HOW TO: A Photographer's Guide To Video Lighting

So, you’re an experienced photographer, with a good working knowledge of how to light a variety of scenes. You’ve learned through trial and error how to create highlights and contrasting areas of shadow to build up form and shape, and you’re an expert at creating a catch light in the eye and of making flash look natural, either as a main source or as a fill.
All fine and dandy, but then along comes video and suddenly you’ve got to re-think your approach. For a start continuous lighting is clearly a requirement, while you might be needing to illuminate a whole area rather than a single designated spot to enable your subject(s) to move around freely. You could even be following the action, and having to consider lighting that travels with the camera. It’s a whole new ball game and, for some photographers, the learning curve can appear daunting.

Moving into movies  

The reassuring fact, however, is that many of the lighting skills you’ve learned while shooting still images will transfer over to the moving world surprisingly easily. You’re likely, for example, to have a good working knowledge of how light works, the importance of a key light and fill and a basic portrait set up, and what you need to do to create pleasing and balanced lighting. Meanwhile time honoured accessories such as reflectors can still have a crucial role to play, though you might need an assistant to move them around as you’re filming.
In terms of what lighting hardware to use, the choice has widened considerably in recent years. Not so long ago Tungsten was king of continuous lighting, but it brought plenty of issues in its wake, such as the tedious wait for it to warm up to full output and then cool down again, and the fact that it outputs heat, making studios very hot and uncomfortable.
Fortunately LED lighting has now come of age, and as power output has increased and reliability soared it’s become the accessory of choice for many filmmakers looking to work entirely by artificial sources or simply to boost available light levels. The NanGuang range, distributed in the UK by Kenro, has proved particularly popular since the options offered cover the full gamut of filming situations, specification levels are impressive and pricing is remarkably competitive.  

Lighting types


For run ‘n gun types that want their kit to remain highly portable and self contained one of the best options is a compact LED light that has the potential to sit in the camera hot shoe. A good option would be the NanGuang Colour Adjustable On-Camera Photo/Video LED light, which measures 141 x 95 x 40mm and weighs in at just 175g (without batteries). Power source options include Sony and Panasonic batteries or six AA cells, ensuring you can go anywhere, while colour adjustment between 5600-3200K can be made steplessly. As a bonus several of these lights can be clipped together to create a single more powerful panel, adding extra flexibility to the mix.

Single light

An alternative single light set up for filmmakers shooting interviews, where they’re looking for a flattering and even, soft light, is to use a specialist piece of kit such as the NanGuang LED ring light. This clever piece of lighting kit has a circular shape so that it can fit around the lens of a camera to provide direct, almost shadowless frontal lighting. As a bonus it creates a distinctive circular catchlight in the subject’s eye, which can be highly effective.

Studio lighting

If you know that you’re going to be working in a fixed environment, perhaps an interview situation where your subject will be sitting in a single position, then you have the luxury of setting up lighting in a similar way to how you might light a static portrait. The classic ‘interview lighting’ set up is a key light from a 45-degree direction on the face, balanced out by a weaker fill from a similar angle the other side, with a further light on the background. A flexible choice for the key could be one of the NanGuang Bi Colour LED Studio Combo Lights, which combine the soft diffused lighting of a softbox with the compact size of an LED panel, and come with stepless adjustment for brightness and colour temperature. This means that a second panel could be dialled down for the fill, or you could even work with a two light set up and create a fill through the use of a reflector.

Location lighting

The beauty of the latest generation of LED lights is that they can be battery powered and taken pretty much anywhere. The NanGuang LED Pad Light Luxpad 43, for example, outputs 1412 LM yet is just 32mm thick with a pad style profile, making it very portable. If you’re close to a power source it can work from a supplied AC adapter, otherwise it can be powered by a battery magazine containing six AA cells. If you’re looking for a comprehensive outfit so that you can light larger areas for filmmaking it’s also possible to purchase the Luxpad 43 in a four head lighting kit comprising two Luxpads, two CN-20FC Fresnels, light stands, batteries and AC adapters.

Fresnel lights

Although a very traditional form of lighting with a stepped, as opposed to a curved, front lens, whose use often has theatrical connections, Fresnel lights are now widely popular in the film world since they are so versatile. A typical example would be the NanGuang LED Fresnel Light CN-100F, which focuses the light from a narrow to a wide beam, 10-65 degrees, and uses a single 100 Watt LED bulb to output up to 8448 LM. In addition, this brightness can be steplessly adjusted 0-100% using the manual dial or a DMX lighting control desk, while the unit also has a built-in 2.4G radio receiver.

Flexible heads

One recent innovation has been the development of flexible LED panels that offer a range of advantages. For example, it then becomes possible to flex your light so that it’s directed into exactly the areas you want, while it can also be set up in a ‘U’ shape so that a single head can surround a person or an object with light. One further clever adaptation for those working with VR, where everything is included in the scene, is for the camera to be mounted on a monopod with feet and for a flexible light to be wrapped around the stem of this so that it throws out illumination while being invisible to the camera. The NanGuang Flexible Lighting Kit, which can be battery powered, also offers stepless colour adjustment from 5600-3200K.

While the move from still photography to filmmaking can be challenging, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome and LED lighting has helped to make things a great deal simpler. Lightweight, robust, flexible and affordable, the continuous light it outputs is easy to manage since you see exactly what you’re going to get, and it’s also totally silent, which is crucial for filmmakers. It’s also powerful enough to be of use to photographers as well as those making videos and so it can become the perfect crossover kit for those working in both areas. All of which is great news and it’s the ideal scenario for those working in the modern imaging business. 

Monday, 25 September 2017