Video LightingThere’s a reason why “Lights!” is the first thing the director says just before a big scene is filmed. At least, that’s the way they do it in the movies. In reality, it’s so important to a shoot that even a single light going out at the wrong time can destroy the scene and bring production to a halt. Lighting has evolved significantly from the first days of filmmaking. But the goal is still the same: To make everything about a scene, from the people to the location, look as natural as possible. To do that, it’s very often necessary to set up some unnatural situations.

One of the best examples is the so-called “day for night” technique, which involves shooting scenes during the day but then manipulating the lighting and cameras (through special filters, among other ways) to make it appear as if everything is happening at night. The appeal of this method is that it’s actually much easier to shoot during the day, not to mention a lot safer than having everyone stumble around on location in the dead of night. Yes, in the wrong hands it can make the end result look like a B-grade horror movie. But thanks to higher-quality equipment for shooting and editing, that’s far less likely to happen these days.

What If You Don’t Need Anything Fancy

Like a way to convince the viewer that your video was shot at night? Even the most basic video shoot requires an expert lighting coordinator. Sometimes that person is also the lead camera operator, and the field producer also may have enough background to help set the lights and offer solutions if needed. But the more complex the video is, the more imperative it is for you to have someone who can focus solely on the lights.

Obviously the lighting director will decide exactly what equipment is needed, where it needs to be placed and how it can be used for best effect. Generally the lighting expert will be able to spot problems right away, even if everything looks good to everyone else on the set. There may be unnatural shadows cast on the background, like a shadow from the boom mike. The lighting may look good in real life but could make the person on camera look pale or sallow or too dark. If the scene is being shot outdoors, the natural light may look strong enough to do the job, but if you don’t find a way to focus it everything will look like it was shot at twilight.

So… How Much Equipment Is Needed

Hencar_Day1_0392You may be surprised at how much—or how little—lighting equipment your shoot needs. Modern lights can be very compact, yet extremely powerful. A few white screens here and there to help reflect more light and balance out the shot, and you could be good to go with minimal fuss. On the other hand, if you’re filming in a large, open space like a high-ceilinged loft with dark brick walls, things could be much trickier. It’s one reason so many do-it-yourself videos look so fuzzy and faded, or overly dark. The people who shot them may have been OK with a basic video camera, but they had no idea what to do to properly light things.

Safety First

Of course safety is always a concern on any shoot. You may wonder how lighting could pose a safety hazard. You’ll wonder no more if a large light falls off a scaffold and hits you. It’s the duty of the grips as well as the lighting personnel to ensure that doesn’t happen. Aside from that rather obvious risk, improper lighting can be a danger. Diana Ross suffered retinal burns due to a light effect that was used when she was filming “The Wiz”.

Lighting is one of the areas that you can’t stint on if you want a quality video. When it’s handled properly, it will bring out the best in your video.

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