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Simple Lighting Tweaks For Video

By: Chip Bobbert II

In our MPS recording studio I set out to improve the lighting quality with a low budget. I thought I would share my strategies and results in hopes other might benefit. Cameras do a bad job of reproducing what the eye can see. Our eyes easily filter out a broad spectrum of light to produce a pleasing image. Cameras aren’t that smart, one of the ways we can help them out is to control the temperature and power of the light they receive.

Like most rooms, our recording space has a simple office style suspended lighting and bulbs. The generic contractor grade bulbs are about $5 a piece and the room holds 8 of them. While common florescent are notoriously horrible for video work, fluorescent technology itself has been used in studios for years to great effect. The trick is to use good bulbs, the right temperatures and the right power. In most situations contractors will just stuff whatever is cheapest into a fixture so taking a few minutes and a few dollars to correct this can yield great results.

I did a mock up with a visualizer but that’s more than what most people would need. From past experience I know that in most situations 3200K “warm” temperatures look the best on a variety of skin tones. I also know you need slightly more wattage the further away the fixtures are from the subject. The front lights are about 8 feet away while the ones behind me are about 4 feet so I made the closer ones about 25% less powerful. I replaced the front 40 watt, 4100K bulbs with 32 watt, 3500K bulbs. I replaced the same 40 watt, 4100K bulbs in the back of the room with 20 watt 3500K bulbs as well.

As far as the result, here’s a before and after. While it didn’t make a radical difference the improvement is definitely noticeable. You’ll see the glare on my receding hairline is much small in the after photos. You’ll also notice my skin tone is much richer and more vivid, as is the colors on my clothing. The black color is also better, the muslin behind me now barely shows up indicating a correct black point. All in all the cost to upgrade the room was about $80 and took only a few minutes.

I would easily say that the improvement to the quality of the video is at least 10% and it was as easy as changing a light bulb.

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