See the Light: Lighting Basics for Video Streaming

From Zoom conference calls, to church services, to training and product demonstrations, incorporating a video element is now vital. Although the use of streaming video has accelerated due to the pandemic putting a damper on travel and in-person meetings, even after the need for video lessens, the desire for video will continue to grow. Although many people and companies had not previously integrated video into their business strategies, they now realize the competitive advantage that quality video presentations can provide.

But the key word is quality video. As more people work with video, the bar gets higher for production values. The importance of a quality camera and audio goes without saying, but proper lighting is also crucial. Lighting can help you look your best, lend an air of professionalism, add clarity to presentations, and make it easier for the person watching the video to take in the points you want to make.

Use Lighting to Make the Camera Love You

Those in the movie biz often talk about how “the camera loves” somebody. It’s true; some people who may not look that great in person can look fantastic on camera, and conversely, some people don’t translate well to video. Lighting can go a long way toward making the camera love you, and flatter your appearance.

Avoid using a laptop’s camera, and not just for quality reasons. The camera and lighting work as a team. If a laptop is at a suitable level for typing, the laptop cover will need to be angled up to show your face—and even with good lighting, will be picking up shadows as much as light. If you must use a laptop camera, place the laptop on top of something like a box, to raise it up where the camera is level with your face. Also position it at least a few feet away from you to soften the effects of any lighting, and keep your face from dominating the screen. (If you also need to type while streaming a video, connect up a keyboard and mouse via USB so they can be placed comfortably.)

Use light-reflecting makeup. Those who spend the money for a great camera are sometimes disappointed when the people in the shoot don’t look so good…so they blame the camera. But you can’t ignore the fundamental principle of looking good on camera: you need makeup…and this is very different from using conventional makeup. Light-reflecting makeup for video uses tiny metal particles to reflect light, which covers up blemishes, wrinkles, and dark spots. You can even find light-reflecting hand lotions, for when the camera is close up on your hands doing something like a product demo. Also note that makeup gets lost in the camera—you need to apply more than you normally would for simply going out into the world. Two more makeup tips: Use both moisturizer and primer as a base, and matte products are best.

Use the right type of light. Rule #1: No fluorescent lighting! Bring in the light packs described later, and turn off the fluorescents. Natural light is usually the best place to start, but not always available and besides, often needs supplementing by other light sources—even the best video expert can’t make the sun move around. Incandescent lights have a low color temperature that flatters the skin and smooths out details; for lighting that’s closest to natural lighting and can be equally flattering to products and objects as well as people, halogen bulbs work well. For all-around versatility, low power consumption, and cool operation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than white LED lights.

Wear the right clothes. Pastels, like gray, blue, green, etc. are best—avoid white and especially, red. Avoid contrasting colors for shirts and pants, because the lighting will emphasize one and get lost in the other. Finally, solid colors are best. Patterns, such as stripes, can confuse the camera.

The camera really does add 10 pounds. But often lighting is the problem, not the camera. Although you want a well-lit subject, some shadows are necessary to avoid flattening people into two dimensions. When adjusting lighting, always look at it through the camera so you can adjust the lighting to give as much of a sense of three-dimensionality as possible.

Orient yourself properly with respect to the light. Never have lighting behind you, because then your face will be in shadow. Light should not be coming from below, but from straight ahead, and possibly at a slight angle. If there are too many shadows, consider side lighting as well.

Lighting Solutions

When working from home, certain lighting constraints exist that aren’t relevant for large office buildings—like size, and being able to store the lights when not in use. You also need to work with the existing natural light, which may help or hinder matters depending on the location of your windows, and your workspace layout. On the plus side, in a home office you’ll be using video mostly for conference calls and instruction, so you won’t have complicated, multi-person shoots. Your lighting will most likely be “set and forget.”

Businesses that depend on their videos to help generate revenue generally need more sophisticated lighting, and can invest more into different types of lighting for different video production needs.

Mobile Studio Lights

These are perhaps the most universal solution, and the simplest way to improve the quality of your lighting. Mobile studio lights are portable, easy to use, more affordable than most other options, work with standard wall outlets for power, and can be controlled directly at the fixture—no additional, external controller is needed. They can also accommodate inexpensive filters, gels, and beam-shapers to tailor the lighting for specific applications, or to create more of an atmosphere.



Pictured: ikan Oynx 240 Bi-Color 3-Point LED Light Kit and the Smith Victor 42W 13.5″ LED Ring Light.

Click here for more Full Compass Studio Lights.

White Lights Are Your Friend

Colored lighting may look good in person, but your camera probably won’t agree. Most standard webcams and video cameras have a hard time rendering deeply saturated colors. Although they add an artistic flair when viewed through human eyes, dark purples, blues, and greens will often look artificial and obtrusive when captured digitally, and are very inconsistent when projected onto varying skin tones. This is why most digital content providers rely on variable white lighting for video shoots.

White LEDs usually come in three different variations: warm white, cool white, or variable white. Warm and cool lighting differentiation is measured by the color temperature, in Kelvin. The range of warm white light falls within the 2700K to 4000K range, and cool white in the 4100K to 6500K range. Warm whites more closely simulate the effects of natural daylight on skin tones, which makes people with pale skin tones more appealing. Cool whites trend closer to the natural blue spectrum, creating more neutral looks and accentuating darker skin tones.

Understanding Flicker

LED light intensity is controlled by Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). The PWM rate designates how quickly the light flashes on and off. Lights at higher intensities flash on and off very rapidly, which our eyes register as a brighter light. At lower intensities, the light flashes more slowly, so the intensity appears dimmer. Regardless of the PWM rate, the human eye’s persistence of vision can’t see the flicker, but many cameras can. When buying lights for video streaming, always looks for lights that are advertised as “flicker-free” or “high PWM rate.” These lighting solutions are available in a variety of form factors, and can be mounted or hung using standard production accessories, such as stands, tripods, and floor reunions.


Pictured: Chauvet DJ EVE 140W VW COB LED PAR and the elektraLite Stingray Profile 300W Warm White LED Ellipsoidal Light Engine.

Click here for more Full Compass Variable White Lights

And for even more lighting solutions, click here.

Those are some lighting basics that apply to almost any type of video production. At Full Compass, we understand the need to deliver quality content to your audience, without breaking the bank. In many cases, a single well-placed light source can elevate your presentation to the next level—but we also have the expertise to advise you on more sophisticated setups. We’re here to answer your questions, and discuss what best suits your needs. To learn more, contact your Full Compass Professional at 800-356-5844 (Monday-Friday, 7:00am-5:30pm Central time).

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