Lighting and Audio 101
Updated: Jun 6
Both things are the unsung heroes when done correctly because they are never recognized for being done well, but its painfully obvious and distracting when they are done poorly. I've listed out my top 5 tips for mastering the art of audio and lighting when creating video content.
1) Natural light is (almost) always preferable over artificial light
Now if you are in a studio and are professionally lit this of course isn't the case, but for the average jane natural light is your best friend. However not all natural light is created equal. You don't want it to be too harsh (i.e. a very sunny day) or too direct (i.e. standing by an east or west window during sunrise or sunset). Both of these conditions can be solved by putting a white sheet or curtain over the window to diffuse the light (spread the directness over a wider area so it's less severe). I like to have several white sheets or curtains in different levels of sheerness for different levels of 'sunnyness' and check the clearance bin for deals or head to a fabric store. Make sure you have a couple clothes pins, or 3M velcro tabs to use to hang the sheets/curtains and your'e all set. BUT if you can use a northern or southern facing window or film on a cloudy day that is going to be your best bet. This is going to help you do take after take if necessary while your light conditions are changing without things looking starkly different from one take to the next.
2) Cool tones are better than warm tones
Sometimes especially during the winter months you need to use artificial light because the day is just too short. In this case I like to use a bright white light vs. a soft white, and you usually don't need it to be super high wattage. When I'm filming using my computers camera, I place the lamp with the shade taken off right behind my computer and it works like a charm.
3) Avoid background light and overhead lights
Backlighting is going to really confuse your camera and you will never come out of that battle looking the way you want. Don't film with a bright window at your back, and if you have an overhead light or floor lamp in the background move it or move yourself so you can't see it. When it is in frame it can be very distracting and shows up as very over exposed or over blown.
Filming right below an overhead light is one of your least flattering options. It will cause harsh shadows on your face and that's especially a problem for your eyes. You want to be able to use the eyes to really connect with the audience, and get your ideas out there and eyes can't do that if they are shadowed. If you can move off to the side of an overhead light the shadows will be less severe and if you have can lighting try to position yourself between lights.
4) No audio distractions
Background noises are annoying and distracting for your listener. You may not even realize that they are there because they're so common to you, but things like a dog chewing on a bone or a dryer or dishwasher running can be really distracting in a video. Remember the mic you're using isn't as smart as your ears. It doesn't have a big brain to tell it what to focus on but instead relies on its settings. So most definitely take some samples and listen to them to identify any distracting noises and get rid of them.
5) Invest in the right equipment
I have to say that because background is primarily in photography I'm much better at giving lighting advice than audio advice, but I have learned some tips that can be helpful.
Having a directional mic with a wind shield is a great first investment if you're going to be taking video with a camera (like a DSLR) and the one I use was just $85 . If you're going to be recording at your computer consider getting a desktop mic. The Samsung Q2U ($60) or the Blue Yeti ($112) are great starter options. Basically any external mic is going to be WAY better than the internal computer or camera mic so pick the one that's right for you and start recording! These are also really going to help with mellowing the harshness that sometimes comes across on the hard consonants like p, b, t, and k.
For cameras you want something that has high resolution, will auto focus, and works well in low lighting. Investing in a webcam can be a great idea and the quality of your videos will be much better than the built in camera on most computers. I recommend the Logitech C922x which is only $72 at Amazon.
When it comes to a video camera its a much more expensive investment and you need to take into account how the camera does for photos as well. It doesn't really make sense for must budgets to have a separate photo and video camera when many cameras do both well. My DSLR is a Cannon 7D (I bought it used on amazon and saved over $500) and it does not auto focus but if my subject is going to stay relatively in place on any given take I always use it because the lighting it provides is really beautiful. When I'm taking videos where the subject will be moving around a lot (like at weddings) I use my Cannon EOSm because its light and portable and it will auto focus. You can listen to my ode to my mirrorless camera in this video.
The Cannon Powershot G7x is a great choice for anyone needing to film themselves with its must have feature of a flip up screen.
Don't feel like you have to go out and invest in a TON of expensive equipment right off the bat. The goal is not to make it perfect, but to get it to a pretty good place where the audio and visual elements aren't distracting because of poor quality.
One of my most popular consulting services is helping with creating video because I help my clients craft a concise story, I bring my equipment along so they don't need to worry about audio or video quality, and I also take care of the editing. If you would like to learn more about hiring me to help with videography or photography please reach out at email@example.com or 715.781.0376.