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Four basics of lighting for video production

The quality of a film or video can be made or broken by the lighting. To get appealing shots, whether you're doing an amateur documentary or a well-funded feature video, you'll need to set up lighting for video production perfectly. There are basics of lighting in video production you need to pay attention to when lighting the subject and the scene, including equipment, angle, color, and hardness.

Two COLBOR LED studio lights are used to create lighting for music video production.

Equipment: Three common lighting for professional video look

Key, fill, and back lights are commonly used to create 3 point lighting in video production.

Key light

The key light, as the name implies, directly shines on the subject and acts as its primary illuminator; the brightness, color, and angle of the key define the overall lighting design of the shot more than anything else.

The key in interior shots is usually a dedicated lamp or the flash of a camera. The Sun is frequently used as the main illumination in outdoor daytime filming. Of course, in this scenario, the video productors cannot put the light exactly where they want it, so they arrange the image to best catch the sunshine, sometimes after waiting for the sun to position itself properly.

Fill Light

Fill light shines on the subject as well, but at a side angle relative to the key and is frequently positioned lower than the key. It balances the key by lighting dark areas and reducing or eliminating chiaroscuro effects, such as a person's nose casting a shadow on the rest of their face. It is often softer and less bright than the primary light (by up to half). Depending on the severity of the main light, without adding a fill at all might result in dramatic contrasts (shadows) throughout the subject's surface. This is often a planned effect, as with low-key lighting, but images that are meant to seem more natural and less artistic require a fill.

In some cases, a reflector (such as a piece of white cardboard placed off-camera or even a white-painted wall) can be used as a fill light instead of an actual lamp. Reflecting and diverting the primary light's rays back onto the subject from a different angle can produce a softer, more delicate effect than utilizing a separate bulb.


This lighting for video production is also known as the rim, hair, or shoulder light. It illuminates the subject from behind, frequently (but not always) to one side or the other. It casts a ring of light around the subject, separating it from the backdrop and emphasizing characteristics.

A kick (or kicker) adds to a portion of the shade on the visible surface of the subject, whereas a rim light just makes a thin outline around the subject without necessarily touching the front (visible) surface of the subject at all.

Video tutorial on how to set up light for video production

Video by David Zhou

In this video, the YouTuber David Zhou uses COLBOR LED lighting for video production to create cinematic lighting for video production. You can see the video to learn how to position, angle, and set the lights to get key, fill, and back lighting.

Angles: Video production lighting from high and low angles give different effects

There are several angles at which studio lighting for video production may be directed. This is especially noticeable when filming people (rather than landscapes).

Lighting, among other things, may produce power dynamics. When light is thrown from a high angle, it can generate an angelic or pleasant aura, making someone or something appear significant. It creates a spotlight effect and instructs the audience on where to focus their gaze.

A dramatic impact is created by light from a low angle. This is often employed to make someone appear more powerful or threatening. This is a prevalent trait of horror film antagonists.

Color and temperature: It builds the mood for videography

Lighting and color are essential components of emotion. Different colors of lighting for video production convey different messages. If you select an odd hue, there should be a reason behind it. It must be consistent with what is going on screen.

Actually, individual colors have no "correct" meaning. Each color, however, may have a set of generally linked interpretations:

  • White: Purity, innocence, blank, soothing, neutral
  • Black: Fear, unhappiness, death, power, hostile
  • Brown: Full, secure, disagreeable
  • Red: Anger, passion, intensity, active
  • Orange: Exciting, disturbed, unique, warm
  • Yellow: Cheerful, serene, stimulating
  • Green: Fresh, wealth, natural, youthful
  • Blue: Sad, cool, social, dignified
  • Violet: Melancholy, regal, prideful

Quality: Choose between hard and soft lighting for video production

Quality is another aspect of the basics of video production lighting. It relates to two fundamental qualities of light in this situation, soft and hard. Unless it's purely aesthetic, it should be soft. In other words, soft light produces a smooth gradient transition between bright and dark areas, but hard light produces a sharp change.

Consider natural light to have a better understanding of it. If you take a photograph at midday on a bright day, you will get an example of hard light and severe shadows on your subject. If the sky is clear yet hazy, the clouds will function as a diffuser, creating gentle lights and shadows.

COLBOR lighting for video production is positioned differently and set at different colors to build the scene.

FAQs about lighting for video production

What is the importance of lighting in video production?

Lighting shapes your video creation in the following ways:

It aids in the creation of a mood for your video. If you want to make a commercial video, for example, you'll need to establish a neutral and professional scene. If, on the other hand, you're constructing a film studio to shoot a thriller, you should designate a location where you may experiment with gloomy and unsettling lighting.

Lighting can direct the audience's sight. If you want to draw attention to a certain artifact, person, or animal, you may utilize lighting.

Lighting may have an impact on how your characters or subjects appear. Some lighting styles will make your subject appear as smart and well-groomed as possible, while others will make them appear anxious or exhausted. And this is determined by your video purpose.

Lighting may have an impact on how professional your video looks. Without proper lighting, it will most likely appear dull and uninspired.

What other lighting techniques for video production are used?

Besides the aforementioned basic techniques like key, fill, and back lighting, you can use more methods to arrange the illumination for different video looks, such as side, practical, and bounce lighting.

If you want to learn more about it, check the article Guide to filming LED lights: Basics, lighting types & using issue, we have introduced each type of video lighting, including the definition, their effects, and how to achieve them in video production.

What steps can I follow to get good lighting for video production?

If you are a novice video creator and have no clear idea of how to take up the filming smoothly, here are 6 steps you can follow:

  • Step 1: Make a video shooting plan and also a backup plan. Evaluate the scene and decide how to light it up according to the purpose.
  • Step 2: Invest in the right type of equipment according to the video production requirements and your budget.
  • Step 3: Use basic 3-point lighting to illuminate the subject and the scene.
  • Step 4: Adjust the color temperature to build the mood. Avoid mixing color temperatures, or it will be hard to edit in post-production.
  • Step 5: Fix the glare on glasses that will distract the viewers’ attention. You can raise the light higher to solve this issue.
  • Step 6: Take a test shot to see the final results. Adjust the lighting settings if needed.