Video Essentials

Learn the Secrets of Great Lighting

Steve Garfield is a video blogging pioneer and has advised Fortune 500 brands like AT&T, Kodak, Nokia, and Panasonic. We’re thrilled to present this excerpt from his book Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business.

For a number of years I worked at WGBH in Boston on their yearly auction. One year I was a producer for all the video segments that ran throughout the live show. This included videos about trips, cars, and local restaurants.

Many times I’d write a script and a shot list for a video segment, then I’d go out with a camera crew and we’d film the spot. An example script might have been for a new car, where the voiceover was going to talk about certain features of the car such as the leather interior, the navigation system, or enhanced tires. So the shot list would include:

  • Interior Seating
  • Navigation System
  • Wheels

The camera people at WGBH are some of the most talented out there. I learned a lot from them on these shoots. One of the most important things I learned was that you don’t always need to use additional light. Available light is sometimes your best source of light.

It’s easy to grab a video camera and start shooting without thinking about lighting. You might think everything looks fine and just push your red button and start recording, but if you experiment, you’ll realize that your resulting video will look better when it’s lit well, whether naturally or by adding artificial light.

Available Light
When I’m out shooting video for the Web, I’ll take a look at my surroundings and look for the light. After I find it, I’ll place my subject so that the light is shining on them.

Also, just turn on all the lights in the location. Sometimes that’s the easiest way to get more light.

On Camera Light
I have a small on-camera light that has come in handy many times. Once I was shooting in a dimly lit bar, and the on-camera light brightened up my subject’s face just enough to make the shot work.

There are many new LED on camera light kits to choose from that don’t get hot. Consider a Sima SL-20LX Ultra Bright Video Light with bracket. Configurations of this light include different numbers of LEDs. Try them out to see which one is best for you.

Your options for using a light like this range from being on camera, off to the side using a metal bracket that supports both the camera and the light, or on a support stand of its own.

I used this Sima light attached to my Panasonic FX37 camera to record introductions with people at a meeting.

It’s really bright. It doesn’t make sense to attach it to a camera that is going to be close to the subject. The specs say the light is effective between 15 and 25 feet, so you might want to consider that when purchasing.

The light is powered by a rechargeable, nonreplaceable lithium-ion battery. It takes two to three hours to charge, and provides 45 to 60 minutes of light. The light does not work with the AC adapter plugged in.

Light Kits
There are many light kits available for online video producers. I have a Tota light kit, which includes two lights. Many times I just use one of these lights off to the side of the camera.

GET SEEN: Many times it’s easy to move your subject near a window or outdoors to make use of available light.

Beware though, these light kits get hot and the bulbs need to be replaced over time. The newer LED kits do not throw off heat and don’t need to be replaced.

Regular household lamps can also be used for lighting. Many home improvement stores sell lighting kits that will do a fine job of lighting. Consider a round Japanese LED paper lantern to add overall lighting.

Advanced Lighting
Here are some lighting terms and techniques you might use.

Key Light: The key light is the main light for your subject; this light is usually placed on the left or right side of the camera.

Fill: The fill light is placed on the other side of the camera. It fills in shadows created by the key light.

Back Light: The back light is placed behind the subject.

Background Light: The background light is used to light up the background. You see this used many times on TV interviews.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business, by Steve Garfield. Copyright © 2010 by Steve Garfield.


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