Using Available Light to Shoot Quality Video

Somewhere along the way, I figured out how to make video production as easy as possible. I got tired of lugging all that equipment around!

But I still had to make it look as good as possible.

I notice that most video production advice on the Internet lectures you on the value of using a tripod and lights. Yeah, yeah, I know. Lights and tripods make your video look better.

But what I f you haven’t GOT lights and a tripod?

Or, what if you’re shooting ten miles back in the woods and you don’t want to carry the damn things that far?

I hear ya, buddy.

First, let’s talk about how to get away with NOT using lights

As a TV production professional, no matter where I was sent to shoot, (everywhere from the bottom of a cave to the governor’s office) the first thing I did was assess the light available to me. Windows, lamps, wall scones, anything already there.

Being able to shoot without adding artificial lighting saves TONS of time and trouble. Today’s cameras do a remarkable job in low light, however, merely relying on a low lux camera in a dark area will give you grainy, unprofessional video. Quality is improved remarkably if you learn how to take full advantage of available light, and usually there’s plenty.

If you open the heavy curtains and pull up the shades, a dark office can suddenly become plenty bright. Set your subject up near the window but not directly in front of it, just like the baby above. Have the window to the side of your subject and the camera. (Actually, what’s known as a ¾ profile is best for a head-shot. This means the subject is not looking directly into the camera, but looking off to one side just a bit.)

Side lighting using the window as your light source is simple and effective, but it’s also easily screwed up if you don’t position the camera and the subject correctly.

Putting someone directly in front of a light source (consider the window your light source), then pointing a camera at them produces a silhouette. .

However, generally you want to avoid a silhouette unless you’re interviewing someone who doesn’t want to be recognized, like some sleazebag child molester. (You don’t want to know how many psychopath scum wads I met working in TV news. Well…maybe you do. That info is on my blog too. One guy threatened to have both my house and the TV station blown up cuz my documentary kept his sorry ass in jail. He bragged about killing people for fun and thought that made him cool. Sorry idiot.)

I see poorly shot interviews on the internet all the time. Usually, it’s exactly what I describe, someone standing in front of a window. I guess they realize the window is providing light but they never stop to think about the direction of the light. I swear, if they would just rotate the subject and camera a little their video quality would go from a D- to a B+.

Remember, anytime the light source is BEHIND your subject, you get a silhouette. Done well, a silhouette is a good thing. Done poorly, it’s a big fat mistake and makes your video look bad.

Available light comes in all forms. Look around. Move your camera to where the light is.

Are there any decorative lamps handy? Try taking off the shade and moving it closer to your subject. Even a 40 watt incandescent light bulb can greatly improve your shot. Place it about 2 feet from your subject and crop it out of the shot.