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5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid them

By Neil Davidson | Small Business

5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid them image Bela Lugosi as Dracula anonymous photograph from 1931 Universal Studios5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid themThese are the 5 most common lighting mistakes that we see all the time. Follow these instructions to avoid making the mistakes again.

Mistake no. 1: Not using lights

How to avoid: Use lights

Lights are not always necessary, but light itself is. You may be able to get away with not using any lights, but only if you are skilled at using the natural light available to you. Lighting a subject or a scene can make a whole lot of difference to the quality of your shot and the audience’s experience of it.

Lighting isn’t particularly expensive to hire. If you are shooting in poorly lit environments, using lights can boost what you are able to achieve with your camera.

5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid them image Mark CroweLightNoLight5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid themimage source: http://www.mmlc.northwestern.edu/

As you can see from the image above, a shot with natural light alone is usable, but the improvement in quality simply from adding some fill lights, is extremely noticeable and can be worth the effort.

Mistake no. 2: White walls

How to avoid: Use backgrounds that flatter your subject

White walls are the most unflattering backdrop you can choose to use for a video. They are without texture and do not carry any emotional effect. Because white walls don’t hold shadows very well, they tend to look cheap and dirty.

Apple’s signature clinical white backgrounds work because of how unnaturally white they are. See the video below:

The interviews for these Apple videos will be shot in a studio and the white effect will be created in post-production.

Some video creators focus on lighting a white wall whilst in production. There are a whole host of videos available on YouTube offering hints and tips for getting this right. Here is an example of a good one from Gideon Shalwick:

If you haven’t got the time to make a white wall look amazing, stay well away from it! Instead, spend the time putting some thought into interesting and appropriate backgrounds for your interviews or shots.

Mistake no. 3: Shadows

How to avoid: Light your subject evenly & double check

The goal when using lights to light a subject is to have the light spread evenly over the face and to avoid shadows. This takes some focus to ensure you have got it right. A common approach is the three point lighting system (see diagram below which includes an additional, optional, background light):

5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid them image 4 point lighting5 common video lighting mistakes and how to avoid themimage source: https://media.zenfs.com/en_us/sbs/sbc/Business2Community/4_point_lighting.svg

When it comes to lighting a scene, one of the biggest mistakes is not noticing the cheeky shadow that has been created by a piece of gear or a member of the crew. Seriously inconvenient to get to the editing stage and notice an inexplicable shadow in a prominent place in your shot.

For bigger productions, it will be one person’s role to check for any such inaccuracies and inconsistencies created by shadows and such like. If you can’t make it someone’s responsibility, at least add it to a checklist.

Mistake no. 4: Lighting faces too brightly

How to avoid: Use diffusers

Using direct light on a face is not a good plan, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is highly uncomfortable for the person under the lights. Secondly, it doesn’t flatter the face. The solution to this is to use filters or diffusers to soften the strength of the lights. If you are caught short and don’t have diffusers or filters, a good tip (this will only work in some spaces) is to use walls, ceilings and even floors to bounce your light off. This might just create enough light to fill in those creepy shadows.

This video is aimed at photographers but the theory can be applied to video. It explores the difference between hard (direct) light, and soft (diffused) light:

Mistake no. 5: Not knowing what you are doing

How to avoid: Research and practice

Lighting mistakes are more likely to occur when you are pretending to know what you are doing. Whilst lighting is a definite skill, it is one that can be improved easily if you take the time to research the techniques, and then actually practice them. The more you get a feel for the light that is needed in different situations, the easier it becomes.

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