Let me shed some light on this for you.
Let there be light.
Blinded by the light.
Just some light puns.
Nowadays, everybody is on camera a lot more than they used to be. We have meetings, interviews, even parties on Zoom. We livestream our concerts, workshops, conferences, games, you name it — using Switcher Studio. Anything that was done in person is now done over a phone, tablet, or computer screen.
Part of looking professional in the new norm involves knowing a little bit about lighting. And let’s face it, lighting is tough.
We’re going to talk about the best lighting setups for video and give you the tools you need to light yourself in an affordable and easy way that makes you look professional. We will talk through three different types of lights and how to set them up, as well as some info about lighting in general that will help you get the look you want. Then, we will actually walk through how we set up the light for the video in this blog post and talk about the decision-making process that we went through.
Good lighting is hardly ever noticed, but bad lighting will always stick out like a sore thumb. So, let’s first talk about what not to do.
Don’t put your main light source behind you
I can’t stress this one enough. You may have the most beautiful view out your window, but no one really cares if they can’t see your face. With such a bright light source behind you, only your silhouette will be seen on camera. That’s not a good look.
Don’t light everything from straight in front of you
When everything is lit evenly from the front, you lose a lot of depth and it makes it hard to focus on the subject. It’s distracting when there is so much to look at.
Don’t use too much light
If your scene is lit too heavily and you have too much light, you risk overexposing your subject and overlighting your background. This means you can’t see the person on camera and they just turn into a bright, undefined blob. Overlighting your background will cause you to lose any separation of your subject and background. Again, this can be distracting.
Don’t use too little light
This should be obvious. If you don’t have enough light, it’s going to be hard to see your beautiful face on camera. You might as well be shooting in a closet.
Let’s get something straight. I am not about spending money. We are going to create professional looking lighting without breaking the bank.
With a basic understanding of lights, you can use cheaper lighting solutions — lights a lot of us already have — to make a professional lighting setup.
We won’t be using really expensive lights for this setup, but the same principles apply across the board. There are three main types of lights that will help you get set up:
- Key light: This is going to be your main light source.
- Fill light: This will help manage shadows cast by your key light.
- Hair light: This light helps separate you from the background.
Key, fill, and hair lights are the three types of lights used for a three-point lighting setup.
Using these three types of lights you can make what’s called a three-point lighting setup.
The key light will illuminate the subject, the fill light will fill in any shadows, and the hair light will separate the subject from the background.
The key light is typically placed just to one side of the camera so that the light wraps slightly around the face but still casts a little bit of shadow. Remember shadows aren’t bad: They are what give an object shape.
To manage our shadow, we’ll use a fill light on the opposite side of the camera at a much lower intensity. This will help us not look too dramatic and make sure we don’t lose detail on the shadow side of our subject.
The hair light will go behind our subject, and it will illuminate the edges of our subject’s hair, giving them a nice contour that defines them from the background.
Lighting color temperature
Another thing to note is color temperature. Color temperature is on a scale denoted with Kelvins that describes the color of light. On the lower end of the spectrum, we have an orangey red at about 1,000 Kelvin — this is the color of a lit candle. And at the higher end of the spectrum, we have a blue color at 10,000 Kelvin — this is the color of a blue sky.
Daylight, or a whiter direct sunlight, usually falls around 5,000 Kelvin. And incandescent, or a yellowy indoor light, falls at around 2,800 Kelvin.
So all you need to know about this is that there is a different color temperature between outdoor and indoor light. You can buy lights in either color, but try to keep the lighting temperature balanced for a more natural look.
General lighting characteristics
Now let’s talk about some more general lighting characteristics that will help you identify the right lighting for the look you want.
First off let’s talk about soft and hard light.
Hard lights have strong shadows. This lighting is super moody and dramatic. Hard lighting is popular in certain film genres, like film noir or horror, but it’s probably not what you're looking to create for your livestream or Zoom meeting.
Hard lighting is also not an incredibly flattering lighting technique. It will cast strong shadows and make facial features appear much more angular.
Now soft lighting, on the other hand, casts softer shadows or no shadow at all.
It tends to allow the light to wrap around the subject, and it’s a much more flattering look.
Setting up a scene
Now we are ready to start actually setting up a scene.
The first thing you want to do when you walk into a room where you are going to be on camera — whether that is for an interview, Zoom meeting, podcast, livestream, whatever — is to find your lighting motivation.
And I don’t mean finding motivation to set up lighting. That can be hard sometimes, I know.
Motivation simply refers to what light sources already exist. It’s easier to find an existing light source that you can augment with other lights than to try to create good lighting out of nothing. It will give you a much more natural look if you use what your location is already providing.
This can be a window, lamp, or light fixture. As long as it’s your main preexisting light source, you're good to go.
For me, in this room, it’s the windows along this wall. With all the lights off, this is my main light source. So I want to position myself so that my main light source is in front of me and to one side.
Natural light from windows is perfect for lighting motivation.
I have positioned my desk in between these two windows, perpendicular to the wall so that the bigger set of windows is in front of me and the smaller window is behind me. This small window is not my main light source, but it will serve a purpose in my lighting setup.
Using additional lights
Now that we have identified our lighting motivation and decided on a position, we can start to augment our lighting with additional lights.
First, I am going to set up this small LED light on the same side as my lighting motivation. This LED light lets you control the color temperature, so I am going to set it to daylight to match the color temperature of the natural light coming through the windows.
LED daylight bulbs can help match the color temperature of natural light.
If I put it to the side, pointing right at me, the light is going to be really hard and cast some heavy shadows on my face.
Instead, I am going to turn the light away from me and point it at the wall next to me. What this does is it allows for the light source to bounce off the wall and diffuse to make a much softer light. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a wall right next to you, try moving it farther away and putting a white cloth in between you and the light. Or try to put up some foam core to bounce the light off just like there was a wall there.
Create a softer light by aiming your LED lights at the wall.
Now we still have shadow on the other side of my face, so we are going to use a fill light on the side opposite my key light to help lessen some of the harsh shadows.
So let's throw another LED light on the other side — turn it away from me and set it to be daylight. Luckily, I have another wall that is farther away, which means that the light bouncing back will be softer, but it will also be less intense because it has farther to travel once it is bounced back to me.
Aiming LED lights at walls farther away from you will make the light less intense due to the distance it has to travel.
This is great because we don’t want our fill light to be as strong as our key light. It is simply supposed to help fill in some of the shadows from our key light.
Now let’s talk about a hair light.
Remember that window behind me? It’s giving just enough light to help separate me from my background. I have a window shade to soften the light and make it less distracting, but it still gives enough light to separate me from the background.
The background seems a bit dark to me, so I am actually going to throw another light back there. This will be a practical light. A practical light is any light that is visible in the frame that gives off light. This practical light will serve a few different purposes: it will brighten the background a bit, provide more of a hair light to separate me from my background, and it will also be a compositional element in my set.
Lamps with incandescent lightbulbs work great for practical lighting in indoor spaces.
Now for this practical light, it makes sense for it to be an indoor incandescent lightbulb, and it doesn’t look unnatural. It just looks like I am in a room with plenty of natural light.
So I hope this walk-through will help you next time you are looking to light a subject for your video, livestream, or even Zoom meeting.