Common Lighting Mistakes Creators Make + How to Avoid Them

Image: Peter Lindgren

The adage that “lighting is everything” is a cliché for a reason. When it comes to making films and creating video content, it may not truly be everything, but it’s certainly very important. As viewers, we often take good lighting for granted. We’re used to seeing the magic of content creation or filmmaking happen after-the-fact. But if you’ve tried your hand at recording a casual video, it’s easy to see how much of a difference that lighting truly makes. It is one of the key elements that takes a piece of video content from amateur to professional. Plus, it makes the video more engaging since viewers can truly see the subjects on the screen. 

To that end, there are a few common lighting mistakes that are easy to make, especially if you’re just starting out with content creation or attempting to film yourself for a virtual conference or presentation. We’re discussing the ones we see most often below — plus providing tips on how to remedy them. 

Mistake #1: Not Using Lights 

If you’re looking to film something that feels professional and polished, whether it’s a piece of content for a website or a pre-recorded presentation for a virtual conference, you’re going to need a decent lighting setup — there’s really no way around it. Here’s why. 

Even if your home office has great natural light, it’s difficult to capture the detail of your face or your subject using natural light alone. The natural light is likely coming from one or two windows in the room, which means it’s inherently going to cast shadows on the walls, on you, and across the room. While natural light is great in many cases, it generally takes a professional eye to discern how to properly take advantage of it. 

On the other hand, if you utilize a ring light or a lightbox, while you film, your face will be evenly lit and bright enough to show up against the backdrop of the room. It will keep the shot from feeling flat and lacking depth, and it will draw the viewer’s eye to you as you speak. This simply makes for a better-quality video. 

Lighting Equipment rentable from eTech Rentals

Mistake #2: Uneven Light + Shadows

No matter where you’re filming, you’re likely to deal with shadows. For example, if you’re filming indoors using natural light from a window, you may notice shadows changing as time progresses throughout the day, which can be distracting for the viewer. 

Similarly, if you’re outdoors, the sun’s location will obviously cast differing shadows depending on the day, your location, and your orientation toward the sun. 

The best practice here, especially for more professional video, is to reduce shadows inasmuch as possible. You’ll want to keep your face (or the subject’s face) as evenly lit as possible. Ring lights can help you do this without much effort. They inherently help reduce shadows since they’re in a ring shape, and they help highlight the subject’s eyes. You’ll be amazed at how much higher quality the content looks when using a ring light, and how engaging the eyes become. 

Another note regarding shadows is to watch for them as you’re recording. If you’re working alone and recording yourself speaking, it’s less of an issue, but if you’re working with a few people, you may notice shadows if someone walks near the light. 

backlighting - avoid this lighting mistake
Image courtesy: Specturm

Mistake #3: Backlighting 

We’re not saying to never use backlighting to your creative advantage. After all, we’ve all seen some beautiful images that utilize backlighting for an interesting, almost halo-like effect. But if you’re recording for a conference or a similarly professional endeavor, you’re going to want to avoid being backlit. The same goes for professional tasks like video interviews: being lit from behind means your face will inevitably be in shadow. If you’re shadowed, you’re more difficult to see. If you’re more difficult to see, you’re less engaging. 

Avoid sitting with your back to a window when possible, and instead consider utilizing another light source to keep your face well-lit and bright.

Mistake #4: Going Too Bright

At this point, you may think that bright light on your subject is the way to go. And it is…but only to an extent. When filming content, avoid using a light that’s so bright that it feels like a spotlight. First of all, this is likely distracting for you (or your subject) and may make it difficult to see. Secondly, the viewer is likely to be distracted by lighting that feels too bright and glaring. 

Rather, choose a direct light source that’s diffused and soft. Again, a ring light or lightbox offers lighting that illuminates but doesn’t distract. These options both provide an ideal diffused light for your subject. 

Mistake #5: Ignoring Color Temperature

We’ve all seen the way films use color temperature to create a specific moody effect. Movies like The Shining, for example, contrast bright-toned lighting indoors with cool-toned lighting outdoors to create a juxtaposed effect that mimics the storyline. Warm- and cool-toned lighting, in other words, can be used to great creative effect. 

That said, if you’re not paying attention or working to create a deliberate message with your lighting’s temperature, you may inadvertently create a piece of content that feels unbalanced and just “off.” You may have a warm color light on one subject and a cooler-toned light on another — or even directed at the same subject, which can be off-putting. 

Consider using a light that lets you adjust your color temperature so that you can keep things even and consistent, no matter when or where you’re filming. This will lend a more balanced effect that feels natural. 

example of a lighting mistake by ignoring color temperature
Sample representation of color temperatures: An image with daylight lighting (6500K), fluorescent, and incandescent lighting.

While it’s easy to overlook, lighting is one of the most important elements to a successful piece of video content. Whether you’re working on an iPhone documentary or are creating a speech for a work project, don’t skimp on the lighting. It can truly make all the difference.  Questions about which rental lighting source is best for you? We’re here to help.

About eTech Rentals

eTech Rentals is a national technology solutions provider located in Southern California specializing in rental technology integration. eTech is committed to long-standing client relationships and consistent, reliable local service, trusted by expert event planners, film and entertainment production companies, and businesses in California and nationwide.
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