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Video Lighting in Small Spaces

Do you want high quality video lighting, but you’re limited to a small space?

This is a very common struggle for video shooters. A formal studio can be expensive to rent (or build). Also it can be inconvenient because it requires you to travel to it and maybe schedule it ahead of time.

If you’re like a lot of people, you might want to set up some lights in your house and shoot video where it’s inexpensive and convenient — right in the comfort of your own home.

But how can you create high quality lighting in a small space?

It’s simple if you use the right techniques and equipment.

Here’s how… Continue reading Video Lighting in Small Spaces

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Video Lighting Equipment: Tools You Use to Create the Look You Want

If you want your video image to look professional, one of the most important things you can do is pay attention to the lighting. There are two things you need:
Video Lighting Techniques

  1. An understanding of video lighting techniques
  2. The right tools for the job

In this article, I’ll briefly introduce you to some of the most common video lighting equipment.

Lighting Gear Categories

You can break video lighting equipment down into several different categories:

  • Sources of Light (such as lamps and reflectors)
  • Light quality modifiers (such as diffusion material to make light softer)
  • Light reducers (such as scrims and neutral density)
  • Light controllers (such as barn doors and other accessories that help control the light direction)
  • Light color modifiers (filtration)

Let’s get into more detail on each of these… Continue reading Video Lighting Equipment: Tools You Use to Create the Look You Want

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Shooting Video of Interviews: How to Create a Quality Background

Izzy Video 184When you shoot video of interviews, one of most important decisions you need to make is what background to have behind your subject. Also, what can you do to make the background more interesting visually, without becoming a distraction that competes with the speaker on the screen?

In this tutorial, I’m going to share several strategies that will help you create interesting backgrounds behind your interviewee. Continue reading Shooting Video of Interviews: How to Create a Quality Background

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Video Lighting Techniques: An Overview

The lighting techniques in your video will make a big impact on the quality of your final image. You can use the light to:
Video Lighting Techniques

  • Control the mood of your video
  • Direct the eye of the viewer where you want it to go
  • Emphasize and de-emphasize elements within the frame
  • Add texture and color
  • Make people look beautiful, ugly, sinister, or angelic

To illustrate the importance of using good video lighting techniques, let’s take a look at where video comes from… Continue reading Video Lighting Techniques: An Overview

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Three Point Lighting: Learn How to Use the Key, Fill, and Back Lights

Three point lighting is the standard lighting technique used in video. It’s a good idea to become comfortable with three point lighting because as a video shooter, you’ll find yourself using it over and over again.
Video Lighting Techniques
It has the power to transform an otherwise boring and flat image into a dynamic interesting image with a subject that “pops”.

It’s not as difficult as you might think to use the 3 point lighting technique, and in this article, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned… Continue reading Three Point Lighting: Learn How to Use the Key, Fill, and Back Lights

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How to Create a White Background in Your Video

Izzy shows a white background.

The background color of your frame makes an impact. In fact, it helps set the tone of the video. The black background I showed you previously suggests a more serious tone. A white background suggests a more up-beat, happy tone.

A white background is more difficult to create than a black one, but it’s still not super complex — nothing compared to doing green screen lighting well.

Overexpose the Background to Make It Become Completely White

If you overexpose anything, it becomes totally white to the camera. It’s easy to do with large white background paper, so that’s what I use. You could also use a white wall, or really anything that you can overexpose. If you have something blue and you’re able to overexpose it, you could make it become white too.

How do know if it’s overexposed? Many video cameras have the ability to turn on “zebras”. These are moving zebra stripes that appear on the LCD screen (not the recorded image) wherever the image is 100% exposed or more. Some cameras have the ability to set multiple zebras, one for 100% and one for 70% as an example. If your camera can show zebras, congratulations. It makes shooting video a lot easier because you can more simply see what’s overexposed.

Most of the time, we try NOT to overexpose things, but when you want a completely white background, you can do it intentionally.

Two Different Zones of Lighting

I should probably call this something else because I don’t want you to get confused with the zone system from Ansel Adams. That’s not what I’m talking about. When I refer to zones, I mean two separate lighting setups that are far enough from each other that one zone doesn’t have an effect on the other.

Lighting diagram showing light positions for white background

In this case I create one zone for the subject consisting of:

  • A Key Light
  • A Fill Light
  • A Back Light

These lights create a typical three-point lighting setup on the subject.

In the second zone, I use one broad light to overexpose the background. Broad lights are great for this because you can put them fairly close to the background, and the beam is so wide that it can illuminate a lot of the background with an even level.

If it doesn’t quite cover the whole thing, you could always add some supplementary lights. The point is try to create an even, flat, illumination that barely overexposes the background.

What do I mean by flat and even? It’s best not to have too many hot spots. Hot spots are areas that are much brighter than the rest of the subject.

Anyway, I consider zone two to be a separate subject, so it requires separate lighting.

A Couple More Tips

If you overexpose the background too much, you can create problems for yourself. It’s almost like the background becomes a giant light source, and when you point the lens directly into a light source like this, it can create lens flare which can de-saturate the image. It can also reduce contrast. You might not want a washed out low contrast image, so be ready to shade the lens. A lens shade, mattebox, or flag can help.

And you might need to bump up the contrast and saturation in post production.

Have you used white backgrounds in your videos before? Are there additional tips you want to add? Feel free to post your feedback in the comments below.

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How to Create a Black Background Behind Your Subject

Izzy holding color chart.

I know that not everyone likes a black background behind their subject. In some situations, I don’t either. But I use it a lot. It’s easy to set up. It draws attention to the speaker, and it makes colors come alive.

The black background look is great for interviews if the location of your speaker isn’t important.


It totally depends on the situation, but a black background in your video can be a good idea for several reasons:

Black Backgrounds Are Easy to Set Up

You don’t need extra lights for the background. In fact, you want to try to keep the light off the background.

A Black Background in Your Video Eliminates Distractions

One of the most common distractions I see in videos is a busy background. Clearly people would prefer to look smart on camera, but I think it’s a mistake to err on the side of putting your subject in front of book shelves that are loaded with multi-color book spines.

(I can’t be the ONLY person who tries to see what the book titles are…)

It might be helpful to think of things this way — anything we choose to put in the frame with our subject, is potential competition with our subject. If it supports the subject, then great — leave it in. But if not, then it might be best to take it out completely.

A black background helps do this. It takes away any sense of location and helps the viewer focus on the speaker, and I think especially on their ideas.

A Black Background Makes Colors Pop

Colors appear more saturated and lively against a black background. That’s generally something I like to do to.

One Caution

A black background adds a serious tone, so it’s probably best for adults and more serious ideas. I generally wouldn’t shoot comedic material against a solid black background.

Can you imagine the Apple “I’m a Mac” commercials in front of a black background? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It wouldn’t work.

How to Create a Black Background

  1. I use non-reflective black fabric from FJ Westcott. Personally I’ve found heavy black fabric to be less reflective than black paper, so it’s easier to have the background go completely black.
  2. Keep light off the fabric.

I recommend you try this technique on an interview and see if you’re happy with the results. Like I mentioned, it’s not the best thing in every situation, but it’s hard to go wrong with a black background.

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Diffusion Panels for Outdoor Video Lighting

Izzy adjusts a c-stand.

Shooting video outdoors is great because there are so many visually interesting things you can capture. But it can also be a big challenge because of unpredictable, uncontrollable elements. One of the unpredictable things is the lighting.

That said, the right tools can make a big difference.

When you shoot video outdoors, the three main tools you use to control the light are:

  1. Reflectors
  2. Diffusion Panels
  3. Scrims

This video is all about item #2, diffusion panels — specifically showing you the impact of different levels of diffusion.

Diffusion material comes in different levels of diffusion. With the Scrim Jim system, you can quickly swap out the various diffusion fabrics.

Want to see the difference between light, medium, and heavy diffusion? This video shows you exactly what they look like.

Light Diffusion

When I use only 1/4 stop of diffusion, the changes aren’t significant. This very light diffusion softens the edges of shadows slightly, but mostly leaves the quality of light in place.

Medium Diffusion

As you would expect, when you use medium diffusion (3/4 stop in the video), you see more impact. The size of the specular highlight increases dramatically. The edges of the shadows become more gradual.

Heavy Diffusion

Once you move to heavy diffusion (1 and 1/4 stop in the video), you really see some big changes. Suddenly the shadows start to have no edge. The light smoothly wraps around the subject.

You’ll also note that I’m hosting this video on YouTube. My plan is to start posting videos there regularly. You can Click Here to subscribe to the Izzy Video YouTube channel.

Note: Members have seen this video before. Previously it was available to members only.

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7 Strategies to Shoot Video in Low Light

Izzy holds a light toward his face.

Are you frustrated by shooting video in low light? If you are, that’s understandable. It sucks the life out of your image. You end up with grainy, undersaturated, low-contrast, muddy video footage. The lack of light destroys your image.

The good news? You have several options for dealing with this problem. Keep reading if you want to know 7 powerful ways to shoot video in low light. (These strategies work!)

1. Add Light If You Can

Even if you’re in a hurry, you can take a few minutes to add more light.

A convenient solution is to use an on camera video light. This is a light you mount to your camera that shines light on the subject. The video light I use is a Micro Pro LED light from Litepanels (highly recommended, by the way).

You have other possible ways to add light too. You can turn on lamps or overhead lights. You can use a reflector panel or a mirror to bounce light into the area that needs more light. Of course, a smart thing is to have a variety of lights that you bring with you. A portable lighting kit is a great investment.

Nothing adds light to a situation like a light.

2. Use the Biggest Aperture Your Video Camera Allows

Sometimes the aperture is called an iris, or f-stop. People use the terms interchangeably.

If your video camera has an f-stop setting, use the lowest number you can. An f-stop of 2 is good. An f-stop of 1.4 is better. The lower the f-stop number, the bigger the aperture. This wide open aperture lets more light into your camera, so you get a brighter image.

If you’re using a video camera that has a zoom lens, be aware that they frequently don’t have a constant aperture as you zoom. As you telephoto (zoom in), many times the aperture will shrink and reduce the light that enters your camera, darkening your image.

The solution is to keep the zoom lens at a wide angle so your aperture can stay wide open. If you need to get closer to your subject, try “zooming with your feet” and walk closer to the subject.

3. Slow Down Your Shutter Speed to Brighten Your Footage

Many video cameras allow you to control the shutter speed. You can use this feature to slow down the shutter speed, meaning that the shutter is “open” longer, which allows more light into the camera.

Normally when I’m shooting video, I use a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. However, if I’m shooting video in low light, I might change the shutter speed to 1/30th of a second. This means the shutter is open twice as long, which doubles the amount of light that gets into the video camera. This makes a big impact on the brightness of the video image.

The potential downside of reducing the shutter speed is that you get more motion blur. That can be a legitimate problem, but I find that using a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second works okay for normal human motion.

4. Reduce the Frame Rate in Your Video Camera to Let More Light In

Not all video cameras can do this, but now that many are tapeless, they allow you to adjust the frame rate of your video. In fact, many video cameras try to emulate the look of film by including an option to shoot at 24 frames per second.

In a low light situation, you can change your frame rate to 24 frames per second, instead of using the common rate of 30 frames per second. If you turn off the shutter (or adjust it accordingly), this allows you to capture the frame for 1/24th of a second instead of 1/30th of a second. The slower speed allows more light into the camera, brightening your image. It’s a small increase, but it’s still an increase in light.

If your video camera allows you to adjust the frame rate even lower, you might consider shooting at 12 frames per second, or even 6 frames per second, leaving the shutter off. This wouldn’t work if you’re shooting a talking head or normal human motion, but if you’re shooting video of a landscape, a cityscape, or something that stays fairly still (building, statue, tree), you might want to consider a low frame rate with a slow shutter speed. This will significantly brighten your image.

5. Increase Your Video Camera Gain

Sometimes the video camera gain is called “sensitivity” or “ISO”. It depends on the manufacturer and model.

Only do this as a last resort. Increasing the gain has a bad effect on your image. It adds noise — little dancing flecks (frequently magenta, sometimes blue) in the shadows of your image. This noise is distracting.

Most people think that noise looks bad. You should try to avoid it.

Rule of Thumb: Only increase your video camera gain AFTER you’ve tried the other strategies, because this method does the most damage to your image.

And when you do increase it, try making small adjustments first.

6. Reduce the Video Noise in Post with Filters and Plugins

If you end up increasing your gain, then you’ll likely have unwanted video noise in your footage.

You might be able to repair the footage a little (sometimes a lot) using a filter or a plugin. You can purchase a noise reduction plugin for common editing software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier Pro. When you run this plugin on your footage, you’ll likely see some improvements.

That said, the results won’t be as good as if you had captured noise-free video footage originally.

7. Use a Digital SLR Camera to Shoot Video in Low Light

Currently, a digital SLR camera is a great option for shooting video in low light. In fact, I think they’re amazing in low light. Why do they perform so well?

  • You can use different lenses with wide open apertures.
  • You can control the shutter speed.
  • You can control the frame rate.
  • You can increase the sensitivity a lot more without adding as much noise as regular video cameras.

The enormous chip inside of digital SLR cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II means that the camera can capture more light for each frame. The big chip allows you to increase the gain with lower video noise.

As of right now, this camera is one of the best tools for shooting video in low light.

You might not be able to use all of these strategies every time you shoot video in low light, but give them a try, and I think you’ll be happy with the improvements.

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How to Turn a Hard Light into a Soft Light: An Important Video Lighting Technique

Video shooters benefit from knowing how to turn a hard light into a soft light, because most people look best under a soft light source. If you’re lighting a person, you’ll notice they look quite different depending on whether they’re under a hard light or a soft light. Here are the five most common ways that I turn a hard light into a soft light. Continue reading How to Turn a Hard Light into a Soft Light: An Important Video Lighting Technique