Video Basics 3

Video Basics 3 – Lighting

The most important principle in lighting your video production is to notice what’s already there. This is called available light. Often by changing the camera position, the position of the talent, or selecting a different part of the background you can achieve what you need to without supplementary lighting. For example, the overhead lighting in classrooms is designed for even lighting at desk level. When you stand up, your face can be brighter or darker depending on where you stand. Just by noticing that you can improve how your talent looks.
room lighting image
On a bright sunny day your talent doesn’t want to squint into the sun. But if the sun is at their side, the other side of their face is a dark shadow. Have them stand beside a light-coloured wall to bounce sunlight back into that shadow and position the camera so you don’t see the wall.
wall bounce image

Cameras are designed to see the world as 18% reflectance. Photographers actually carry around a gray card that reflects 18% of the light so they can set the right exposure. And for most situations 18% is exactly right. But not always. You need to be aware of situations that will fool your camera’s default exposure and make your subject too bright or too dark.

  • One common situation is the talent standing in front of a window or a white wall. Move the talent, or reposition the camera so the subject is not a featureless silhouette. Or, if the background is important, put more light on the subject. I have been known to use overhead projectors and study lamps to achieve this. A 60-watt study lamp at 1 foot produces the same mount of light as a 1000-watt studio light at 16 feet. (inverse square law)
    bright background image 1
  • The opposite problem occurs on stage when an actor is lit, but the background is relatively dark. The camera will try to bring the whole scene up to 18% making the actor a washed out blob and the background a swirl of grayish noise. In this case you must switch your camera to manual exposure and knock the exposure down until you get facial features back on the actor.
    dark background image
  • Another frustratingly common situation is the presenter in front of, or off to the side of, their powerpoint screen. If you can get more light on the presenter, and make them stay in the light, then you have a hope of seeing them. This is how the KLO lecture theatre is set up. If you are designing your own presentation, consider using a darker background for your slides or presenting on a flat panel LCD display rather than a projector.


If you want to make somebody look fabulous on camera, then light them using a centuries old technique called three-point lighting (see Rembrandt). to external site

  • The key light comes from the front, approximately 45 degrees up and 45 degrees to one side of the subject’s face.
  • The fill light comes from the front, again 45 degrees off to the side, but somewhat lower and less bright. Fill light can be created using a reflector that bounces light from the key light back towards the talent.
  • The backlight comes from behind, very bright and very steep, but in a position that the camera can’t see the light or the stand.
    three point lighting image


  • Set up your camera with the talent between you and a bright window. Notice what you see in the viewfinder. Reposition the talent and the camera to solve the problem.
  • Now try to solve the problem with a study lamp, or an overhead projector, or a reflector or some other tool.
  • Create a powerpoint presentation that has slides with various bright and dark backgrounds. Put your powerpoint on a screen in a classroom, have a presenter stand beside as if they are presenting, set up the camera and see what you get. Then try to same slides on an LCD TV in one of the student meeting rooms.