Video Production Basics: Lighting 101

Lighting is easily one of the most important factors while filming on set. Why? As Gustav Wilde of Cogito Creative puts it, “lighting is literally everything. What the camera does is record light… the only thing the camera picks up is light.” However, cameras have a hard time capturing light as the naked eye sees it. If you want a scene to look natural, you have to make it look natural to the camera.

Once you’ve mastered the art of controlling and manipulating light, you can make what’s on camera look even more real than real life. Or, it can give scenes your desired drama, mood, and dimension. We’re here to explain the basics of video production lighting and help you master it!

Types of light

If you’ve ever seen scenes with sharp, distinct shadows and bright highlights, it was most likely due to hard lighting. In contrast, soft lighting is diffused before hitting the subject. This gives the scene a softer feel with less defined shadows.

When you are shooting outside and your primary light source is the sun, you have to account for directional changes. While the sun can provide natural great lighting at peak hours and a moody overtone at “golden” hours (sunrise/sunset), its inconsistency is its greatest flaw. If you love the way that a particular location looks at 12pm, you have to finish filming quickly in order to capture that exact lighting. For the most control of exterior lighting, place your subject in the shade. There are many ways you can (and should!) artificially light a set to imitate your preferred time of day.

On the other hand, interior lighting poses much fewer challenges but also has different affordances. You have more control over the lighting setup, and it will not change as long as you don’t move it. Everything you create is replicable. You can also play with tones and temperatures with gels and filters that are difficult to use with natural sunlight.

Lighting the subject

The most basic form of lighting is called three-point lighting. Here, you have three light sources: a key light, a fill light, and a back light. The key light defines your subject and creates shadows. It is the most prominent light source, and is positioned at a 45-degree angle to your subject. A fill light is less intense and has the role of “filling in” any unwanted shadows or lines created by the key. This is typically placed on the other side of the subject at a 30-degree angle. The back light stays behind the subject and gives the shot depth, bringing the subject out of the shadows.

When working outside, we have found that the best use of the sun is as a back light. This gives you the most control over a moving light source! Plus, during golden hours this can create the ever-desired “halo effect.” If you choose to use the sun as a key light, make sure to deflect or diffuse it so it’s not as harsh.

Color correction

To make the lighting look as natural as possible to your camera, your lights should match the environment. There are two modes of lighting: daylight and tungsten. Daylight is associated with the same cool blue color temperature as the sun and outdoor lighting. Tungsten, on the other hand, is a warm orange: probably the same color temperature as your indoor lights. Pay attention to your color temperatures when you are filming, and adjust your white balance to match the color of your primary light.

If you don’t have the right lights to create the environment you want, no worries! You can color correct lights and get your desired temperature by using gels and filters. The primary gels are CTB and CTO (CT-Blue and CT-Orange), and can be used to convert one light source to the other. For example, using a CTB gel over a tungsten light will help you stimulate daylight!


Lighting is a little tricky, but don’t worry— we’ve got it down to an art. If you have any questions we can help you with, just let us know!