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13. Light Your Video Properly

Before You Begin

3 About the Camera's Perspective

Properly exposing video film to a subject differs a bit from setting the exposure on a still camera, but the principles are the same. You can keep your camera in auto mode all the time, or you can take control and get better results with manual overrides. Every camcorder is different; to learn how to access your camera's manual exposure mode, refer to the documentation that came with your camera.

A camera exposes a scene by balancing between the shutter speed (see 12 Blur Your Video's Motion) with the aperture setting. The larger the aperture's f-stop—expressed as f/2, f/5.6, or f/22 for instance, the smaller the aperture opening.


Aperture setting— The size of the opening that lets light through the lens.

F-stop— Numbers that indicate the size of a camera's aperture opening. The formula for an f-stop is a fraction which makes the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture opening and the less light can enter the camera.

Many lighting options are available to the filmmaker. You can purchase a large, collapsible reflector from any camera store to put additional light on your subject. Reflectors fold up small enough to fit in a camera bag, but unfurl quickly to put indirect light on your subject. If you can, consider multiple light sources. The room or setting's primary lighting source works best when you combine that light with filler light that you add, reflecting the filler light off another surface to soften the added light. A backlight reflected off your scene's background adds a sense of distance between the subject and the background.

Stay in Shade

When you shoot outdoors, direct sunlight can overwhelm your camcorder and create unflattering lighting or harsh shadows on your subject. Shoot in a shaded area when possible and keep the sun to your left or right and never allow the sun to shine directly in front or behind you.


Several Web sites specialize in lighting accessories for your shoots. Wolf Camera (http://www.wolfcamera.com) provides a huge assortment of amateur and professional lighting accessories. If you know exactly what you're looking for, don't forget eBay (http://www.ebay.com), where you can sometimes pay just pennies on the dollar for new or like-new accessories.

Go Manual When Moving

When you move from indoors to outdoors within a scene, the sudden change in lighting conditions can radically underexpose or overexpose the subject for a few seconds while the camera adjusts. To avoid that problem, set the exposure manually and leave it there through the scene transition. Your scene's background is far less important than the subject!

Use a Reflector

A reflector is especially useful outdoors where you can position someone who is holding it off to the side of your subject. This kind of light is more flattering to people than harsh, direct sunlight.


If you have a choice, don't shoot an indoor subject standing in front of a window (in the daytime). The window's natural light will wash out your shoot. Lighting a subject in front of a window with bright sun coming through is virtually impossible.

Use Multiple Lights

When filming indoors, you have a lot more control over the lighting. If you're in a really controlled situation, such as shooting a talking head for an interview, use two or three lights to illuminate your subject.

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