Lighting a Video 101: How to Make Your Video Shine on a Budget

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Lights, camera, action. We’ve all heard this something like a thousand times. But when it comes to creating web video content on the down and dirty, the first thing to go is lights. And it’s honestly a mistake. It’s what makes a lot of DIY videos look like an 8th grade history project – but worse. (Mr. Kellerman wouldn’t approve.)

Lighting is key to creating high quality video – and it’s what can help you stand out from the pack and look great, literally. (Sure, movie stars are super duper ridiculously good looking and everything, but they’re also lit incredibly well.)

Here’s what any good gaffer (the person who’s in charge of lighting a shoot) will tell you:

The Basics of Three-Point Lighting

Three-point lighting is the tried and true method of assembling three lights in key positions to eliminate shadows and create a beautiful, high quality, deep look. It consists of a key light, fill light, and back light.

The key light is the main light. It’s placed about 45 degrees to the subject, on either the left or right side of the camera, aimed down between 30 and 45 degrees. Worth noting: if it’s your only light, it will create dark shadows on a subject. (Be careful here!) Not everyone wants to look like Drake in the Hotline Bling video, i.e. like Paul Bunyan in expensive sweatpants! Bad lighting can cause really weird beards. Even on dainty Pilates instructors in Lululemon’s… You’ve been warned.)

The fill light helps eliminate those shadows (and Drake-Paul Bunyan beards). It’s placed about 45 degrees to the subject, on the opposite side of the camera from the key light. It’s often on a level with the subject’s face. It’s usually two or three steps dimmer than the key light.

The back light should be positioned at the subject’s back. It’s about 45 degrees off the axis and shines down on the subject.

Many times, you can use window light or direct sunlight as your key light – and get away with having just two lights. Another DIY trick is to use a reflector as the key light. You can buy one, festoon one out of cardboard and aluminum foil, or have a your dad stand near the subject while wearing a white t-shirt.

You can purchase basic light kits (with two lights) for around $50 – and basic three light kits for a couple hundred bucks. It’s worth mentioning that you get what you pay for, and better lights do get expensive quickly. While it’s a worthwhile investment, if you’re just experimenting, there are ways to get around without dropping a chunk of change.

However, if you want your Instagram pictures to look like the Kardashian’s, you’re going to want to buy a light kit. (And a professional photographer. And a lot of other things.)

DIY Light Kit

To make a DIY light kit, head to the Home Depot and buy clip lights, daylight color CFL bulbs, spring clips, extension cords, and clothespins – and set the lights up according to three-point lighting outlined above. Please don’t electrocute yourself! Or blame us if it happens! There’s only so much a blog can do…

Other Tips

To create a more subtle and rich quality to your light, try clipping a pillowcase over it. (Just be careful not to smother it… Poor light.)

Optimize your use of natural light – and shoot near a window or outdoors. If you’re outside, remember to use the sun or window as your key light!

If all else fails, consider making your video black and white. It’s a great way to hide problems with lighting (and the fact that you didn’t have $ to color correct!). Plus it makes you look like a fitness Martin Scorscese (One hopes.)

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