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Easy fixes to improve the lighting in your videos

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In these uncertain days, you can spread joy by releasing videos, produced in your home. Here’s one way to improve the lighting for your home-made videos.

One way we musicians can help the world is by providing something people truly appreciate during difficult times: music to give them some comfort, relief, distraction, and enjoyment. Since many of us are stuck in our homes, we have the opportunity to create more music for people to experience. One of the best ways to achieve this is to stream concerts and create videos. But you won’t attract viewers if your work doesn’t stand out, and getting the lighting right is one way to do that. Use the techniques in this article to improve your video quality.

As we addressed in “Improving the audio in your streaming broadcasts and videos,” it’s free to stream a live video feed using services such as Twitch, YouTube Live, Periscope, Facebook Live, Mixer, and YouNow. It makes sense to give streaming a try if you are used to performing. And, if you don’t perform live, you can always create videos and upload them on sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and others. Not only are they free to use, you can activate the platforms’ monetization options to make money while building your fanbase.

Whether you are established or are just starting out, this article will focus on how to make your videos and live broadcasts look professional with great lighting.

Why lighting quality matters

Unlike audio, putting together great lightning is not a skill most musicians have in their toolbox. No matter the video or broadcast show you’re doing, using proper lighting techniques can make the difference between a video or streaming broadcast viewers will skip or watch again and again. Although cameras and phones are constantly improving their ability to handle low light, proper lighting makes all the difference in getting a professional look.

Here are some of the basic techniques to improve the lighting for your videos and streams.

1. Use a video switcher or streaming software for the video feeds

Having a single camera might make things easy, and when starting out, you may want to just use your phone or laptop to capture footage. But once you get a little more advanced, you can use a video switcher. A video switcher is like a mixer for video. It can take multiple video and audio signals and put them together into a single output, allowing you to switch between them for your broadcast. Not only can it handle your audio inputs, but switchers give you many options, including flipping between multiple camera feeds, creating wipes and transitions, adding video effects, overlays, bugs/chyrons, scenes, and more. Also, they can livestream to multiple streaming platforms at once.

While there are many options of video software you can buy, such as XSplit and Elgato, you can get started with the free and open-source Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) which will let you try out all of these video features on your laptop. Although this article can’t get into the details of how to handle this particular program, there is good documentation, and because it’s free and can record to a local file, you can test it out before you go live.

2. Judge the lighting by what the camera sees, not your eyes

What you see through your eyes doesn’t matter: it’s what the scenes look like through the camera that is important. Keep in mind this isn’t simply based on how the camera picks up light (its specs and technical limitations) but also the camera angle you choose and the shadows and dark areas your lighting creates — especially when filming indoors with multiple cameras at multiple angles. This means you need to solely judge the image through the “eyes” of the camera you’re using as you adjust the lighting so it looks great to your viewers.

3. Use three-point lighting

improve lightingIf you’re shooting indoors, you’ll likely need to adjust room lighting for the camera to better illuminate the subjects you’re filming and cut down on distracting shadows. To help, you should be aware of the three-point lighting technique. This is a standard visual-arts technique that uses three separate lights so not only does the subject “pop” in the shot, it gives control to eliminate shadows produced by direct lighting. It’s especially good for video broadcasts like vlogs, interview-style shows, or static live performances.

Here’s how three-point lighting works:

Key light. Position the primary light, called the key light, at the subject — usually just off-center to the left or right.

Fill light. Position this light just off to the side of the subject, and point it at a shallower angle to the subject and opposite of the key light. This light is meant to control the shadows cast by the key light. You’ll want to look at the camera image and position the fill light until you reduce the shadows created by the key to make the subject look natural. You might feel the need to eliminate the shadows completely, but this can actually distract the viewer since it doesn’t look natural to see people’s faces without any shadows.

Back light. Position the back light behind the subject and point it to turn the entire image three-dimensional for the camera. Without this third light, the image tends to look flat because the details beyond the front of the subject won’t appear until they are backlit.

Note there’s a four-point lighting technique you can use as well. This setup adds one more light — the background light — opposite of the back light. This light is pointed at the background and can control for shadows cast by the subject or foreground items or to illuminate the background for the camera, if needed.

4. Use diffusers to adjust the light

Making Money With MusicIf you take a normal lamp or standard workman’s light and use it as the key light, the result can appear bright and harsh to the camera. It also can create a glare if there’s any reflective surface on the subject or the person has overly shiny skin (especially if you don’t have makeup to help with this problem). Adding a diffuser — a fabric reflector placed in front of the light much like an umbrella — will soften the light and reduce shine, harshness, and glare. Think of this as what a lampshade does to the light in a room. Some professional video-makers also use gels, which are best thought of as a diffuser that can alter the color of the light. This is necessary if the light source needs to be softer, or “warmer,” or you wish to add a tint to the white light to create a specific mood or tone.

5. Use inexpensive alternatives if you don’t have the money for professional lights

While professional lights, combined with proper lighting techniques, can boost the quality of your videos or broadcasts, many YouTubers and video streamers get by with cheaper alternatives. For instance, you can purchase three work lights at a hardware store for well under $100. These lights usually come with casings that allow you to clip them to any surface. Buy some wax paper and some clothespins and you now have a cheap diffuser. Just be careful as to how close you place the wax paper directly against the hot bulb if they’re not LEDs! Work with this for a while and you can always graduate to professional lighting equipment over time.

6. Do a test before you go live

Each time you get ready to hit record or start your live stream, make sure to do a test. Things change and adjust sometimes as people move around the room and your lighting might need adjustment. You might also find that what people are wearing might not show as well on the camera, and you may need to adjust it. That final test can make a difference.

— — —

With high-quality audio and lighting, you will have an easier time keeping viewers tuned in and get more plays and shares for your videos. This can grow your fanbase, get more subscribers, and allows you to turn it into a profitable revenue stream. (We provide even more music monetization methods in our free newsletter.)

But the primary reason to do this right now is to give the world something it needs: music and entertainment to help people deal with difficult times. Even as they’re stuck in their homes, you can help by performing music and reaching out to people. Although we have to be physically distant right now, that doesn’t mean we can’t connect, and music is one of the best ways we can do this.

Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.

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About Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today's tech-driven music environment.

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