Guide to Lighting for Streaming Video 101


While the world has been at home, it’s been fun to connect online using YouTube, Twitch, Zoom, Facebook, Skype, and other video streaming services, hasn’t it? When I say “fun,” I mean not really all that that fun when you have minimal equipment and support. The bandwidth glitches, video quality issues, and the variety of camera malfunctions cause us all no small amount of irritation. Not to worry, I’m here to talk about something purely vain and totally under your control—how you are lit.

High-quality video allows you to be choosy when it comes to lighting, so we will assume the lowest bandwidth and lowest quality camera since Internet connectivity is so volatile, especially when everyone is at home and jamming up cable and Wi-Fi right now.

Framing is Your Friend

First, much of lighting definitely depends on where you are in relation to the camera and how much of the frame you need to light. There are a few things to consider.

  • First, raise your camera so it’s slightly above your nose line. Lighting works best when you’re not also attempting to light up your nose and see all your under-chins (I fully understand the “quarantine 15”).
  • Next, don’t let your camera lure you too close, even if it has a fairly wide lens. Leave about 2-3' between you and the camera and give the frame some room around your head.
  • Unless you have something in your background that you need to place on camera to the side, like a talk-show graphic box or your cat, there’s no reason to be off-center. Center shots are easier to light.
  • If you are doing a full-body shot, give yourself room on top, bottom, and sides, depending on how much moving you’re going to do. Environments that are evenly lit from above are best for the wide frames.

Shedding Light on the Subject

The world of video lighting is vast and can be intimidating, but there’s no reason to worry about where to get light if your space has windows, lamps, or overhead lights. If you’re using a phone, tablet, or laptop, it’s easy to move to a location that has a strong light source.

  • Make sure the light source is in front of your face, but not directly in your eyes. A light placed slightly above your head or to the side will allow the viewers to see you brightly and clearly. Warning: if you put the light behind you, you will look like one of those anonymous witness interviews in a noir documentary, and lighting underneath your face will make you look like that kid at camp with the flashlight under his chin trying to look scary. Raise it up.
  • Your background is also part of your frame, so make sure that has some lighting, too. It will give your frame depth, making it easier for your viewers to see detail. Turn on the lights in the background or point a light at the wall to show your environment (just make sure it’s cleaned up first).

Pick a Light, any Light

Lighting comes from many places, so if you don’t have a decent enough lamp or electric light source, a window with sunlight is a good alternative. If you sit with your back to the window, your face will be dark, because your camera will only recognize the light source.

  • A small clip-on light above or to the side of your camera can definitely help sort out your facial lighting, but some lights are not strong enough to include your body or background. Stronger LED lights such as an on-camera light or ring light can offer you not only full coverage of your face, but they can put those cute reflections in your eye.
  • Speaking of reflections, if you wear glasses, they will cause reflection, so be mindful of where your light is. Softer lights such as LEDs with diffusers (translucent glass, plastic, or cloudy material) will help with the sharp reflection on glasses. Placing the light farther away, above, or to the side can prevent overwhelming glare.
  • If your space is not lit well enough, your camera, depending on its quality, needs more light than your eyes do. There is also the factor of light quality and how the lights reproduce color that is the truest to human eyes—consumer bulbs don’t achieve that.

Professional and semi-professional lighting uses a rating system called CRI, and the higher the rating, the more accurate the color will appear to your camera. For example, those with darker skin tones or in darker rooms will benefit from the truer color reproduction when on camera. However, since higher quality light while using high-quality cameras will allow your camera to pick up more fine detail, be aware that any blemishes you may have will be enhanced in the visual details.

The Truest Colors

Another consideration of adding a light source is color. Yes, light has color. You’ve seen “tungsten” and “daylight” labels on your soft white home bulbs, and those have specific temperatures: warm and cool. Have you ever shot video and everyone in it looks yellow/orange? This is due to the camera overcompensating with extra tungsten light.

  • Tungsten, or “incandescent” light, is the indoor, warm lighting, the more yellow/orange spectrum that is affiliated with indoor lighting. It’s the kind of light that is gentler on your eye.
  • Daylight, like the noon sun in your window, is more on the blue, cool end of the color temperature spectrum.
  • Your computer screen, by default, emits blue light, so if you are sitting in front of a computer for your video stream, consider that your face already has blue light on it, and if you are also in front of a window with daylight, adding a warm lamplight may light you with some odd coloring.

The simplest rule of thumb is to use lights that match your environment and let your camera balance the lighting properly. But if you do see that your face is a bit too blue or too orange, picking a different light source to move the color in the opposite direction is a good move.

Be Yourself, but Make Some Changes

Lighting isn’t just affected by your equipment; your own body can be a factor when trying to light your videos.

  • Some people have more oily faces or, during the summer we all perspire, which can reflect the light and cause bright spots. If you’re presenting or appearing in a professional video stream, it may help to have a makeup puff (yes, guys too!) to bring down the shine, or have a cloth nearby to blot your forehead.
  • Another factor is the clothing you wear. If your outfit matches your background, it could cause issues with the camera sensor picking up the wrong areas to light. Choosing an outfit that stands out from your background will help the camera sensor and auto-functions sense the proper light.
  • Brightly colored outfits can also cause issues with your camera if you are also in a bright room, and alternately with dark clothes in a dark room. For example, if you are outdoors in full sunlight, you’re light-skinned, and you’re also wearing an all-white suit against a white wall, well, you can see how that can be a problem for a digital sensor to figure out how to detect shadows.

I hope some of these tips help to step up your visuals and light your streaming videos to be seen as well as heard by your colleagues, friends, and viewers. Read more of our video streaming tips and light suggestions at the links below and be sure to visit the B&H Lighting category for a wide variety of lighting options.

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