How to Light Your Videos with Natural Light

How to Light Your Videos with Natural Light

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This is the first post in a two-part series on how to light your videos.

For the small business owner or entrepreneur keen on making video content to promote a business or stimulate career opportunities, lighting is going to become an important part of your life. 

Whether you’re shooting marketing videos with your smartphone or a DSLR, all cameras need light to produce quality images. 

“In the world of video marketing, a little lighting know-how can go a long way towards making both you and your business shine.”

You want to put out content that reflects well on you and your brand. Lighting is one important way to accomplish a look of professionalism in your videos. That look inspires confidence in audiences about who you are and what you offer. 

When you look at videos on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram you’d hardly notice when a video is properly lit, or exposed. If, on the other hand the video is dark and grainy you’d go to bed thinking about it. 

Okay, that’s probably a bit much, but you might subconsciously form an opinion about the person speaking in that poorly-lit video. 

“Lighting is one of the unsung heroes of video content creation. Sufficient illumination can mean the difference between looking drab and looking fab for your audiences.”

Now there’s no need to become a pro at lighting for video. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a great skill to have and people can’t hear enough about it at parties (not really). For your purposes, though, you just need a level of proficiency that will make your video content shine. 

For folks starting out with limited budgets, lighting your videos doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact there’s an absolutely free light source just outside your window; you just need to learn how to make the most of it. 

Let’s take a look at some ways you can use natural, FREE light to get the best look for your marketing video content. 

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Shooting indoors with natural light

Laziness is rarely a quality we like to brag about, but when it comes to lighting our videos we gladly take the path of least resistance. In this case, that path is illuminated by good old sunshine. 

For the work we do with clients indoors, though, the traditional lighting set up still comes out from time to time. 

We’ve just become more at ease with falling back on the sunlight to properly illuminate ourselves for our video content. 

Shooting with natural light means less time setting up artificial lights and more time for the rehearsal and recording of our videos.”

For those of you operating a small business out of your home, choose a room in the house with a window. If you’ve got a room with two windows then you’re cooking with fire. 

Ideally, you want to sit, or stand, with the windows to either your left or right. The windows will act as a sidelight, throwing the sun’s rays on either the left or right side of your face, depending on the layout of the room. 

If you’ve got a window directly in front of you that’s fine as well. To properly light the side of your face that isn’t window facing you can use a reflector to “bounce” back the sunlight coming in through the window onto your face. 

A reflector is an inexpensive tool that can really help you maximise the available light in your shooting space. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to spring for a C-stand, which can be used to hold the reflector in place, you can simply prop it on a chair to catch the light streaming in through the window. 

It will take a bit of time to get the hang of bouncing the light with this handy device, but it will be worth it once you do. 

So if you’re creating video content on a wafer-thin budget to promote your brand or small business, chances are you’d start with your smartphone and work your way up as more funds become available. 

By using natural light you don’t need to wait until you can afford artificial lights. You can get started creating professional-looking marketing videos almost immediately using natural light in your home studio or set. 

Pro Tip
“When shooting indoors, avoid sitting or standing with your back to a window or a sliding door. If your camera is shooting directly into a light source, it can make you appear dark or ‘silhouetted’ in the image, while the rest of it will be washed out or overexposed.” 

Shooting outdoors with natural light

Just a few years ago, we were spending most of our days outdoors shooting a nature television series as well as a travel show. 

Living in the Caribbean as we do, we try to soak up as much of the scenery as we can in our videos. So we have a fair understanding of how to best wrangle sunlight outdoors to create visually arresting video content. 

You might be thinking to yourself if the sun is shining go outdoors, shoot your video, end of story. Well not exactly. Yes the sun can be like a friend – but more like a casual acquaintance you don’t know very well. 

It can be unpredictable so there are a few things to keep in mind when using this free light source. These conditions also apply when shooting with natural light indoors

Tips for Shooting with Natural Light

  1. The sun can be intermittently blanketed by cloud cover during your shoots. 

  2. It’s best to shoot in the early morning or the afternoon.

  3. Avoid the midday sun and its dreaded shadows.

  4. Avoid shooting with the sun directly at your back.

  5. Allow the sun to light one side of your face rather than squinting directly into it.

  6. Check out your outdoor location before your shoot so you’ll know where you need to be in relation to where the sun’s rays are falling. 

These are just a few pointers for the budding video marketer to maximise the available light outdoors within its limitations. If you have an extra pair of hands on deck, you can also use the reflector to illuminate the side of your face that’s in shadow.

Outdoor shoots are particularly useful if your business is outdoorsy in nature, like a company that markets fishing gear and apparel or real estate. 

More simply, it could be that you’d like to shoot a video in your backyard to take advantage of the natural light and aesthetic charm of your property. 

Whatever your mission or motivation, you can use natural light outdoors to help create video content that’s properly lit and ultimately, make you and your business look good. 

Taming the natural light for your videos. 

As mentioned earlier, while the sun can be immensely useful for your video creation purposes it has a mind of it’s own. 

Learning how to work within the boundaries of its limitations will make your life easier and your videos sharper and more vivid.

The first thing to keep in mind is that unlike artificial light, you can’t tinker with the sun’s intensity. There isn’t any way to decrease or increase its brightness to suit your needs. 

“You can’t control the sun but you can’t control the sun, but you can tame it somewhat.”

When shooting indoors, the sun’s rays pouring through the windows can be overly intense. The result can turn up in your video as a harsh light on the side of your face that is, at best, unflattering and at worst, distracting for the viewer. 

There is an easy way to reduce the harshness of the light streaming in through your window. By draping a white sheet over it, you can diffuse the excess brightness. This simple method allows for a more even, flattering light falling on the side of your face. 

It’s also important to note that while some cameras have what’s called in-built neutral density filters that reduce the intensity of natural light, this is usually a feature associated with more sophisticated equipment. 

Other cameras such as the DSLR and smartphones don’t have these baked in light filters. However they can be purchased as add-ons to help control exposure when shooting outdoors so the colours in your video are captured as true to life. 

If you’re shooting an on camera presentation outdoors, you can also tame the strongest  effects of the sun by standing under a tree. 

The idea is not to stand in complete shade, but to have the benefit of leaf cover that acts as a natural diffuser filtering out the intensity of the sun. 

Just as an FYI, if your using the old ‘leafy diffuser’ method, do a test recording to make sure the light is as even as can be managed beneath a tree. 

Having to many patches of light falling on you like your standing beneath a disco ball won’t be a good look. 

Pro tip
Head out early in the morning and have your notes, talking points and script prepared, so you’re ready to go before the sunlight becomes too bright to work with.

Working that free resource

Some entrepreneurs and small business owners often flirt with the idea of creating their own video marketing content. They hold back, though, because they believe video is synonymous with big bucks. This isn’t always the case.  

You can start immediately with what you have: your smartphone and the sun, which usually comes up every morning – unless, of course, you live in or near the Arctic and Antarctic circles.

Just remember, the sun sets the rules for its use, not the other way around. Use the simple techniques we’ve shared and you will eventually become skilled at shooting crisp, vibrant video that will show audiences you and your business MEAN business. 

Read part two of this series:
Part Two: How to Light Your Videos with Artificial Light

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How to Light Your Videos with Natural Light

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