If I’ve learned anything from my years of YouTube video production experience, it’s the importance of lighting. Lighting is critical to the quality, mood, and tone of a video. Poor quality lighting can lead to grainy, unattractive images and distract from the main message, while high quality lighting attracts viewers and emphasizes the video’s subjects.
Luckily, creators can control and master the lighting setup of a video, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. I started creating vlogs for YouTube as a 14-year-old with almost no film experience, and learned how to create effective lighting through a combination of experimentation and research. In this post, I’ll describe five steps to guide you through the process of producing beautifully-lit videos.
1. Understand the effects of light
Unfortunately, simply turning on all the lights in a room may not do much to improve image quality. You need more intention to craft clear, well-lit scenes. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Manipulating light is basically the process of manipulating shadows. Visually, light changes the amount of shadow on the subject. For example, directing light towards a person’s face will eliminate shadows, while placing the light at other angles will allow shadows to creep back into areas of the person’s face.
- Pay attention to light temperature. This is a major factor which affects the color of the subject and mood of the scene. Warm light gives off a reddish glow, while cool light appears blue-tinted. In a studio setting, the temperature depends mostly on the type of light bulb used. Adjusting the brightness of light won’t alter the temperature, so finding your desired light temperature must be done before modifying the setup of light fixtures or intensity of light.
- Three point lighting is a standard technique for shooting video. This technique ensures an evenly-lit image. As the name suggests, three lights are involved. The first light (the “key” light) is placed in front of the subject on one side and illuminates the whole scene. A second light (the “fill” light) is placed in front of the subject on the other side and provides more detail to the subject’s dark side. Lastly, the back light is directed at an angle towards the back of the subject and adds more depth to the image. The fill light and back light brighten the scene more evenly and avoid creating a spotlight on the subject. But if you only have one light, you can get by with the key light alone.
2. Think about your ideal image
You are the only person who can define what “good lighting” looks like. The general rule to face the key light, for example, doesn’t work well if you want to create a dramatic effect with shadows falling across someone’s face. Before starting to film anything, visualize your ideal image. Once you do that, look around for other videos that can act as guides in that they are similar to what you’re hoping to create (many YouTubers actually dedicate videos to discussing their lighting strategies). Considering the following questions can also help you coordinate your lighting setup.
- What kind of mood and tone are you trying to convey? If you’re aiming for more natural, relaxed lighting that won’t cast harsh shadows, use a subject facing a window or sun. If you’re in a studio or it’s night, try out the three point lighting technique with artificial light and pay attention to the shadows.
- What kind of video is it? A video focused on small objects, such as a jewelry or makeup tutorial, will benefit from concentrated, bright light. An interview or a travel vlog benefits from more dispersed soft light. The internet is filled with guides on the best lighting practices for specific types of videos.
3. Experiment (the fun part)!
There is no better way to find what works than by trying it out yourself. It’s go time: start experimenting with shadows and light temperature and notice how this fits with your goals for the video. With regards to the physical setup of your light fixtures, some factors to play around with include light intensity, the distance of lights from the subject, the types of light in the background, and the angle/height of lights. In short: set up, film, review, repeat. Who knows, you might discover something you never would have imagined! Trial and error for the win.
4. Consider buying additional light fixtures
You don’t need to spend extra money on lighting equipment; to this day, I haven’t spent a single dollar on lights designated for filming. But if you still aren’t pleased with your light quality, you can purchase other light products or kits. There are a range of products on Amazon that are especially popular with vloggers such as softboxes, ring lights, umbrellas, and reflectors. With the right lighting arrangement, you can make any space in your own home work perfectly as a video studio: check out this article on DIY studio setups for comprehensive details.
Check out this article for a more detailed discussion on these different products and discounts. Consider using light fixtures that aren’t specifically for film production, like this floor lamp from Ikea with three adjustable lights!
I spy lighting equipment! 😂 You can often tell when people are using ring lights from the reflection in their eyes
Here at Kapwing, we decided to invest in a ring light for our office, but most of our YouTube videos are filmed with natural lighting.
5. Edit the videos after
If you still aren’t satisfied with the video quality after filming – fear not! Post-production video editing tools allow you to manipulate the lighting of a video to get it up to par with your desires. Kapwing’s online Video Filters tool allows you to quickly brighten the lighting in any clip for free. Check out their other video editing tools while you’re at it.
Even though I’ve learned a lot about lighting over the last few years of video production, I’m still playing around with lighting and discovering more each time, as all filmographers do. In the end, mastering the art of lighting is all about experimentation – only you can determine how to achieve the image you want with the resources available.
So don’t sit here thinking for too long: go forth and create!