Video Production-Camera Lighting Techniques

light-2-1546674Light is extremely important to cameras. Let’s begin our discussion on lighting with an understanding of the iris on your camera; the setting and the result. The iris is the camera function that lets light into your camera through the lens and onto the tape.
The larger the iris number setting, the less light let into the camera. The smaller the iris number setting, the more light let into the camera. The Iris is the light opening and closing device to make the picture or subject brighter or darker accordingly. Try opening and closing your camera iris and look through your viewfinder and notice the difference. Try this test in various light settings and notice sometimes one or two clicks can make a big difference and one or two steps in the other direction makes little difference.

If you are out in the sun and you need to close the iris up to 15 or 16 (a larger number) to let in a little light but not wash out the picture, you will want to try the ND neutral density filter in addition to adjusting the iris. Notice the radiance of the colors VS the brightness of the whites. Use your eye to determine the best combination.

Remember to always position your subject in front of the light source (not behind the light source) and the light source behind you or over your shoulder, otherwise you will end up with a shot that is over exposed and way too white or bright, making your subject dark and a silhouette. This is, however, an interesting technique when you are interviewing somebody who does not want to be recognized. Therefore, this can be a nice technique.

You may be able to position your subject and the light source to look as if the subject is coming out of a cloud and the outer portion of the frame has a very high white ‘cloud like’ level.

One of the (if not THE) most important items when it comes to recording professional video is the lighting.

Lighting can make or break a video. It makes the subject and the scene come alive in vibrant tones and colors, increases the contrast and luminance so the camera can record accurately.

Generally speaking, you should always have nice even light on your subject. It is to your advantage to use available lighting whenever possible. Position your subject so that the light source is behind you and adjust your camera iris accordingly. It is best to have your iris setting somewhere in the middle like 5.6.

If you are filming outdoors, it may be necessary to use a sun visor or damper to knock down the direct light. Sun can become very hot and cause your talent or subject to sweat. If so, use a piece of white poster board or reflector to act as a visor to reduce the directness of the sun.

Another great trick is to use C stands and sound blankets, or large white boards to block out the sun. You can also drape a large tarp between two or three C stands to act as a tent like sun protector.

If the sun is coming from one side and the other side looks a bit dark, use another white poster board or reflector to bounce the sun to fill in or compensate on the darker side.

Add additional lighting as necessary whenever you are taping indoors.

Lights come in many shapes, sizes and strengths. A 600 watt light would be overkill if you are video recording a piece of jewelry. It would however look very nice recording an interview. In fact, you may need two point lighting for the same interview and a 200 or 400 watt light for the jewelry instead. Experiment to learn the best lighting techniques before you have the business.

Two point lighting can be accomplished by positioning one light to the left of your camera close to the subject to create a 45 degree angle. The second light should be positioned on the opposite side of the set.

If you are taping a presentation, put the lights close and wide. The shadows will still be seen on the backdrop (drape or wall) by the naked eye outside the shot but not by the camera (because the shot is cropped for the subject and the shadows are outside the cropped shot).

Indirect lighting is a softer way to light a subject and can be accomplished by bouncing the light off a ceiling or wall. Umbrella diffusers come with some light kits and are worth the investment. The light shines into the umbrella and is reflected to a nice smooth wash over the subject.

If you are lighting a subject and the light seems harsh, try the diffused approach to help soften the harshness. Lighting kits can be rented so you do not have to own all this equipment and bare the expense. Look online for a lighting rental supplier close to your recording location.

Look for your options every time you shoot with regard to lighting. Modify the subject positioning until you have the optimum light level.

When you are indoors and the light is not optimum, open the iris as low as 2.2 or 1.8. If necessary, increase the gain to compensate for the darkness or slow down the shutter speed. Look at your results before beginning to record.

When zoomed completely wide, your camera may open the iris to as low as 1.6 depending on the camera. This means the iris is wide open to allow as much light into the camera as possible.

It is best to always record with the iris setting and the camera is in manual mode. If the light source is coming from behind your subject and your camera is in automatic settings, then the subject will be dark because your camera iris is adjusting itself to compensate for the light source automatically. The light will look good but the subject will be dark.

Put your camera in manual setting and adjust the iris so that your subject looks good with natural tones and the light source is behind you.

Shoot different subjects and adjust your iris accordingly for each to get used to your iris settings and adjustment techniques. Note the effects and changes in your shot as your iris is adjusted. Also note your camera most likely will not let you adjust the iris while you are in the record mode. My Cannon XL2 will, but I know many cameras will not.

Some cameras have an image stabilizer, which is a setting that can be turned on to electronically hold the camera steady when you are not steady or standing on non stable ground, like a boat.

You will notice when following a moving subject, when the stabilizer is turned on, your panning the camera movement may appear to be sticking as you move the camera from left to right. The image stabilizer is not always a good idea but it does help compensate for non tripod use. It also helps when you are in a moving vehicle or walking in front or behind a subject.

I shot a great dolphin sequence in Hawaii from a sail boat and if not for the image stabilizer it would not have turned out as smooth.
I was in Hawaii video taping a seminar series and we had taken the day off for some rest and relaxation. During a boat trip to an island, we saw a school of dolphins. A crew-member, having spotted the dolphins, slowed down even though it was against the rules. To get the perfect shot, I leaned over the side of a sailboat and held the top handle of the camera without being able to see my viewfinder. This enabled me to capture them swimming alongside the boat with my camera. The image stabilizer helped to steady the camera. It was worth it; the shots turned out to be similar to ones you would see in National Geographic magazine. Sometimes you have to go for the vigilante shots to capture excellent video.

Another area of operation that is worth practicing often is audio adjustment and volume control techniques. There is a technique that you should know about of moving toward and away from the audio source to adjust your subject volume acoustically in addition to adjusting the actual volume control electronically.

Some cameras have volume controls to automatically adjust the external microphone electronically. This is called auto gain and it is built in to the cameras electronics to automatically adjust camera microphone volume. Some cameras also have a –10 db (decibels) pad that can be turned on to immediately drop the input volume by 10 decibels if the subject’s volume is too loud, like at a concert or near a band at a wedding. This is a good setting to use if you are recording a loud sound source like a rock band or ambulance chaser and can not easily adjust the volume manually.

However, I do not want you to depend on auto gain volume unless you absolutely have to, because when the volume is back to normal levels, the auto gain will raise adding a background hiss and other noises to your video recording.

You can look at audio for video this way. It is always better to acoustically set the sound (camera distance away from the sound source) before making electronic adjustments to reduce or increase the sound or audio level. Try keeping the VU meter (sound measurement devise on your camera) in the yellow, minus 4-6 or out of the red; which ever is applicable to your camera VU meter.

Some cameras that have stereo microphones built in or external will also have a balance control or separate left right audio controls to adjust each separate audio channel’s input. If you are recording with two microphones, one on the left of your subject and the other on the right of your subject, you may find that the sound source is louder on the left than the right. By decreasing the volume control to make the loud side lower and the low side louder, you can even out the sound. The balance control (if your camera is equipped with one) can also be adjusted to even out the two channels.
It may be desirable to have different audio feeds into each left and right channel so you can separate them in the edit. For example, when you are recording a professional speaker or comedian, put the audience microphones that pick up the laughter and applause in one channel (left or right) and the direct performer sound source in the other. That way you will have options in the edit to mix the audio accordingly.

When you load your footage into your computer, you will capture both audio channels. Open your editing programs mixer and balance the sound accordingly as often as necessary.

Another option is when loading analogue footage, route your audio through a mixing board and adjust or ride the sound levels, equalize them to compensate for background noise or poor sound quality. Even when capturing digitally through fire wire you can also load your audio analogue and sync to the original digital audio. There are many advantages to both. Experiment with many techniques and of course be sure your tape cassette is in record protect after the recording.

You may notice some redundancies in this E Book from section to section. This is intentional because some concepts are either worth explaining twice or can be described other ways and enhanced or clarified. If you ever have any questions, you can consider calling or emailing our office for assistance. 800-647-4281.

The battery charger usually powers your camera as well as charges your batteries. Along with a power shoe and connecting wire, the battery charger may also serve as your AC power supply. Read your owners manual completely to determine how your power functions operate. It is a good idea to use AC power whenever possible because the camera is guaranteed to operate longer and securely with AC instead of the DC power.

When the AC shoe is connected to the camera, it is then connected to the battery charger which serves two purposes.

Sometimes AC is not available and a DC battery pack is necessary. If you are indoors and an AC outlet is available, even if you have to use an extension cord, use the outlet. It is a good idea to either hide the extension cord or tape it down so nobody trips over it.

If you are not near an AC outlet and have to use your battery pack, make sure your batteries are fully charged before arriving at the recording.
It is worth the investment to purchase additional batteries especially if you plan on doing a lot of video taping outdoors or where AC is not available, like the Alaskan outback, the zoo or on a boat. You can also purchase a video belt/pouch to help you carry additional tape stock and batteries.

It can actually be better using batteries in some scenarios. Batteries are convenient where AC requires dropping an extension cord and taping it down.

Weddings taking place at a church, for example, are a better place to use AC then when outdoors in the park or the limo, so you will have fully charged batteries.

When one battery drains, replace it with another charged battery. Immediately put the dead battery on the charger as soon as you return to an AC power outlet so it will be ready for use later in the shoot.

Remember your charger so you don’t leave the location without it. Do what I like to call an ‘idiot check’ of the property before you leave to make sure you have everything.

You might want to have a couple three prong AC adapters just in case you run into a ground issue with the buildings power or you have to plug into an old two prong circuit. Some camera power supplies are three prongs and others are two.

Don’t charge the battery until completely drained. If you are concerned about the battery dying at the wrong time, save the low battery for some small filler shots like cut away or reverse shots if you have that luxury. This practice will extend the life of your battery. Try not to charge your batteries until they are fully drained.

If you find that your batteries are not lasting as long as they used to, buy new ones. You can search batteries online and find many reasonable sources, or, if you need one quickly, try an appliance store like Best Buy.

Always disconnect your batteries from the camera when the camera is not in use. Leaving the battery attached to the camera when the camera is not being uses will drain the battery slowly over a period of time.

It is worth mentioning here to also eject the tape from your camera when not in use for longer than 10 minutes. Leaving the tape in the camera will slowly stretch the tape and bend the control arms of the transport mechanism.

It depends on how much in demand your battery is versus the supply and demand. Of course you don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish when you are starting your business. Do not refurbish your batteries or purchased recycled. Old batteries that are recycled or refurbished and rebuilt are not dependable.

You are being hired and trusted to capture an event for your client. Your reputation can not afford to miss the parade as it goes by because of a dead battery or lack of tape stock. Always carry more than you need in both categories.

On your camera there is another setting called the white balance. This setting tells the camera how to adjust the white record level. Each time you use your camera, the light and environment conditions change.

Amateur video users compensate by keeping the white balance in automatic however this is not recommended if you want professional looking video. I want you to be a manual user in all categories. Avoid the automatic settings because it will often reduce the quality of your recording. In manual mode, you have more control and options.

Set your white balance by putting a white piece of paper or poster board in the shot where your subject is located. Locate the white balance control on your camera. Some cameras like my XL2 have three white balance pre-set options so you can quickly return to a white balance setting if you return to that location.

Once you locate the white balance control, zoom in and focus on the white board and press and hold the button next to the white balance control until the light or indicator stops blinking or flashing.

Look at your shot before and after the white balance adjustment. Do you see the difference? You should notice a blue or orange reduction or change in the shot. This happens because the camera has been set to a white level which helps it understand the perspective of the other colors in the shot.

Some cameras have a built in Neutral Density filter which should be used when taping outside in bright light where there is potential for over exposure. The sun can be your best friend but it can also be your worst enemy. The ND setting tones down the camera’s light reference source and allows the picture more normal contrast in extremely bright conditions. It also adds a filter onto the video which in many applications makes the shot look absolutely beautiful. Regardless if you are shooting 16 X 9 or 4 X 3, the neutral density setting will most always add brilliance to your shot.

You will know when to use the NDF because you will barely be able to adjust your camera iris to darken the picture quality. In other words, the picture will be very bright without much iris left open to reduce the brightness of the shot sufficiently. Using the ND filter will not sacrifice the picture color or quality at all.

The camera gain is used when there is not enough light to record your subject as well as when there is too much light. Most likely you will have more options for light increasing, than reduction from your camera’s gain control. Remember the camera does not see like the naked eye. Therefore it needs additional light or brightness to make the taping look professional. The gain is an electronic adjustment to help compensate for the lighting conditions.

When you look at your subject with your naked eye, you will see panoramically. When you look through the camera, depending on the type of lens you have, you will see the subject differently. That is because cameras do not have peripheral vision.

Your eyes can also see better in the dark than a camera. Your retina is much more powerful than any man made electronic contraption. Always look at your shot or subject with your naked eye and do your best to duplicate it through your camera lens.

Experiment or rehearse before you do the recording. That way you will have some experience establishing your light levels and also determine by playback through the camera view finder or an external monitor if your footage is acceptable or not.

The last item we are going to cover in this lesson is the fire wire. Mechanically speaking, the fire wire digitally loads all the tapes stored information (video, audio, time code) into a computer through your computer capture card or software interface. A fire wire is a complete digital transportation cable to get everything you want off your recording into another system digitally without sacrificing one bit of quality.
The cost of a fire wire is between $20 and $80 depending on the length and it can be purchased at any local computer store.

Feel free to call if you need help or clarity with camera operations; 800-647-4281.

You can also request information on our @Work programs.

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