Studio Lighting 101: Lighting by the Book

When it comes to the profession of video production, sometimes it is wise to simplify your studio lighting process. If you are new to shooting films, your lighting process does not have to be overly complicated. In keeping things clean and easy, you will be able to develop a sharp lighting design while maintaining a schedule and a budget. Today, we would like to discuss some tips for the novice movie lighting designer.

Stick to the Basics

The first key to keeping your lighting process easy, is to remember the basic rules of studio lighting:

  • Make sure that the shot, and your actors, look attractive.
  • Get rid of any and all shadows on faces.
  • Don’t intimidate the person on-camera. Actors may not be used to the technical terms of a lighting designer, so make sure that they know you are there to make them, and the entire shot, look their best.
  • Always use the most convenient lighting options available to you.

Keeping these basic rules in mind, you are on your way to lighting some simple and effective shots. Below, you will find an overview of the elements of studio lighting, that will help you keep the general foundation of the process in mind.

Studio Lighting Technique: Keep a Critical Eye
Effective lighting for your video is all a matter of taste. Being able to look critically at your shot will indicate the areas that could use some supplemental lighting. With a little experimentation and muscle memory, this entire process will become quicker and easier with time.

Ambient Light: Location is Everything
Before you even open a light stand, it’s important to select a location to film and roughly find your shot. Ask a friend to stand in, then walk around with a camera and a few lenses to choose your shot location. As you’re finding that perfect shot, consider the ambient light that comes with it.
Avoid shooting under overhead lighting. This type of lighting creates “raccoon eye” shadowing, which isn’t very flattering. Moving your talent over even a foot can often make a huge difference in the dark shadows cast from overhead studio lights. Natural light from windows or overhead lights can be a blessing and a curse. It is often helpful to block out all natural light with blackout roller shades. This will give you the maximum amount of control over where exactly the light falls on the scene. If you’re in a pinch and need to block out light, pick up a roll of black plastic and some gaffer’s tape and cover the window!

Flat Lighting: Actors Want to Look Their Best
Flat lighting is usually a good idea because it helps to eliminate shadows on the face of your talent. Dramatic lighting with harsh shadows tells a far different story than flat lighting. Flat lighting takes away the drama and lets the viewer know that there are no dark secrets lurking in the shadows of someone’s face. It also makes them look less like a zombie. So unless you are shooting a low budget horror flick, consider a flat lighting design.

Lighting Placement: Does it Make a Difference?
Placing your studio lighting in just the right place can make or break your shot. When you’re shooting someone on screen, position the light sources in front of the camera lens and just above the subject’s eyeline. Make absolutely sure to never light from below. If you are shooting a scene in which your talent is wearing glasses, you may be in for a challenge. Try to make sure your actors are wearing UV-coated, anti-glare lenses when possible. If there’s a glare on the lenses, try raising the lights higher and spreading them a bit further apart from the camera. You can also slide the glasses down the nose a bit to aim the glasses away from the lights.

What is Your Light Source?
This one is pretty simple. The larger the light source, the softer the light. The softer the light, the more flattering the result. If you are interested in creating a softer light source, consider these 3 tips:

  1. Use diffusion material in front of your light.
  2. Bounce smaller light source off of a reflector, or even a piece of white posterboard.
  3. Consider using fluorescent bulbs. They’re typically softer than LED.

Color Temperature
The temperature of your light bulbs can make a big difference in your shot. Try not to shoot with an auto balance on your camera, as that tends to throw everything off. Remember that daylight is cool lighting, and incandescent bulbs are warm lighting. If you simply match the color temperature with the scene you are shooting, you will be fine. If you’re dealing with mixed color temperatures, you’re in for a world of hurt. You’ll be dealing with warm light competing with cool light, and you’ll be left with an unattractive shot. Do your best to match the color temperature of your shooting environment with the color temperature of the lights you choose.

In conclusion, it will be to your benefit to keep these studio lighting principles in mind. By laying this foundation for yourself, you can be well on your way to being a professional cinematic lighting designer. If you have any questions about lights or equipment, contact Studio Lights today!