The best lighting setup for a video studio is the one that fits the purpose. In other words, based on your shooting style and preference, your lighting setup and the number of lights you use or will need will vary. Fortunately, you’ve got more than a handful of light options to choose from—even if you’re on a relatively tight budget.
To properly light a video studio on a budget, know your artificial studio light options and setups. If a shot is only about the subject, two-point or three-point lighting will work fine. However, if you need to direct viewer attention to background elements, the four-point lighting setup works best.
In this deep dive of an article, everything you need to know about video studio lighting—right from the lighting types to the actual types of lights—will be discussed. If you’re at the cusp of decking up your studio, you need to read this.
Studio Lighting – A Basic Overview
The first and most essential step in learning studio lighting is understanding the lighting types used within a video studio.
A key light works as the primary light source of a shot (video or photo). It’s the most direct light source used to illuminate a subject’s form. Key lights are usually placed at an angle—off camera axis and pointing 45 degrees upward. Knowing how a key light works and what purpose it serves will help you ascertain how to compose and expose your shots.
The key light is part of two-point, three-point, and even four-point lighting setups. When you’re only using a single light, it is not a “key light.” Key lighting shines or gains definition only when there are other lights to complement it.
A fill light negates shadows created by a key light. The light helps expose specific details hidden in the shadows. Besides tackling shadows, the light also manages the brightness and contrast levels of your shots.
Placed directly opposite a key light, a fill light is not as intense or bright as a key light. However, the light’s luminosity could vary and is usually determined based on the shot’s mood and preferred lighting style.
A backlight, as the name suggests, hits the subject from behind. It’s positioned slightly above the subject, which helps distinguish the subject from its background. Backlights lend increased depth and shape, helping create a more three-dimensional frame.
The sun, for instance, is a natural backlight used in outdoor shootings. A sun bouncer is typically used to negate the sun’s harshness or ensure the light does not directly hit the subject.
Other Types of Lighting for Video Studios
Besides the aforementioned, there are a few other types of lighting for video studios:
- Source light: Also called practical light, source lights are part of the scene being shot—candle, lamp, window or ambient light, etc. These light sources should be accounted for to set proper lighting and color temperature for the shot.
- Sidelight: A sidelight is light hitting the subject sideways. The 90-degree angle light helps create a dramatic or chiaroscuro mood. The lighting mood can be created using low-key and high-contrast lighting. Lighting in noir era films used sidelights generously.
- Bounce light: Bounce, or bounce light, is reflected light. Tools such as silk or foam boards help bounce light. The panels are typically used to bounce light off a wall or ceiling.
- Soft light: Soft light is a lighting type used for circumstantial and/or aesthetic reasons. The light helps negate harsh shadows, replicating enhanced lighting from encircling areas, thereby creating a dramatic effect. The shadow, if created, is invariably soft.
- Hard light: If you’re pursuing sharp or harsh shadows, incorporate hard light. The midday sun is the most natural and arguably the best hard light source. If shooting after dusk, a high-watt desktop lamp or a similar tiny light source can be used. Hard light works best when the objective is to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular thing in the shot.
For more information, check out which lights are better for video studios: umbrella vs. softbox.
Know the Standard Studio Lighting Setups
The most successful studios are the ones that employ minimal light sources. They don’t necessarily populate their space with too many lights or lights they’ll not need. Therefore, before you go out and buy all types of lights, learn a thing or two about studio lighting setups. Here are the common lighting setups:
A two-point lighting setup comprises a key light and a fill light. In this setup, the couple of light sources directly point at each other, with the subject positioned right between them. This straight-line lighting setup works in all kinds of studios—expansive or small.
When shooting outdoors, one of the lights of the two-point light setup is the sun—working either as a background light or a key light. If used as a key light, a diffuser or some form of shade may be required to soften the sun’s light intensity.
Three-point lighting is another standard lighting setup for professional videography. As its name indicates, it entails three light sources positioned in different positions: key light, backlight, and fill light.
The lights are positioned after taking into account the size, intensity, distance (from the subject or other lights), and angle so that the shadows and the various lights could be appropriately managed to create different moods.
A three-point lighting setup can be used for different shooting scenarios—typically depending on your shot’s subject matter, the shot itself, and the mood you’re trying to evoke in general.
Four-point lighting is akin to three-point lighting, except that it throws in additional background light. Unlike the other backlight used to create a subject outline or ring, the second background light is used to illuminate background objects or elements, such as outdoor scenery or walls.
The four-point lighting technique is commonly used to eliminate shadows cast by elements in the foreground and/or draw increased attention to the backdrop. In order to achieve this, the additional background light is positioned low to the floor or on an elevated grid, facing the background elements. The fourth light also helps lend the subject increased depth.
Check out my picks for the Best Budget Cameras for Filmmaking or Video Recording
Know the Types of Lights for a Video Studio
Though light’s objective is to illuminate a scene or a shot, not all lights work the same. The way fairy lights, ceiling lights, and a desk lamp affect a room’s lighting differently, video studio lights serve their purposes, too. The following are some of the most common types of video studio lights.
A softbox light, or just softbox, is an enclosure that goes atop a continuous light source. It is basically a white panel that’s translucent enough to let the artificial light it’s covering to come through less harshly. You can liken the light source to the sun and the translucent panel to a cloud cover.
If you like natural window light and want something to mimic that, a softbox comes closest to that. Besides the external panel, called diffuser sock, the light setup also has an internal piece of plastic or fabric, known as the inner baffle.
A softbox light is a key light, and, as the name suggests, it’s not sharp or too bright, which makes it perfect for frontal lighting. The light is not focused. In other words, the lights are bigger and closer to the subject. This means it covers a broader area, and the shadows, as a result, are minimal to non-existent.
A softbox light’s intensity or brightness can be altered, by the way. If you need more diffusion for a much softer light, a softbox facilitates that. This flexibility may not be an option with other kinds of studio lights.
Softbox lights come in different shapes—round, square, rectangular, and even hexagonal, octagonal, parabolic, long strips, etc. The most traditional or popular shape, however, is the four-sided, rectangular box. Strips have two short sides, and the octagonal boxes have eight sides.
The rectangular softbox light is ideal for vertical compositions, such as full-length portraiture. Some of these lights come with a speed ring to rotate the light and orient it in landscape mode for horizontal, broad coverage. The Neewer Portable Rectangular Softbox is an excellent offering for the price.
A square-shaped softbox light is popular in portrait studios since it goes with all kinds of subjects—humans, products, etc. However, the shape of the light makes it a lot more suitable for shooting small groups of people and head-and-shoulders portraiture.
With a 12″ x 12″ (30.5 x 30.5 cm) opening, the Kamerar D-Fuse LED Light Panel Softbox is perfect for portrait photography and natural studio lighting.
The strip softbox light renders soft, flattering light and is a lot more confined than the broader approach other softbox light shapes typically take. A strip light’s 1:4 dimensions make it ideal for rim or edge lighting to isolate the subject from their background.
The shape comes in quite handy for illuminating backgrounds from below or above, and it makes producing a “gradient” backdrop easier for product shoots. In this category, the Neewer Honeycomb Grid Softbox is popular.
If you fancy something with dimensions bigger than 8″ x 36″ (20 x 91.5 cm), take a look at the 14″ x 63″ (35.5 x 160 cm) Godox Strip Beehive Honeycomb Grid Softbox.
An octagonal softbox is popular for its shallow design, soft output, and quick fall-off when you move the subject further away from its background. The octagon’s large surface area lends the light a soft, wraparound trait that’s quite flattering at pretty much any point, off or on-axis.
Arguably, the octagon offers the best circular catchlight, natural-looking renders with zero visibly distracting spokes or frames. Like all softbox shapes and types, the octagonal softbox comes in different price ranges and sizes. However, the one that offers the best bang for your buck or works in different shooting scenarios is the Neewer 48-inch Octagonal Softbox.
Along with the softbox light, an umbrella light has been the mainstay in studio lighting. Though the light it produces is not as soft or diffused as a softbox, it does a much better job than other types of studio lights.
It certainly is more portable than a softbox, thanks to the umbrella design. Not to mention, the round shape of an umbrella light creates the round catchlight reflection in the subject’s eyes, which looks a lot more natural than rectangular window light.
How Do Umbrella Lights Work?
An umbrella used for lighting could be reflective or shoot-through. A reflective umbrella comprises two components:
- A reflective inner that ensures the light bounces off it onto the subject
- An opaque exterior material that prevents light from passing via umbrella
On the other hand, the shoot-through type lets light pass through it—thanks to its translucent white fabric material. Of course, the result is a diffused light that hits the subject softly, quite similar to how a softbox works.
However, compared to a softbox, an umbrella light creates more directional light and emphasizes shadow edges. Therefore, use the light when you’re seeking a more polished overall look. Moreover, since the light isn’t “boxed,” the light distribution helps illuminate different room sizes.
You can have one or more umbrella lights in your studio. However, if it’s just a single subject or a personal vlog, a single source of light will work just fine. As far as great umbrella lights to buy are concerned, there are quite a few. The LimoStudio White Umbrella Reflector Lighting Kit is a wonderful option for cheap.
If you’re a YouTuber or an aspiring one at that, ring lights are a must-have—especially if you do a lot of makeup videos. A ring light is flattering, to say the least. It eliminates shadows and, like umbrella lights, creates a circular catchlight in your or the subject’s eyes.
A ring light is perhaps the most portable option on this list and is relatively straightforward to set up too. Just plug it in and position it at the right angle and height. The resulting light will be vibrant and consistent.
As mentioned above, a ring light helps eliminate shadows, or it’s capable of accomplishing by itself what other studio lights achieve when in multiples. In other words, its unique circular shape works as a multi-light solution. The center hole ensures light doesn’t get focused right in the middle of your subject’s face, ensuring a more dynamic shot.
For the ideal ring lighting effect, position the light and your camera right in front of the subject at face level. For a slightly more dramatic effect, or if you like experimenting, place it on your side. Needless to say, you can control the intensity of the light, besides placing it at various lengths from the subject.
If you’d like to learn more about ring lights and how you can make them work to your advantage, watch this short but information-dense video:
Ring lights require a stand that lets you position the light at a level and angle you choose. If you’re using it with your camera or smartphone, you’ll need a holder or a tripod to hold the shooting device, too.
The Ubeesize Ring Light with Tripod Stand & Cell Phone Holder is the best ring light kit if you’re shooting with your smartphone. The light can also be used with a traditional camera if you have the tripod for it handy.
LED On-Camera Light
As the name suggests, LED on-camera lights sit right on your camera. The square or rectangular lights have multiple small LED bulbs built into them, working as a continual light source.
The several small LED bulbs work in unison to churn out even light and ensure no “hotspots.” While the light’s relatively small size could limit its power, most modern LED lights can produce more than 1,000 lumens, providing a stable and robust light source.
The light can also be positioned on stands for creative and directional lighting. Most importantly, these are ideal for budget-conscious buyers since it is considerably affordable compared to umbrellas, softboxes, and ring lights.
How Is an On-Camera LED Light Different From a Built-In Camera Flash?
Camera flashes help with low-light photography. However, they are not suitable for videography as they do not work as a continuous light source. This is where an LED on-camera light comes in. It could be called the bigger, more powerful, and more versatile sibling of the camera flash.
However, the LED light is just your foot in the door when it comes to video lighting. Even if you’re on a tight budget, an LED on-camera light will not cut it for professional video recording. What these LED lights, however, do is complement your existing set of lights or work well with available natural light.
If you’re looking to buy an on-camera LED light for your studio, the Viltrox L116T On-Camera Key LED Video Light Kit offers the best value for money. If you need something more pocket-friendly, consider the Ulanzi VL-81 LED Video Light with Softbox.
If your video studio has windows that let in a good amount of sunlight during the day, you may use it in your videos, along with your artificial studio lights.
The good thing about natural light is it’s bright and not harsh (when under shade or not in direct contact). Not to mention, it’s free, which will suit your budget video studio setup perfectly. The negative side, however, is you have little control over it. Therefore, to make good use of the light, shoot at the most opportune time of the day.
On the color temperature scale, natural light measures nearby 5500K, which is the color temperature artificial light sources try to replicate. The white or neutral color scheme helps capture colors in videos accurately, and the occasional yellowish hue it creates makes the subject’s skin look radiant and healthy.
Natural light can be used even if you have an army of artificial lights in your studio. After all, videography—both indoors and outdoors—is not limited to using one light or a particular kind of light. It’s all about mixing and matching and experimenting with various lights.
Accessories/Tool You’ll Need in Your Video Studio
To illuminate your shots, you need lights. However, for the lights to do their job well, support equipment is imperative. The following are the accessories or tools you’ll need to keep your video studio functioning:
- Power and cables: Extension cord cables are integral to a multi-light studio setup, particularly if you’re using bigger incandescent lights. Most power strips come with a 15amp rating, and it is only logical to employ cables with an identical rating. If you don’t find a 15amp cable locally, look at the Enersystec Pigtail 3-Wire 14 Gauge Power Cord.
- Cable straps: While shopping for cables, look for cable straps if the cable you purchased doesn’t come built with one. These straps help with cable management. Most importantly, they can be used to secure or tie cables to a light stand. When cables are not tied to their equipment, they could accidentally get pulled on, causing a lot of headaches in the process.
- Multi-tool: A high-quality multi-tool helps cut tape, boxes, zip strips, etc. The cutters and wire strippers in the tool, for instance, help repair broken power cables. The pliers and screwdrivers come in handy when tightening up light stands.
- Hex wrenches: A pair of standard and metric hex wrenches/keys is needed to manage bolts and nuts on both your camera and lighting gear.
- Clamps: Clamps are an essential part of any lighting kit. They are typically used to hold a gel filter to a light, holding cables to tripods or stands, clamping power strips to light stands, etc. You will need more than a handful of clamps for every shoot. Make sure you do not use a plastic clamp with a hot light as the clamp could then melt.
- Gloves: Gloves help handle hot lights and metal clamps, for instance, after you’re done with your shoot. Gloves also help with loading and unloading your lighting equipment and protecting your hands from scrapes and cuts, besides offering you a good grip over the various equipment.
Things to Keep in Mind as a Newbie/Inexperienced Videographer
Besides the host of information discussed above, here are a few minor yet pertinent things to keep in mind when working with or buying studio lighting solutions:
Know the Advantage of Continuous Lighting
Continuous lighting’s biggest advantage is it lets you visualize the light accurately before you start shooting, helping you adjust your lighting quickly. Not to mention, such lighting is extremely cost-efficient than other lighting kit models.
As far as actual light types go, you can choose from LED, fluorescent, and tungsten. The Emart 600W Lighting Kit is a reliable option for budget buyers. The LimoStudio LMS103 Soft Lighting Kit is a similarly priced alternative.
Know Your Kit Beforehand
A studio light kit is put together to pack in all things an average studio or videographer needs. However, not all such kits are assembled uniformly, and it’s quite possible for some not to pack in stuff you may need. Therefore, if you’re going the studio lighting kit route instead of buying items individually, check what the bundle has to offer.
The first thing to consider is the lights. Look at both the kind and the quantity. The diffuser could be a softbox, strip box, umbrella, etc. If you’re looking for a specific kind of diffuser, checking the diffuser type offered is mandatory too.
The lighting equipment kit need not come with the kitchen sink, but it should have all the items you need.
Do Not Underestimate the Reflector
You can light your studio with no light or just natural light entering your space through the window if you know how to reflect it to your advantage or requirements. A reflector and a reflector holder (if you don’t have anyone to hold the thing) can help make good ambient light use.
Reflectors are cheap and shall suit your budget studio lighting requirements perfectly. This Etekcity 24-inch (60 cm) 5-in-1 Reflector Light Kit, for instance, will cost you well below $20. If you’re looking for a similar reflector but considerably bigger, look at the Neewer 43-inch (110 cm) 5-in-1 Light Reflector Kit.
In order to film a great video, multiple things must come together and work in unison—including your camera, audio equipment, script, and lights. Even if you’re rolling on a budget, do not give that away to your audience—certainly not through how you light your frames.
If you don’t have the lights you need, even the most technologically advanced camera in the world won’t save the day. However, if your lighting is on point, a smartphone camera would be able to produce professional-looking shots, too—i.e., if you know more than a thing or two about smartphone videography.
- Biteable: The best video lighting kits to make your videos look pro
- No Film School: Types of Film Lights (and How to Use Them)
- StudioBinder: What is Fill Light – The Unsung Hero of 3 Point Lighting
- Adorama: Best Lighting for YouTube Videos
- Filmmaking Lifestyle: Common Types of Lighting in Filmmaking: A Guide to Film Lighting
- The Phoblographer: How to Use a Softbox: A Visual Guide for the Photographer New to Lighting
- Premium Beat: Lighting for Video: The Tools You Should Have in Your Lighting Bag
- MasterClass: What is Three-Point Lighting? Learn About the Lighting Technique and Tips for the Best Three-Point Lighting Setups
- Expert Photography: How to Use a Key Light
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