Video Creation Basics: Lighting

Moira West


You want the world to see what your business does. But before anyone can see your product or services, you have to add a little light. So before you light up social media, check out these tips for lighting your own videos.

Indoor lighting

Creating a bright, inviting indoor environment can be tricky to do with video, even if you do have a bright, inviting business. But it’s still possible to create engaging, well lit video without buying any lighting equipment. Take a look at our post on the ins and out of indoor lighting, and then watch a quick tutorial on how to light your video using what you already have.

Outdoor lighting

Shooting outside? You’re in luck. Natural light is often considered the best light for photography or videography, and you can get away with just using sunlight to light your shots.

But different times of day offer different lighting challenges. Check out our post on shooting in natural light, and take a look at a few more tips for outdoor lighting.

Scout the location

Before you start shooting outdoors, examine your location. How will the sun hit it? Are there shady areas you can use if the sun is too bright? Are there telephone wires or signs you won’t want in the image? Will you need extra equipment to help you adjust the light?

A good location will give you room to show off your subject without adding too much shadow or harsh light. If your location doesn’t do that, see if you can adjust the light in some way, or find a different spot where the light may be more gentle.

Consider time of day

Different times of day will give your lighting different looks. The best time of day for you depends on the look you want for your video clips.

  • Golden hour: Golden hour is the period shortly before sunset or shortly after sunrise. The angle of the sun gives images a soft, warm look. Try this time of day for video portraits or other footage featuring people, as well as product shots since, the light is especially flattering.
  • Twilight: Minimal sunlight lets you create shadows or silhouettes against the skyline. If you aren’t looking to create those specific effects, this time of day is too dark to effectively shoot people or products.
  • Midday: Midday light usually emphasizes shadows in an unflattering way. Try using some of the lighting hacks listed below if you must shoot during this time of day.
  • Cloudy days: If the forecast predicts clouds, grab your camera. Because the clouds block the sun, you’ll get softer shadows and more attractive footage. This type of lighting works for videos featuring people, products, real estate, and more.

If you try out these techniques and you feel as if your footage could still use a little more polish, take a look at the tips and tricks below.

Simple lighting hacks

Sometimes the solution to a lighting problem is easier than you think. Here are a few quick fixes for some of the most common lighting issues:

The Problem: Shadowy subject

The Fix: If you’ve got a subject that’s too dark on your video clips, here’s what you can try:

  • Change position: If your camera is facing the sun or a light, anything you’re shooting will seem darker. Put your back to your light source, and you’ll get brighter footage.
  • Bring in more light. Sometimes a location is just darker than your camera can handle. If that’s the case, try shooting at a different time of day, choose a different location, or if that’s not an option, grab some lamps to lighten up your shot. If you’ve got a DSLR camera or a DSLR-style app on your phone, change your ISO to capture even more detail in low light. Not sure what ISO is? Read our post on it to learn more.

The Problem: Harsh light

The Fix: If your location has a lot of direct light, there are a few ways to soften the look of your shot:

  • Find some shade: Look for a tree to shoot under, the shadow of a building, or, if you’re inside, a window not getting direct sunlight.
  • Use a sheet: Bring a white sheet and block the sun with it. You can tie your sheet to a tree branch or clothesline, or just have someone hold it up for you, if you’re outside. If you’re inside, hang your sheet in front of a window or simply put up a sheer curtain.
  • Use a piece of paper: Indoors? Sometimes you can fix problems with natural light using just a piece of white paper and some tape. Check out the video below illustrating how.
  • Use a reflector: A reflector is just a panel that can reflect light, hence the name. Holding a reflector at the right angle can bounce light back on your subject in a way that reduces shadows. A reflector is usually not too pricey, and you even can jerryrig your own using just a flat white or foil-covered surface. Shaw Academy has a good beginner’s guide to using a reflector if you’d like to learn more.

The Problem: Creating bokeh effects

The Fix: If you’ve seen a photo or video clip where the subject was sharp, but the background was soft and blurred, you’ve seen a bokeh effect at work. How you create a bokeh effect depends on the equipment you’re using.

  • Smartphone: Look for a camera app that’ll let you mimic DSLR camera effects, or make it even simpler and download an app that just adds bokeh—there are lots of both types of apps to choose from in the iOS App Store or Android Play Store.
  • DSLR: If you’re using a DSLR camera, check out our posts on aperture and choosing a lens for portraits to learn how to get a nice bokeh in your shots. If you’ve already got the basics down, try something fancier, with our tutorial for adding shaped bokeh effects to your videos.

Build your skills

Starting to understand how this lighting thing works? Well, now it’s time to put those new skills to work. We’ve put together some activities that are designed to work with almost any type of video. Choose one (or more) that make sense for the type of videos you’re planning for your business. And don’t forget the lessons you learned last week in our post on shooting video!

  • Shoot outside: Grab your camera and head outside. Choose a time and location that you think fits your video, and start shooting video. If you aren’t getting the look you want, check out our video lighting hacks above for inspiration.
  • Window light: Experiment with the windows at your business or shooting location. Shoot footage at a few different spots, noting the time of day you shot each video clip. Review the footage and see which window works best at which time of day.
  • No windows: For a real challenge, try lighting a shot with just the lights you have at your business or home. If you’re shooting a product or conducting an interview, try setting up a white background, since that will reflect light better and give the impression of more light.

And after your video is completed, head over to our Facebook group, The Animoto Social Video Marketing Community. You can share your videos there for feedback and support, or just get inspired by fellow group members.