The best lighting is free

The lighting of any particular shot can make or break a video. If it’s too dark or underexposed, you lose detail and draw attention away from the purpose of the video. If it’s too bright or overexposed, everything looks messy, unbalanced, and amateur.

A good lighting setup is a great investment for professional videographers. The control, flexibility, and versatility that comes from owning your own lights can really take your videos up in quality.

Of course, lighting gear doesn’t usually come cheap. By the time you’ve invested in a couple of lights, cables, stands, extension cords, and diffusers, you’re easily sliding into the triple digits of cost.

There are a few options: First, you can buy one piece of lighting equipment at a time, like a cheap LED panel you can use to balance out your subject.

Buying equipment over time allows you to slowly improve the quality of your vlogs and learn how to use the equipment while saving up for the next piece.

The second option: if you can’t afford a lighting system that really makes your videos shine, you fortunately have a great (and FREE) lighting source at your disposal.

Using the sun as your primary light source

Take a look at the following images from two of my videos shot a year apart.

There are a lot of problems with this first image: poor composition, sallow color, and an overall uninteresting image with no real separation between the subject and background.

The other thing about this video is that it was shot at night with a three-point light setup.

This means the only source of light I had in the room at the time of this recording was better than just having the overhead light on, but I didn’t spend enough time to really dial it in.

My inattention to lighting detail (and lack of testing) resulted in a video where my eyes are horribly shadowed by my glasses, strange shadows that could have been avoided with more diffusion, and a color palette that made it really difficult to grade.

It’s not as bad as it could have been, to be sure. In fact this video is one of my most-watched on my channel (of course, that’s not the point).

But now look at the second image.

There are only two lights in action in this picture: the background corner light and sunlight diffused by the clouds on an overcast day.

The scene is brighter and more interesting. There was more detail for better coloring. More light mean a better aperture size on the camera which meant better separation between the background and subject.

Could you accomplish all of these things with a three-point lighting system? Of course! Could you artificially make this sort of scene with lights? Absolutely. Photographers and filmmakers do it all the time.

But if you don’t want to pay for the lights, you have the best lighting system available for free: the sun.

Lighting didn’t make the second image better all by itself. In the year between those two videos I learned more about composition and spacing and put together a better image, but lighting plays a huge role in your final video image.

Using sunlight to your advantage

You have to be careful with sunlight if you live in places where all you get is direct sun. Without anything to lower the light input to your camera, overexposure can completely ruin your video.

In these cases where there is no natural diffusion from cloud cover, you can get creative:

  • Use indirect sunlight to light your scene.
  • Close the curtains to your room but leave them slightly cracked to allow for the light to bounce off of the walls.
  • Find evenly shaded areas outdoors (if possible).

Remember, the point is not to be fancy, it’s to record the things you want to record by using the best light source you have at your disposal.

If you can’t get sunlight, be mindful of light sources

Of course, if you can only record your videos at night, you’ll need to use artificial lighting.

This is necessary at times, and is totally fine. If you’re going to use indoor lighting, just make sure you know where the light is coming from and how it looks in the finished video.

Remember in that first image I showed you, where my glasses were creating really unpleasant shadows on my eyes? I could have fixed that any number of ways, but because I didn’t my face is poorly lit and uninteresting.

Move lights around. Test your positioning and get a few practice shots. Check the composition. Make sure your subject is well lit to avoid having to artificially add exposure in post.

You don’t have to be the world’s best lighting expert as long as you can be mindful of where the light is in relation to where the camera is pointed.