Emerging Tech, Trends & Insights

Video lighting: Best practices for every budget

By Febian Perez | Jan 8, 2019


Proper lighting is an integral element to all video shoots – regardless of one’s budget. When you take the types of videos that appear amateurish or cheap, and compare them to videos you deem professional and beautiful, one can’t help but notice that it is the quality of lighting and relevant techniques that make or break a video’s final look. Innovative and proper lighting techniques can make a $100 video look as if it were created with three times the budget.

Here are some practices you can follow, and equipment you can stock up on, if you’re wondering how to get good video lighting for your budget:

Outside – Daytime

In this situation, the sun is often on your side. You would need to diffuse the lighting, or soften the quality of the light so that it isn’t as harsh on the face and other focal points for your shot. Use your choice of diffusion material on a 6×6 frame or smaller, dependent on your area of diffusion.

Additionally, you could add contrast to the face or in other parts of the scenery. For this use flags, a device used to block light and place them in the area of your choice for the desired effect.

Low Budget Video ($100 – $500)

With limited equipment, you might want to consider tightening your frame.

Medium Budget Video ($500 – $1,000)

With more lighting control equipment, such as a larger diffusion frame or a butterfly, you have the opportunity to shoot a wider frame by spacing out the diffusion with a larger crew.

High Budget Video ($1,000-5,000)

With this budget you can up the quality of your video by using a few Sun-Scrim screens, to achieve a much larger area of diffusion. This video highlights a few proper techniques when using a scrim:

Outside – Nighttime

In this situation, it is important to motivate your light sources. Look out for street lamps and other practicals to help guide your video lighting choices.

Low Budget Video

It may not be easy to accrue all the equipment needed to recreate a moonlit scene, such as balloon lights and multiple source 4’s. However, if you keep your frame small or your shots tight, one can cheat the look of moonlight using practical sources and cheaper alternatives such as PAR 16 Lighting fixtures and a reflective scrim.

Medium Budget Video

You can use higher quality gear, such as 1000W Fresnels and Fluorescent fixtures, to achieve a stronger effect.

High Budget Video

The same practices apply, but you will have more sources at hand. So go ahead and rent some balloon lights or Arri Sky Panels.

This video can help you achieve the distinct look of a well-lit nighttime shoot:

Inside – With natural light

When working with natural light, be sure to keep yourself aware of its directional aspects (which way the light is pointing) and its source points. Using diffusion, a material that creates a softer light, will give you a more pleasant look at the talent.

You could also cut light from unwanted source points with flags, a material used to block light. Additionally, you can fix blown out windows by applying Neutral Density filters, a material used to bring down the intensity of light.

Low Budget Video

With this budget, you may also utilize window curtains or scrims to soften the light, which may give an extra layer of depth to the light source. However, you should avoid shooting in the direction of windows, if window curtains and Neutral Density gels are not budgeted for.

Medium Budget Video

The same practices apply however, you may have access to HMI’s (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide lamps) to increase light levels. In this budget range, shooting in natural light in a medium-sized place is possible with ease.

High Budget Video

Same practices apply however, you may have access to multiple/larger HMI’s to increase light levels. In this budget range shooting in natural light in a larger place is possible with ease.

Here’s a video that walks through a few more video lighting techniques for indoor shoots:

Inside – Without natural light

This should be an ideal and controlled situation. Lighting control equipment such as flags, a device used to block light, and silks, a device used to soften light, are the necessary tools to accompany your artificial lighting instruments such as LEDS or Fluorescent kits. Flags will be used to cut light from unwanted areas and scrims/silks are used to soften the light. Creating pockets in the scenery, such as spots of differing light intensities, is a good way to create contrast in your shot.

Low Budget Video

In a low budget scenario, try to use tighter shots. Additionally, if you lack lighting equipment, try to utilize the practical lighting units available in the space such as overhead lights and lamps.

Medium Budget Video

The same practices apply however, with more access to equipment it is possible to light a larger space using Fresnels.

High Budget Video

The same practices apply however, with more access to equipment it is possible to light in a larger space using a variation of Tungstens.

Febian Perez

Filmmaker / Photographer / Record Producer / Composer

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