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DIY Video Lighting Solutions on a Budget

Which of these two images is more visually interesting to you?

Of course, the answer to this question is entirely subjective. And yes, they are essentially the same picture—with the same subject and shot angle—yet, it's the lighting that sets them apart, underscoring its pivotal role in how we present ourselves on camera. Good lighting can make a simple video into a professional and engaging piece of content, a transformation many of us aspire to achieve within our own home offices or workspaces. However, enhancing lighting in your space does not have to break the bank! By following a few basic principles and utilizing resources that you already have around the house, you can make significant improvements. Let’s break down what that might look like for you and explore some fundamental techniques to craft effective at-home lighting solutions with minimal or no cost.

1. Maximize Natural Light

Natural light is your best ally when it comes to video production. It's soft, flattering, and, best of all, free. 

To make the most of natural light:

-Position yourself facing a window** during daylight hours to ensure your subject is evenly lit and shadows are minimized.

-Avoid direct sunlight, which can cause harsh shadows and overexposure. Instead, aim for times when the light is diffused, such as during the morning or late afternoon.

-If you often get a lot of direct sunlight coming into your space, consider using something to artificially diffuse the light such as thin translucent fabric curtains or even parchment/wax paper can work well too!

2. Use Reflectors

Reflectors can be a game-changer in managing lighting for videos. They help fill in shadows, balance light across the subject, and add a professional touch to your production. Essentially a reflector is a reflective/light colored object used to indirectly “bounce” light in a desired direction. Reflectors are great for getting rid of unwanted shadows (such as under your neck/head). You don't need a professional reflector; a simple piece of white cardboard, foamboard, or foil-covered board can work wonders. Place your DIY reflector opposite your main light source to illuminate the shadowy areas gently.

3. Leverage Soft Lighting

Soft lighting is key to achieving a professional look. It evenly distributes light across the subject, reducing harsh shadows/highlights. 

You can create a soft lighting effect by:

-Diffusing your light sources. If you're using lamps or other artificial lights, cover them with a translucent material (like tracing paper, wax paper, butcher paper, or frosted shower curtain) to soften the light. 

-Using softboxes/other professional diffusion. If you're willing to invest a little, softboxes are a great tool for softening light. There are many different professional materials designed specifically for this application that are safer and can give you a higher amount of control. However, for most individuals a DIY solution involving a lamp and a diffuser material will be more than adequate and achieve similar results.

An example of a softbox for light diffusion.

An example of purpose built diffusion fabric.

NOTE: Every powered light source puts out at least a marginal amount of heat when on. Certain materials may be prone to burning/catching fire. Incandescent light sources (or other filament based lamps) often produce a hazardous amount of heat so opt for LED sources when possible. Use any improvised diffused light sources at your own discretion.

4. Experiment with Three-Point Lighting

Three-point lighting is a fundamental technique used in professional video production. It involves three key light sources:

-Key light: Your main light source, positioned to one side of the camera, illuminates the subject.

-Fill light: Positioned on the opposite side of the key light, it helps soften shadows created by the key light.

-Backlight: Placed behind the subject, it helps separate them from the background, adding depth to your shot.

You don't need expensive equipment for three-point lighting; household lamps and your creativity can achieve this setup.

For your average remote business meeting, it might not be entirely worth the effort to set up your shot using three or more photo lights in your office but the general idea can teach us a lot about general lighting principles. Maybe you have a high window behind you in your office that can provide some backlighting or you have a dimmable overhead ceiling lamp that can provide some fill. For most situations, it doesn't have to be perfect but every bit can help to improve the look at feel of your videos.

5. Adjust the Color Temperature

Color temperature (commonly referring to the color of a light source) is a useful concept to understand but not an entirely critical consideration for most individuals recording non-professional video. We can think about color temperature as being on a spectrum ranging from deep orange to deep blue. Different light sources emit light of different color temperatures, measured in Kelvins (K). Daylight has a cooler, bluer tone, while incandescent bulbs offer a warmer, yellowish light.

For video production:

-Aim for consistency in light color to avoid mixed light types that can distort colors on camera.

-Many webcams have automatic white balance features (which helps make your videos look more natural by balancing out color temperature discrepancies) but if your camera requires manual white balancing, you should follow your cameras user manual to find the right settings.

6. Practice and Experiment

Finally, the key to mastering lighting for video production is practice. Experiment with different setups and adjustments to see what works best for your space and the type of videos you're creating. Take notes on the setups that yield the best results, and don't be afraid to try new techniques!

“And That's a Wrap”

By following these simple yet effective tips, you can significantly enhance the quality of your video productions, making them look more professional without a significant financial investment. Remember, great lighting is not about having the most expensive gear; it's about understanding how to use light creatively and effectively. Whether you're producing content for Screenweave or your personal projects, these lighting techniques will help you achieve visually appealing results that stand out.