Tips for Getting Better Lighting for Your YouTube Videos
For YouTubers
August 13, 2020

Tips for Getting Better Lighting for Your YouTube Videos

By Daniela Bowker 7 min read

Highlights

  • If you don’t have any lights, position yourself in front of the brightest window in your house, with your camera on the window sill or directly in front of it
  • If you’re on a budget and can only afford one light, a softbox is probably your best option
  • Buying a diffuser and a reflector are highly recommended

The difference between an okay video and a good or great video relies on multiple elements coming together but without a doubt, one of these elements will always be the lighting. Good lighting will instantly improve any video so it definitely pays to think about it carefully and do the very best that you can with what’s available. Even if you have zero budget for lighting for your YouTube videos, there are still things that you can do to make the most of what you have.

No Lights

It might not be ideal to try to make a video without any artificial lighting, but if the sun is all that you’ve got, then the sun is what you should use. Position yourself so that you are facing the brightest window in your home (or office, or wherever you’re making your video) and place your camera on the windowsill or on a tripod between the window and you. It won’t be perfect, but it will do the job.

One Light 

Money or space constraints might mean that you can only have one light for your videos. In this case, a softbox is probably your best option.

The conventional way to use a softbox would be to position it to one side of the camera, at roughly either ten o’clock or two o’clock to the subject, and slightly raised. To keep the light soft and even, you want to use the biggest light, or diffuser, that you have, and keep it close to your subject.

If it feels counterintuitive that a closer light source means softer light, remember that closer means bigger, or broader. A bigger light source is softer because it allows light to reach your subject from as many angles as possible, making it more even. Moving a light source further away from your subject will mean dimmer light.

By having your subject close to your light source, you will have quite pronounced light fall off. This creates a background that will be relatively dark and in shadow compared to the subject. If you want more of the background to be lit, move the light further from your subject. Remember, you’ll need to increase the light’s intensity to achieve the same brightness on your subject if you do this.

In the lighting setup for your YouTube videos, you can achieve the Rembrandt lighting effect with just one light, too. Instead of positioning the light at ten or two o’clock to the subject, have it closer to nine or three o’clock. This will add more drama to your scenes with a darker feel on the shadow side. To produce a moody looking scene, for example in an interrogation room or prison cell, light your subject directly from above. This is also a great technique for product photography. Try it and see what you think!

Two Lights

Before doing anything with two lights, it’s important to make sure that both lights are set to the same color temperature. If you have one light at 5500K, which is roughly the temperature of daylight, and the other at 3000K, the temperature of tungsten lighting, getting the white balance correct will be incredibly difficult and you might find that your subject looks a slightly inhuman color. What you choose will depend on your aesthetic, but use similar settings!

When it comes to two lights, you will probably be using a softbox as the main light, just as you would in a one-light setup. However, you will also be introducing a smaller light into the mix to lift the shadows. 

The basic two-light setup features a smaller light on the opposite side of the softbox
The basic two-light setup features a smaller light on the opposite side of the softbox. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.

The most obvious place to position your fill light is on the opposite side of the camera to the main light but set to a lower intensity, to help balance out the shadows cast by the main light. This is pretty much a three-point lighting setup, but without the backlight.

You can, though, get creative with your lights. You might decide to position your second light behind the subject to produce a rim lighting effect. Or, you could use it to illuminate the background if that’s what you want and need. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with your lights - like by introducing different light modifiers - to achieve different effects.

Three-Point Lighting 

The three-point lighting setup is one of the most common systems used as lighting for YouTube videos, photographers and filmmakers. It involves the main light, positioned at an angle between 20 and 45 degrees from the camera, a fill light that is usually at the same angle as the main light from the camera, but on the other side, and a backlight that is positioned behind the subject and thereby adds depth to the scene.

There are lots of opportunities to play with three-point lighting, though. Your main and fill lights do not have to be at, say 30 degrees, from the camera. You can move much closer to 90 degrees for a dramatic look that helps to accentuate textures. You can play around with the angle and intensity of the backlight to see how that changes the feel of your scene, too.

Extras 

However many dedicated lights you have to work with, there are some extras that you can use to bring more interest to your scenes.

You might want extra diffusers, to keep things soft, or reflectors to bounce light into darker areas. Honeycombs and barn doors can help you to direct light more precisely. This way, you can keep areas that you would prefer to be in the shadows, in the shadows without losing the softness of the light you have.

Lighting the background with domestic lights is a cheap and easy way to bring variations to your background in particular. For example, fairy lights that can create pretty bokeh or an ordinary standard or table lamp that uses a colored bulb or has an unusual shade that casts shadows. By introducing a light that specifically lights your background, you can create lots of variations for your videos. For a start, how about changing the background light’s color by applying a gel to it? You can then give the background whatever feeling you want.

Gobos are stencils that you position in front of your light to create shadows on your scene or backdrop. You could project a particular design onto your backdrop if you wanted to. Or you could use a gobo to create something more abstract or to mimic street lights falling through window blinds for example. There are so many possibilities; you really can let your imagination run wild. That goes for all your lighting for your YouTube videos, not just for gobos!  

Author Bio

Daniela is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online and runs the Photocritic Photography School.
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