The demand for video is significantly outstripping the demand for stills. Video is the fastest growing of the imaging creative arts. Whether you are making family videos, documentaries or are doing or thinking of doing a video blog aka VLOG, good lighting is critical
Vlogging is one of the most rapidly growing social media outreach mechanisms and using our DSLR and mirrorless cameras to make a Vlog produces a huge improvement in quality over a smartphone. It's time we look at the challenge of lighting.
Using the ambient light for your vlog is convenient, but you may find it requires very high ISO settings or if you are shooting in audio, footage with too much noise and colours that just don't pop. The easy way to fix this is with a video light.
Types of Lighting
There exist three primary lighting types for video. They are all continuous lights, meaning that they are on all the time. The first is the old style "hot" light, typically a tungsten or halogen bulb. They throw lots of light, but get very hot and require AC power with decent amperage. Plug a couple into the same circuit and you may end up blowing fuses. The second is the type based on fluorescent lights. The good ones are special fixtures designed to minimize the effects of flicker and to offer consistent colour temperature over a long period of time. They produce beautiful light, but the bulbs are fragile and they also need AC power. The third type of light is delivered by LEDs, typically in a panel. These have decent brightness, consistent colour and many can run on either AC or battery power. Battery power is very handy when you do a bit of ad-hoc video, shooting whenever and wherever without a defined shooting space, although they work wonderfully in a fixed "studio" as well. We will spend our time in this article on LED lights.
What Are We Talking About?
An LED, or Light Emitting Diode, is not a new idea. A diode is a very fast switching device that turns on and off at the frequency of the electric current. Here in North America, we have 60Hz current, so that means that the LED switches 60 times a second. Better makers use specific power supplies to mitigate any flickering and modern panels do not generate enough flicker to be concerned about in most all use. Moreover, because an LED panel typically has hundreds of individual LEDs, they do not all switch at the same time by design. This makes for a really consistent level of light.
LEDs also have a colour temperature. We can find daylight, bi-colour (daylight and tungsten) and continuously variable colour temperature LEDs. Unless you are mixing multiple sources and are using gels and a colour meter to get the balance perfect, daylight balanced are a good way to go because they will cost less. LED lights typically have a CRI rating. CRI means Colour Rendering Index and is a measure of the LED's ability it faithfully render the colours of an object when lit by the LED in comparison to a reference source, most often daylight. CRI becomes very important when you have to ensure that rendered colours match a product brand, such as those used in a corporate logo, but is less important for vlogging purposes, unless you are receiving compensation for endorsing a product. Even then, most low end LED panels say that they have a CRI of 95 or greater. I find it interesting that the best LED panels do not make this level of claims, averaging more a 91 or so. This is most likely because the maker assigns their own CRI and as the comparison is subjective, sometimes some hyperbole may be found. Again, interesting but for vlogging or casual video, it is less important so long as the scene looks pleasing
Size and Placement
The larger the source, the softer the light. The closer the source, the softer the light. These are not marketing phrases, they express basic physics principles. Our goals are most often to have the softest light possible, because it looks the best. We want to emulate the soft light of a natural overcast sky, not the harsh light of a single bulb or direct sun.
LED panels come in various sizes, but you can make more of a small panel if you get it in close to the subject. We see very small panels that sit on the hotshoe or the cage of a camera that put out a decent amount of light that looks pretty nice when the panel is in close. That light tends to be very flat, so folks with a greater concern for the look of their video, will use the light away from the camera. TV studios use 24" square panels, and lots of them, to light a news set. You can likely get by with a couple of small-medium panels placed just out of frame. The lights will look bright to your talent, but will also provide beautiful illumination for your shoot.
The farther away that your lights must be placed, the larger and more powerful your lights will need to be. That's physics and we know it as the inverse square law. For every doubling of distance we need to increase power by 4 times.
A small light can be made to act bigger through the use of diffusion material. You can order a roll of Savage Translum in the 1 stop density, and just hang a piece a few feet in front of your light and very close to your subject to turn a small source into a larger one. You will lose some power through the Translum but it could save you the cost of a larger and more cumbersome light. To see if this approach will work with the lights that you have, buy a white shower curtain liner and use it as a diffusion panel. They are light, hang straight and you can gaffer tape them to the ceiling to make big panels. I know it sounds goofy but it works and if you like the look, then you can replace them with the more durable Translum when you are ready.
How To Light
Broadcast has used a system called Three Point Lighting for decades. It's simple to setup, easy to repeat and looks great.
This sample graphic from a lighting design application shows the three light layout and a representation of what the light will look like on the subject. The example uses translucent umbrellas on the front lights, but any type of diffusion material will do the job.
Lighting will allow you to get more depth of field as you need it and will also give you more latitude in your available ISOs.
Choose lights that will deliver on your requirements. Better to get more of less powerful lights than one superpowered light that doesn't give you the flexibility of multiple lights. You could go with a single light and a big reflector, or you could take the advice of someone who has done this a lot, and accept that more lights are better.
When you choose video lights, you can go with square or rectangular panels which tend to be flatter and more easily transported, but that do not take light shapers, or go with an LED that looks more like a studio strobe that is a bit bulkier but can also use industry standard light shaping tools. If you anticipate using your video lights as continuous lights for still photography, especially product shot work, you might find the second type more useful to you.
Here's one of those hotshoe mount lights. If all you need is a smaller kicker to supplement the ambient, something like this may be perfect for your needs. Just remember you're going to need to get it in tight for enough power and it may look a bit harsh because of the small size. I must admit that I love this little guy. It's very small and I have one in my bag most of the time, if only to use as a kicker light for stills or videos, and especially for macro work.
This next example is a small-medium panel with very good output that can be operated off battery or AC power. It has 25 degree angle of coverage and when pushed through diffusion still retains a tight pattern. It's a great all around light with good spill control
You may want a larger panel than the HR 672S size of 9.4" x 7.5" If that's the case there are larger LED panels available to you. Here's a nice option in the Lightstorm family. It's about 15.5" x 14.25" and has over 1500 individual LEDs. This is a very bright panel that also does bicolour so either 3200K or 5500K but is not dimmable.
This last light is not inexpensive at first glance but when we compare the output levels to pro-grade lighting you can get 3-4 for about the cost of a single professional LED lamp that takes light shapers. The light shaper mount used is the standard Bowens S mount, so there are literally thousands of light shapers in the market for your use. It has a lot of power, which is important if you are going to be diffusing or otherwise shaping the light. This light can operate on AC or via V-mount batteries sold separately.
I've featured low cost options in this article because it is written for folks just getting started with video lighting as well as for still photographers looking for continuous lighting as an addition to or alternative to flash. LED systems are comparatively lightweight, reasonably durable and have a long operational life. My first Lumahawk LED panel still works great today, although I shudder when I think of what it cost back then. The price of LED lighting has fallen a lot in the last nine years and it has just become more and more attractive.
What do you think? Do you see the value of how better lighting will improve your video work? Will the nominal extra set up help you stand out from the other people doing videos? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Have an idea for an article or tutorial? Do you have a question photo or video unrelated to this article? Send me an email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comments.
If you shop with B&H Photo Video, please consider doing so through the link on thephotovideoguy.ca as this helps support my efforts and has no negative impact whatsoever on your shopping experience. If you find the podcast or articles of value, consider clicking the Donation tab in the sidebar of the website and buy me a coffee. Your donation goes to help me keep things going. Email your questions on any photo or video topic and I will try to respond within a day.
I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, watching and listening and until next time, peace.