Tips for Getting Good Lighting
Watch this introductory video and read the text below to learn how you can make the most out of natural and artificial light while filming. Regardless of what kind of camera or camcorder you have, the three sections – light, exposure and white balance – have general tips and tricks that can help you out.
Most camcorders are good at recording in low levels of light and will automatically accommodate for it. Although the camcorder will record in low-light conditions, the definition of the pictures you collect may be poor or the colors subdued. Shooting outdoors during daylight hours, even on overcast days, or indoors in a room with plenty of sunlight will always produce good results.
Filming inside: If you are filming an interview in a room and there is plenty of sunlight coming through the window, sit with your back facing the window and sit your interviewee facing the light source so that the sunshine will light their face. If you sit them with their back to the window shooting into the light source, the camcorder will take its reading from the brightest image in the frame and close down its iris so as not to over-expose the shot. This will result in your interviewee becoming silhouetted in the picture, a good technique if you want your interviewee’s identity to remain a secret but not if you want them to be seen!
Filming outside: It is always best to try and keep your back to the sun rather than to shoot into it, although this won’t always be possible. Pointing your camcorder directly at a very bright light source can damage the camcorder. If the daylight level falls while you’re filming or you need to shoot at night indoors, you will need to use extra, artificial lighting to make sure the pictures you collect are of good quality.
Hand-held lights: If you are using hand held lights with a separate power pack you will need someone with you to hold it. Because hand held lights are quite powerful, it’s a good idea not to have it too close to your subjects as this lighting maybe very harsh. You should aim to have this light about 3 feet away from your subject, held above the level of the lens and angled down slightly. This will be far more flattering for your subject. Or you could try reflecting the light by pointing at the wall or ceiling and letting it bounce off on to your subject.
Free-standing main lights: Free-standing mains powered lights produce a strong flood of light over a wide area, providing a good level of overall illumination. With some mains powered lights you can adjust the spread of light from a wide or flood position to a narrow or spot position. They also usually have metal flaps, called “barn doors”, to control the direction of light or to stop the light spilling into areas you do not wish to be lit. But be careful with these types of lights as it’s easy to burn yourself on them. The metal flaps get extremely hot, very quickly. It’s best to wear gloves or use a cloth to adjust them and pack them away. Better still, wait for them to cool down before you move or dismantle them.
Top 5 Tips
- Shooting outside or in a sunny room can give you great light
- Low light can produce poor pictures
- Have light shine on subjects – back-lit subjects appear silhouetted
- Lights approximately 3 feet away are most flattering
- Don’t burn yourself – wear gloves to handle a mains light!
All camcorders are equipped with an automated exposure system, where just like your eye, the iris of the camcorder will close down or open up to let in the correct amount of light to collect good pictures. If there is not much light available, the camcorder will automatically open up the iris or increase the aperture to take in as much light as possible. In just the same way, if there is too much light, the iris will close down to limit the brightness and make sure that your shot is not over-exposed. It is possible to over-ride this function on the camcorder by switching to manual iris. If you do this, you will have to adjust the iris of the camcorder yourself and judge how much light you think you will need. The instruction manual that came with your camcorder will help you to do this.
But it’s probably better to use the automatic iris most of the time as it will make using your camcorder far easier. You won’t have to worry about checking on this aspect of filming good pictures, leaving you to be able to concentrate on the other aspects of videotaping.
Unless you adjust what is called the “white balance” on your camcorder you may end up with very orange or very blue pictures. Different sources of light produce light of different color temperatures that the white balance can adjust to accommodate and ensure that the colors in your pictures stay as real to the original as possible. Artificial lighting, such as normal light-bulbs used in the home, will produce an orange tinge. Daylight is more blue.
Most camcorders have an automatic white balance facility that will register the color temperature of the prevailing source of light and make the necessary adjustments without your having to worry about adjusting anything at all. However, some camcorders have pre-set white balance positions to cope with different types of lighting such as daylight or indoor or tungsten light. If your camcorder is like this, try not to forget to re-set these positions if the lighting conditions change. For example, if you come from filming outside and then begin filming inside without adjusting your white balance setting, your pictures will be very orange. Likewise, if you are filming indoors and then go outside to shoot more pictures without adjusting the white balance position, you will end up with very blue pictures.
If your camcorder does not have an automatic white balance system or if there is mixed daylight and artificial light and you are unsure as to which setting you should be using, you can easily set the white balance yourself by holding a white piece of paper in front of the camcorder, or by pointing the camcorder at a white wall or white material and pressing the white balance function. This will make the camcorder lock into the correct white balance for the circumstances and ensure that you have top quality images of the correct color temperature.
- Check white balance for color whenever changing locations
- Artificial light gives an orange tinge
- Outdoor light gives a blue tinge
Low budget tips for lighting (2:59)
What Next? Tips on How to Film a Live Event
- If you’re interested in learning more about 3-point lighting, check out this video from videomaker (3:31)
- This short video from videomaker tells you which light to use (0:51)
- Are you thinking of filming at night? Watch this video from videomaker to learn about night lighting (3:43)
- This video from smpfilms gives great info on low-budget lighting techniques (5:30)