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Lighting Basics #1

Women on Video Set. Example of a Lighting Setup in a Small Room

Lighting. You can have the best camera rig in the world, but if you’re not lighting the subject properly, all that investment will be for nothing.

The first step to lighting a subject, if this is your first time wading into media creation, is the simple three-point lighting setup. This is the basis of nearly every lighting setup from this point forward, as the concepts stay relatively the same.

Should you also need a setup for Photography and Video, then this is the perfect setup if you’re rigging up a studio in a hurry. This can work perfectly for any interview or portrait shot that you need. Need to interview a subject while also getting a headshot for your website/thumbnail? This is perfect.

It is also relatively cheap to do. Disclaimer: These guides will not be designed to give you ‘the cheapest lighting in the world’ or any of those YouTube clickbait-style titles. Invest in your lighting. It is the difference between a professional-looking shot and a wannabe with all the gear and no idea. (Honestly, this can be said for many things outside of the camera itself but that’s a whole other topic!)

As already alluded to, there are three lights you need to make this setup work. The names for these lights are also ones that you will hear throughout your time on a set or working in the industry, so get familiar with them!

  1. Key Light

The Key light is the main light of your whole setup. This will be the brightest, and the primary source, of light on the subject. If you spend 80% of your money on one light out of the three, make it this one.

The Key light should not be placed directly in front of the subject. The ideal angle for this light, if you are going for a standard lighting setup, should be around the 45-degree angle in relation to your subject, as shown below.

Example of where a Key Light should be placed in a lighting setup, to the side of the camera at a 45 degree angle
(I have amazing drawing skills yes thank you for noticing ;-) , also not to scale!)

However, if you are going for a different look, you can swing this light into different angles for different styles of contrast and shadows on the subject. This is where things can get interesting! You can even bounce the light off the wall should you not have a softbox to cover the light to keep the soft light. I’ll cover these kinds of techniques in a future post!