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…

(By the way, for this example, I’m assuming you want to have a highly dramatic lighting style that doesn’t require many lights or much space. This is a common look for talking-head style shots. And it doesn’t cost a lot because you’re using only one light source.)

Control Spill Light

Spill light is the extra light that goes places you don’t want it to go. It “spills” onto other things in the image.

A common example of this is when you want a black background, but light accidentally gets on the background, so it doesn’t appear black. Instead it appears dark gray.

When you want an endless black background, you need to keep the light off the background fabric.

How do you do that?

If you’re using a soft box for your main light (key light), then you can insert an eggcrate to help direct the light forward. This reduces spill light dramatically.

Also, you might want to consider lighting more from the side of your subject, so you’re not aiming as much toward the background.

The background material can have an impact too. I find that black background paper is too reflective, so I like to use a black fabric as the background in my video. It absorbs more light, so it’s easier to make it go completely black.

Finally, try to distance your subject as far from the background as possible. I realize this might be a challenge because of limited space, but even if it’s only a few feet, that can make a big difference.

Dramatic Lighting

If you want drama in your lighting, then you can use subtractive lighting (also sometimes called “negative fill”) to keep light from getting into the shadows on the fill side of the face.

I like to use a black flag for this. It’s basically another piece of black fabric on a wire frame, and I place it right outside of the video image.

The flag blocks light from getting into the shadows.

With deep black shadows on one side of the face, and a nice brightly exposed area on the other side of the face — you now have highly dramatic lighting because of the contrast ratio.

Not only can this look have a big impact, but it doesn’t require much equipment or space to work in.

Can you set up other lighting styles in a small space? Of course you can, but my goal here is to just share this one example.


  1. Use an eggcrate to control spill light from a softbox.
  2. Move the main light source to the side to help prevent light from spilling onto the background.
  3. Use black fabric instead of paper as the background because it’s less reflective.
  4. Get distance between the subject and the background, because it will be easier to reduce spill light.
  5. Use a black flag on the fill side to create darker shadows for a high contrast, dramatic look.

22 thoughts on “Video Lighting in Small Spaces

  1. Izzy, that was an excellent video tutorial. I’m setting up a small video studio in my home office right now so this helps. I have a video studio in my staff office, but it’s too big to fit in my home. Great post. Thank you!

  2. Very nice.  1K is a “small” softbox??  I know, I know… you use what you have.   Might be nice to have an inset box with the end result as you’re talking.  I wanted to go back to the beginning to see the end image again and again.  Thanks Izzy.

    1. Haha, when I said small soft box, I was referring to the size of the box itself — not the 1K light inside. :)

      These days I use fluorescent lights inside a small soft box more often than the hot tungsten lights.

        1. I haven’t used LED lights inside a soft box yet, but the fluorescent lights I use are the Westcott Spiderlite TD-6 units:

          I purchased them several years ago, so there might be better options now. It all depends on what you need. These are great for a studio environment, but they’re kind of hassle for transporting because you unscrew all the bulbs, pack them away, etc. If you need to be highly mobile, probably an LED setup with a Chimera soft box might be a better option.

          (I try to stay with Chimera soft boxes because every time I’ve used alternatives, I didn’t like them as much.)

  3. Great video. Always nice to know how its done. 
    While I was watching, the audio and video were not in sync. It was playing smoothly, but it was a few words off.

    1. Sorry about the sync issue. That doesn’t happen when I watch it, so I’m hoping it was a temporary YouTube glitch when it happened for you…

      Thanks for the kind words! :)

  4. So very explicit Izzy, thanks a lot – would be great to have you on my film project if that is possible with you.

  5. In movies, you often see shots where the background is 2 stops darker than the subject.  If the distance from the subject to the background is the same as the distance from the light to the subject then you get your 2 stops difference.  Makes the subject pop out even without black background.

    1.  This is video #171 in the member’s area (it’s not a new video). I posted it here as a free sample for non-members, along with the article. Sorry about any confusion…

      Thanks for being a member!

  6. Hey Izzy.

    Great article. Here’s a side question: our studio is entirely black curtained but we want to add some set dressing to break up the space. We’re investing in additional lights and we’d like to hang some foam-core elements . Do you know of any articles discussing the options or do you have any advice?



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