I have one word for improving your video: lighting. Lighting has a profound effect on our perception. It can change the mood, create an emotion, and even change “reality”. The effect that lighting has on the in-person experience is just as pronounced for video. Good lighting can make a bad video camera look acceptable and bad lighting can make even the best video camera look terrible.
Even if you have a nice, even stage wash, there is still “One Thing” which is commonly overlooked that will greatly improve your lighting and your video content. Before we talk about it, let’s look at 3 technical components of the interaction between lighting and video cameras.
First, there must be adequate light for the cameras to make pictures without adding the noise that comes with increased “grain” in the camera.
Second, the color temperature of the production lights must be consistent with other light sources in the room so that the cameras’ color remains consistent across multiple shots.
Third, camera lens operations are greatly affected by lighting
With that background out of the way, here’s that One Thing which is most commonly overlooked but is easily corrected to make the most improvement in video: backlighting.
Backlighting is vital for separating foreground subjects from the background, and for better “defining” the intended foreground subject. Without backlighting, your video will look flat and one-dimensional. Adding backlight will make foreground subjects “pop” and appear more three-dimensional.
Here’s an example of on-camera content with relatively flat lighting, with some nice variations on the subject, and a generic backdrop lit for the “in-person” experience. Clearly, there is enough light for the camera, but the most prominent portion of the image is the background. And, save for the dark section behind our subject, she would simply blend into that background.
Let’s add some backlight and see what happens. Backlighting from above creates an “edge” which helps make the subject ‘stand out” from the background. The functionality is very similar to why graphics software apps include “edge” and “drop shadow” functions – they make the characters more legible against a wider variety of backgrounds.
By the way, backlight is typically set to one-half of or equal to the intensity of the front, or key, lighting.
You’ve possibly noticed that we did not consider camera iris adjustments or lighting controls in these examples. That’s simply because, in many venues, practical real-time management of lighting levels and camera iris controls are not available.
If you’d like to make a case for better lighting control or to acquire cameras with remote control iris capability, here are some other examples.
You can easily exploit real-time lighting controls while communicating with the video director watching the on-camera performance. In this case, we’ll lower the background lighting to make it “less intrusive”. Note, that we’re not changing the lighting intensity of our foreground subject. This simple adjustment helps the foreground stand out from the background.
Now let’s add a remote iris control for your camera. The newly adjusted lighting environment can be better optimized specifically for the video audience. The above scene is a bit underexposed… the limited dynamic range of video isn’t being exploited. The image, though improved, still appears somewhat dull.
The image below takes the backlighting and reduced background level additions into account and allows the video shader to raise the iris for a “less dull” appearance, leveraging the once-darker foreground:
You may notice one other improvement in the image because we’re now benefiting from a physics concept called Depth of Field.
Depth of field is simply a description of the number of “in focus” elements in a picture. Deeper depth of field means more things are in focus, Shallower depth of field means fewer things are in focus.
The increased lens aperture in our example lets in more light but also results in a smaller, or shallower, depth of field. This is generally a desirable “cinema-like” effect. However, as we discussed earlier, it may cause difficulty for your camera operators to focus.
Facility lighting that may be adequate for an in-house audience too often results in a mediocre to poor result on video, due to the often overlooked One Thing: backlighting.
Not only will backlighting improve the quality of your captured video, but it will also improve the legibility of IMAG images and add a new dynamic for those who are viewing in-house. It’s truly a win-win for both video viewers and in-house audiences!
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