The light fantastic

‘Tis the season to be creepy. And you’ve hit the jackpot in your new video. To your credit, you knew you probably wouldn’t end up looking like Channing Tatum (which is good, because you’re a 54-year-old woman). But you certainly didn’t anticipate looking like this guy. 

Was it the camera? No, it’s a Sony FS7, one of the best on the market. Was it the makeup? No, that was done by a professional. Did the production company pull your leg by altering your appearance with special effects? No, you would have gotten the bill for that.

Video Lighting

Adequate lighting is not enough. Your video should have expert lighting to make you look your best

Time for you to see the light. Or lack thereof, which is exactly why you look like that in your video. You agreed to just about everything the video company wanted to do during production, but when you saw the estimated cost you decided to do a line-item veto. One of the things you slashed was a payout for a lighting expert. Big mistake. While it may seem like an unnecessary add-on for a small production, proper lighting is essential any time the camera is rolling.

It’s not enough to just haul out the huge Kino Flo lights, or even smaller lights. You have to know what you’re doing with them. Otherwise, instead of bringing out the best in whatever you’re shooting, you’ll make it seem ten times worse.

For example, do you have someone who knows how to properly set up a hair light? Do you even know what a hair light is? You will if you don’t have someone set things correctly. When you see the final video, you’ll wonder why you look so flat and dull. A hair light can make all the difference, and the neat thing is that it’s so subtle when done correctly that you’d be hard put to say why the lady in the cubicle next to yours, Olivia the Ordinary, looks so good in your company’s new video. Of course if a hair light is used incorrectly, the effect can be almost comical. You’ll look like you’re glowing, and not in a good way. Glowing as if you just descended from Mount Olympus to put everything right with the world. For all we know you did just come down from Olympus, but it’s absolutely gauche for you to flaunt your divinity by sporting a halo thanks to an improperly placed hair light.

When you go for professional lighting, one thing you’ll notice is that not all of the lights will be pointing directly at you. They’ll be pointing in other directions, because (no offense here) it’s not all about you. Well, it is all about making you look good, but to do that a lighting expert will have to use every trick in the book to make the setting look natural. What’s the first thing that happens when light falls directly on you? OK, so you glitter because you’re one of the vampires from the Twilight saga. Cute. We’ll make sure to give you extra powder during the makeup session. For the rest of us, the minute the light comes on our shadow comes out.  If you’re sitting or standing anywhere near a wall or other large solid object, you’ll cast a huge distracting shadow.

The remedy for that may seem counter-intuitive: you have to add more light to the setting. This light has to be set in such a way that it basically cancels out your shadow, and the shadow from any other object between the light and your background. Sometimes all you need is a small light discretely placed in such a way that it’s shining upward onto the wall, effectively erasing any errant shadows.

Lighting is not always about adding more luminosity. Sometimes you have to control what’s already there. For example, if you’re shooting a video in a room with a lot of windows, your lighting expert may have to control the influx of natural light. For one thing, it can throw the lighting levels off for the entire video. You also have to consider that unless you’re a skilled on-camera professional, you probably won’t get all of your lines right on the first try. It could take many tries, and you could end up being there all day. Unfortunately, natural light shifts as the day progresses, and even though the effect is subtle over a long duration it can be aggravatingly noticeable when clips from a five hour shoot are pasted together into a two minute video.

Since natural light can be a make-or-break element in videos, lighting experts should ideally be involved in location scouting if you plan to shoot any portion of your video outdoors, or in areas like atriums which allow a large flow of outside light. Most lighting specialists will have all the tools they need to handle any situation ahead of time, but your production company should ensure the specialist knows exactly what she or he is getting into from the get-go.

This brings us to yet another instance in which professional lighting is a must. If you are shooting a video that must look like it takes place at a specific time of day, you’ll almost certainly have to use artificial lighting to maintain a consistent look. If John and Mary are supposed to look like they’re having a heated discussion for your reality show sizzle reel, but it’s taking half a day to get it right (paradoxically because they’re fighting about who’s flubbing the scene. You’re sure you want to do this show, right?), you need to make the audience think it’s only taken a few minutes for them to settle things. When Mary has sunlight streaming through the window behind her in one shot, and a second later the moon is rising through the window, the audience may sense something is amiss.  The easy solution is of course to keep Mary away from any windows, but how much trouble are you going to go through with those shenanigans once your show gets picked up and you have to produce ten episodes in three weeks? Another solution: The lighting expert sets up a scaffold with sheeting that effectively blocks out the ever-changing natural light, while using well-placed artificial lights that make it seem as if the sun is shining perpetually outside the window. Cue the angelic choir. And tell that guy floating down from Olympus to have someone adjust his hair light. He looks radioactive.

Hencar works with professionals who understand all of the nuances of lighting. When the subject comes up during pre-production, don’t shy away from having expert lighting because of the expense. Hencar will work with you to find a reasonable solution that will have you glowing with pride (not a misplaced hair light) when you see the final product.