Complete guide to best lighting for video

Now lighting for video is a critical element for any this kind of shooting, but most of people over-complicate it. It isn’t as hard as most people think. Your lighting does not need to be perfect, you just need to focus on a couple of things to get great results consistently. Chances are good that you can make great video simply by paying attention to a few key lighting details. 

Video lighting basics

Video lighting basics: 4 factors to consider when choosing

1. Light source

Find the existed lighting in the shooting site. Natural lighting can be the best lighting for video, or it can be completely against it. Note that if the weather changes, it is hard to obtain consistent lighting, and that sometimes direct sunlight can be too much.

Besides, try avoiding overhead lighting which casts unpleasant shadows on subjects. Remember that light sources with large coverage are usually softer than small ones.

2. Color temperature

Color temperature is measured in the degree Kelvin, a higher degree Kelvin meaning cooler lighting while a lower degree Kelvin indicating warmer one. Depending on different types of bulb, a light can appear warmer and yellow, or cooler and white or light blue.

For consideration, candlelight, as the warmest lighting, is 1,000K; a blue sky in daytime, as the coolest lighting, is 10,000K. No matter which color temperature of video light you have chosen for your shooting, you should take notice on the consistency of all light sources.

3. Intensity

“Intensity” is used to define hard lighting vs soft lighting. Usually, hard light sources gives more output but occasionally it can be too hard, such as shooting directly under the sun at noon. On the other hand, soft lighting comes from larger light sources. Usually a lighting with more softness is tend to be more favorable.

4. Physical specifications

Are lighting equipment for photography easy to be carried around? What is the adjustable height range of the stand? You should attach more importance to mounting accessories, diffusers and reflectors, etc in order to acquire the best lighting for video - make them to work for your shot despite the quality of the light bulbs - flexibly control the width of beam and the height of the light stand.

How to set up lighting for video? Three point lighting definition

Three point lighting, namely documentary lighting, is one of the most fundamental setup methods of lighting for video recording that can be applied into most scenarios, for example, vlog, interviews and corporate events.

Here are the three premises for the setup:

  • A key light to create most of the light to cast on your subject;
  • A fill light to fill in the shadows caused by the key;
  • A back light to beautify the scenario by emitting a soft glow on head or shoulder of the subject from the back side.

Sometimes when the subject talking while facing the camera, narrative videos as well, three-point lighting is a preferable method. Let’s go through these lights one after another and see how to set lighting for video.

Key Light:

Although it is usually the strongest light, its wattage can range from 150 watts to 10000 watts as long as it fits well in the on-site situation. If you do not set out to recreate the sunlight using 10000 watts of bulb, the figure from 500 to 1000 watts is a pretty good choice to start.

Key light is often used to illuminate the front side of subject’s body. Instead of setting it directly in the front, it is better to stand at the angle of 15 to 45 degrees to the camera, so as to creating the contrast between the different sides of the subject in pursuit of satisfying lighting for video production with dramatic or interesting look.

Fill Light:

The fill light, as the name explains itself, is usually applied to “fill” in the shadows resulting from the key light and is and should always be less powerful compared with key light. It is similar with key light since there is also no specific requirement for wattage in the lighting for video.

The fill light should also be set opposite with the camera, casting on the subject at the same angle. When the key light is set, it is likely to cause shadows on one side of the subject. By moving the fill light away or closer to the subject can help produce or reduce the output amount of light. Rather than canceling out the caused shadows, it aims to reduce shadows for a soft and smooth light transition from one side of the subject to the other, hence providing continuous lighting for video.

Want to know more about fill light, see Basics for newcomers to fill light

Back Light:

It is able to improve the quality of image massively. It can render a “halo” effect near the shoulders or the head of the subject, which separates the subject from the background, hence finding the best lighting for video and adding more depth.

Set the backlight directly behind the subject as close as possible. Take notice of what the camera would possibly capture. One way of placement is to hang it on the top of the back of the subject, and a light stand may be required so the backlight can hang directly above. Another way is to set it on the side where it cannot be captured in the camera; whichever side is fine, but it should be in accordance with the result you are looking for. As for the wattage, it should be of the same amount as the fill light, or sometimes less powerful.


It may occur that the light source is too powerful. Let’s say, when a 500W key light is combined with a 250W backlight, it creates so much output that the “halo” effect is changed into glaring mistake but not the beautifier, ruining the lighting for video recording. Under this circumstance, a set of diffusion gels or a diffuser can help soften the light to appear more natural.

See the image below where the aforementioned 4 keys are shown.

How to set up lighting for video? Three point lighting definition

Tips: 7 Yes and 4 No

What to do?

1. Do learn from photography

Long story short, video lighting is similar to photography lighting, which means, you can “borrow” relevant lighting techniques into video work in seeking of different atmosphere and affections. Or you can simply take notice on key lighting details for best lighting for video.

2. Do add light when needed

To acquire better results, lighting setup for video is essential. In dim environment, instead of increasing the ISO, try using additional light to avoid undesired noise.

3. Do use household lighting fixtures if needed

In some cases, household incandescent and LEDs can create good lighting for video. By means of adding more lights as well as setting the white balance properly, you can balance the difference of intensity and color temperature between home and professional illuminating.

4. Do apply three-point lighting

As aforementioned, three-point lighting is one of the professional video lighting. It should be the first lighting technique to master.

5. Do take the sunlight as key light during outdoor shooting

When using the sunlight as the key light, note that at noon the sun casts the strongest shadows on the subject; also the sun moves as time goes on, likely affecting the scenes that requires long-period and continuous shooting.

6. Do make use of reflector

Although white paper or poster is fine for close-up shots, if possible, you should consider buying a folding reflector or bounce board, which can be used as the second light source to process the shadows resulting from the key light.

7. Do use fluorescent bulbs for soft light

Compared with LED video lighting, sometimes fluorescent bulbs is a more suitable and direct way if you are looking for more soften light.

What not to do?

1. Don’t rely only on on-camera lights

There are some on-camera lights can produce quality lighting for youtube video or vlogging - the kind of video where the camera is close to the subject. However, in most situations, more lights are needed than merely on-camera lights.

2. Don’t use only one light source if possibles

If shooting with only one light source, it is more likely to produce unsatisfying shadows. If possible, try use more than one for lighting video.

3. Don’t use overhead lighting

In offices, homes or retail spaces, try to stay away from overhead lighting which casts shadows on faces for more control on the scene.

4. Don’t mix lights of different color temperatures

When lights with different color temperature are used in the video, it is called mixed lighting, which should be avoided for purpose of finding the best lighting for video. It makes the camera sensor difficult to keep the balance of light, resulting in either too yellow or too blue.


No matter what lighting you use, it’s important to start with the key fundamental of lighting - that is, to light the subject first. Whether it’s a product or a person or yourself that you are creating in the video, light that first, and then use whatever additional lights you have to light the rest of the scene as a secondary.