The Essentials of Video Lighting

by | Lighting, Lighting Connections, Production, Streaming, Video

Best Lighting for Streaming

If you’re in charge of your house of worship’s live stream, or just someone who works from home and has a lot of Zoom calls, you’ve probably wondered if there’s an easy fix to make yourself look better on video without a fancy studio setup. And it turns out there is!

The first step, of course, is to find a quality webcam. But if you’ve done that and are still unsatisfied, it’s time to think about lighting. To help with that, I have put together some basic steps and recommendations for the best streaming lights that can make a huge difference in your presentation.

1. Setting up your key light

Whether you’re setting up a professional photography studio or just lighting your streaming space, the key light is your primary light source. As such, you should position it to illuminate the area you want to emphasize. For streaming, vlogging, and video calls, this will usually be your face.

However, if you position it directly in front of your face then it will have a flattening effect. The better option is to place it off to the side and slightly behind your webcam. The Ring Style Light works great as a streaming key light since it will catch the outlines of your face in a soft and flattering way while avoiding excessive shadows.  If you are streaming your service then these lights can be positioned to the front side of the service area, LED lights with color and temperature correction are a great way to ensure everyone looks natural.

2. Positioning a fill light

The fill light is your secondary light source, and its purpose is to fill in shadows created by the key light. It should also be placed behind your camera but on the opposite side of your key light. The fill light should be weaker (in terms of brightness) but more focused compared to the key light. 

Using a matching LED lighting fixture will make this easier, just make sure you lower its intensity and sharpen its focus.

Once again for small room recording or streaming a RING light is a good choice for a streaming fill light, since its clamp and flexible arm allow you to easily adjust it on the fly based on the shadows you need to fill, and you can turn down its brightness to negate any glare. Using a dual 3.5-inch ring light set is also a viable space-saving option since you can move the key light towards you and the film light away from you to create variable brightness.

3. Using a backlight to define your silhouette

Placing a backlight somewhere behind you and out of camera view will help you stand out from the background. The streaming backlight should be fairly soft yet direct, I like LED Strips or LED Pars.  The light(s) should be raised to approximately shoulder height and set at least 6 feet behind you on the opposite side from the key light – and out of the streaming video frame, of course.

Alternatively, a backlight that’s raised higher above you is called a hair light, as it emphasizes the top of your head and creates a radiant glow for a shiny professional look (as you can see in the pic above).

4. Using the key light, fill light, and backlight together

A standard three-point lighting setup combines the three lights we just discussed to create visuals that look balanced and professional. It emphasizes the important elements of your video and de-emphasizes less important ones while providing enough light that the camera can keep you in focus and capture video at a high speed without having to compensate using a high ISO setting (which would introduce grain).

Naturally, this requires some experimentation to perfect, but once you have the fundamentals down you can keep improving the lighting as you progress as a streamer or vlogger.

5. Using ambient lighting to create a vibe

You know how some streamers have a certain look to their videos that helps them stand out? If you’re trying to create a distinct visual identity, unique and colorful room lighting can go a long way.

LEDs are incredibly useful for their ability to change the color – and therefore the mood of your stream. With virtually endless color possibilities, you can choose one to fit the theme of your content. This is also the one light that can even be kept in the camera frame and incorporated into your decor.

6. Adjusting the temperature and brightness of your lights

It’s not enough just to have the right lights for your streaming setup – you also need to make sure they work well together. To set them up, you’ll want to minimize all other light sources in the room by turning off your overhead lights and closing the blinds. Then position yourself where you plan to be in your video stream and turn on the key light.

Next, adjust the light temperature – any color from cool blue to warm yellow – to match your face. Depending on the light, this may involve switching between a few options or rolling a radial dial. This is largely a matter of preference: white light (3500-6000 K) is fairly safe and generic, yellow light (2-3000 K)is warm and cozy, and blue light (7-10,000 K) is harsh and dramatic.

In general, you’ll want to match the color temperatures of each of your lights to one another to avoid unrealistic effects. That said, if you have a large monitor in front of you, it’s almost certainly emitting blue light. Therefore, you may want to balance it with something yellower. Your camera or webcam should automatically even these out for you.

You will also want to adjust the brightness to avoid excessive highlights or shadows that cause you to lose detail in the image. You can either do this using the variable brightness on the lights themselves, or you can adjust the exposure of your webcam in its settings.

I hope this guide has been useful and you’re well on your way to producing great video content for your house of worship.

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