and the first is to always light your subject before anything else. Every video has a subject, and that is what your light should be focused on first and foremost.
Whether that subject is a person (such as yourself) or an object (such as a product you’re promoting) does not matter. Just remember to shine the light primarily in the direction of the thing that you want the audience to focus on.
The reasoning behind this is pretty obvious. The key focus of any video you create is where you should be putting in the most effort to attract the audience’s attention. This is the part that HAS to look good, so before you focus on the background lighting, focus on the subject first.
Tip #2: Start With What You Have
There’s no need to purchase a pricey video lighting kit, which brings us to tip #2: start with what you have. Before you go out and buy a lighting kit, look around and see what you already have to work with.
It could be a floor lamp, a desk lamp, overhead track lighting, or natural light coming in from outside. Even just sitting in front of a window during your video can make a huge difference.
A Quick Note About Ceiling Lights
Using ceiling lights is a great way to light up your video, but it’s not always ideal to use these depending on your position below them. When ceiling lights are located directly above the subject, it tends to cast some pretty intense shadows.
If you’re the one who is being filmed and you’re sitting directly beneath ceiling lights, you’ll notice lots of undereye shadows and harsh lighting in general that just doesn’t look good on screen.
You can absolutely use ceiling lights, just be mindful of where they’re located and how they’re casting light on the subject.
If you do choose to use overhead lighting, it’s best to position your subject slightly in front of the light so that it’s lighting the scene up from the back and not casting harsh light from the front.
How to Position Your Lights
Before getting into the positioning techniques for video lighting, it’s important to remember that this is a creative process. Since everyone expresses creativity differently, there is no right or wrong method here.
While some people don’t like the look of harsh shadows, others do. At the end of the day, this is your content, and you need to express your creativity in the way you see fit.
We’re here to give you video production tips on how to get better lighting results based on what has worked at Primal Video. But as we said, there’s no right or wrong. Run with it in the way you see fit, and remember, there’s no need to strive for perfection.
On that note, let’s get into some video lighting positioning techniques. Here are the main things to keep in mind as you position your lights:
- Remember tip #1 – light the subject first
- Use at least 1 light source (remember, use what you have!) placed near the direction the subject is facing – ideally, right next to or above the camera
- If you’re using two lights, use the stronger light to focus on the subject and the second light to illuminate the background
Tips for Using Multiple Lights
When using 1 light, the best results are found by placing the light source near the camera, but that’s not always the case for multiple lights. For those of you who will be using 2+ lights, you’ve got a few different options.
- Option 1: you could use the primary light (which is the brightest one) to light up the subject by positioning it near the camera. Then, you could position the second light behind the subject to light up the background.
- Option 2: you could use both lights to light up the subject in order to get a different look. If you choose to take this route, try positioning each light further away from the camera on either side (about a 45-degree angle from the subject).
Having lights in front of the subject on either side of the camera will help to counteract shadows and fill in darker areas on both sides of the subject’s face.
A Quick Note About Using Natural Light
Natural light is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to lighting up your video. By all means, go ahead and take advantage of rooms with large windows when shooting a video.
Just remember that natural light is not constant and changes as the day goes on.
Too much change in the natural lighting during a video can distract the viewers, so if you’re shooting around sunset, it might be a good idea to shut the blinds or draw the curtains.
However, it’s not always an issue, especially if you’ve taken the steps to properly light up your subject from the front. It really all comes down to personal preference, just make sure changing natural light doesn’t become distracting to viewers.
Tip #3: Use Three Point Lighting
Alright, on to the next tip regarding a popular lighting setup called “Three-Point Lighting”. You’ll see this technique mentioned a lot in YouTube video lighting tutorials, and it’s really popular for documentaries and TV broadcasts.
The name “Three-Point Lighting” says it all; it uses 3 separate lights to illuminate the scene from 3 different angles.
The position of these lights is as follows:
- Light #1: AKA the primary light, will be shining from the front side at about a 45-degree angle to focus on the subject’s face.
- Light #2: will also be positioned in front of the subject, but this one is located on the opposite side of the camera. Even though this light shouldn’t be as bright as the primary light, it will help to fill in any shadows and brighten up the subject from all sides.
- Light #3: will be positioned behind the subject. Ideally, it will be placed slightly higher to shed light downwards and separate the subject from the background.
When to Use Three Point Lighting (and When Not to)
While this lighting strategy is great for documentary shots and more advanced corporate work, it’s not entirely necessary that you use the three-point system.
Remember what we said about using what you have? Well, if you don’t have a third light, then no worries! Just keep it to one or two depending on what you have. Adding in a third light isn’t always the way to go and it can be overkill for beginner setups.
Tip #4: Leave Your Lights Set Up
It can be really helpful to play around with your lighting setup, move things around, and make adjustments. At the same time, doing that can add a lot of unnecessary work.
That’s why we recommended leaving your lights set up after you’ve finished recording, especially once you’ve got them perfectly positioned. That way, you can walk into the room, turn on the lights, and start filming, all in a matter of seconds.
You might still have to make some minor tweaks to things like brightness and positioning based on the natural light coming in. But as long as you keep the lights where you left them last time you filmed, you shouldn’t have to do much else.
Tip #5: Position Lights Just Above Eye Level
Now that we’ve gone over some cheap video lighting techniques for beginners, it’s time to move on to our last tip, and that is to position your lights just above eye level.
Keeping your lights above the subject’s eye level tends to create a nice twinkle in the eyes that many videographers strive for. Keeping this tip in mind, you might have to change the position of your lights if you switch between sitting and standing throughout your videos.
Now You’re Ready to Light Your Video Like a Pro!
There you have it – the complete video lighting tutorial for beginners! Hopefully, we’ve been able to shed some light (get it?!) on this topic so that you can start lighting up your set like a pro.
Remember, always start with what you have, light up the subject before the background, position lights slightly above eye level, and consider using strategies like three point lighting. To make things easier on you, leave your lights set up exactly where you want them for the next video you create.
We hope you learned a lot from this video lighting tutorial and if you’d like to learn some more advanced lighting techniques, check out our step-by-step tutorial on How to Get a Blurry Background in Videos.
Low Cost Tools for Video Lighting
While it’s not 100% necessary to invest in any additional gear, there are a few tools that can take your video lighting efforts to the next level.
Making a small investment in an additional portable light or a cheap video lighting kit that is specifically designed for shooting videos can make a world of difference.
Here are some of the best products to start lighting like a pro:
Once again, it’s definitely not necessary to invest in any of these, but a portable light or complete lighting kit can take your video to a more professional level. For our complete list of recommended lights, check out our review of the Best Portable Lights for under $70!
And when it comes to editing your video after you’ve finished filming, grab a free copy of our guide that will show you the ULTIMATE Process for Editing Videos Faster.
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Recommended Lighting Kits:
Recommended Portable Lights:
Check out an up-to-date list of all the gear, software & tools we use and recommend right now at Primal Video on our resources page here!