Lighting for Video

Light comes in two basic categories:

  • Diffused
  • Direct

Direct light is what you have on a sunny day.

Diffused light is what you get on a cloudy day. The clouds act as a diffusion filter.

Think back to elementary school science. Light rays do not bend. If you point a flashlight, the light won’t bend around the corner of the building, you’d have to move the flashlight to see the side of the building.

Direct light (sunny day) creates deep, harsh shadows that have distinct edges.

Diffused light, (cloudy day) can be very bright but completely shadow less.

Generally speaking, diffused light is best for simple video production.

The easiest way to transform a direct light into a diffused one is by bouncing it off the ceiling or wall. Do this by simply placing the light near the wall (or ceiling) and pointing it toward the wall, not your subject. The light bounces off the wall and is diffused nicely. (Don’t get it too close though, I once burned a guy’s wallpaper cuz a 500 watt tungsten lamp get purdy hot. Oops.)

Bouncing a light is the quick, cheap, no hassle way to do it. However, if you want to spend money and achieve better effects, professional photographic lighting uses tools like soft boxes, umbrellas, cloths and filters to produce diffused light.

The only drawback to diffusing your light is that as you diffuse, you lose intensity. Diffusion is so desired though most people accept that trade-off. Have you ever wondered why they bother to paint the inside of most light bulbs white? The answer is that the white paint diffuses the light and makes it more pleasing to the eye. On top of that, people usually add a lamp shade for even more diffusion.

Quality lighting is key to quality video production. That doesn’t mean it needs to be difficult.