July 27, 2015 at 3:36PM


Lighting and sound advice for beginner

Hi guys, i'm a beginner, directing my first short, and i've already learnt a lot from this website, but what would you say is absolutely necessary in terms of lighting for a good result? Is there something i really need to buy?

Also, i have a Zoom H4n, and i'm happy with the tests i've made so far, but can i use it for long shots? Can i put it on a pole?

Thanks a lot!


What type of shots do you want to light ?

In terms of absolute basics for video lighting it usually boils down to a "key" light ( this the main light that lights your actors and sets the "look" or mood of your shot ) and a "fill" light that helps to lower the contrast of the light on your actors. ( and often helps to light the rest of the environment your actors are in )

If I was shooting outside, the sun through the clouds could be my "key" light and the light reflecting off the surrounding buildings, or light reflecting off the ground, or light reflecting off a large white or silver reflector that I have somebody holding next to my actors could be my "fill" light.

Inside the same rules apply, but there is no sun so you have to supply your own "sun" or "key" light and your own "fill" light to lower the contrast of the light on your actors and to light the set they are in.

You can also use "edge" lights ( lights from behind your actors and off to the side so they are not seen in the background ) to accent your actor's hair, the edge of your actor's faces, etc...

Small lights are generally high contrast, and large lights are generally soft low contrast light, and you can turn a small high contrast light into a softer lower contrast light by placing a translucent diffuser in front of your small light to increase the size of the area of illumination. ( i.e. take a small 4x6 inch LED light and put a 24x24 inch diffuser in front of it and it becomes a much softer lower contrast light ) You can diffuse lights using white translucent "shoot through" umbrellas, by using translucent soft-boxes, or by simply placing diffusing material attached to a frame in front of the lights you want to diffuse.

The "One" rule of lighting that you have to always remember is: If you can't see the correct lighting with your own eyes, then your camera will never see it either. So always do your final check by standing in front of your camera and positioning your eyes where your camera lens is, and check if you can see the lighting you are after. ( it takes practice to recognise when lighting is too contrasty or too soft for your shot, and whether your "key" light is positioned correctly and doing everything you want it to do to set the mood you want to capture )

To learn lighting, pick a sample video shot or a sample still photo that you like and try and duplicate the lighting. Use your sample as a reference for what you are aiming for, and keep experimenting with your lighting until you start to get something close to your sample. When you've done this enough times, you can just look at a shot and know exactly what you need to light it to get the same look.

As far as sticking your Zoom H4n on a boom pole, yes you can definitely do this, just make sure you have a long enough headphone extension so that the person handling the boom pole can hear what is being recorded. They should be using closed-back "DJ" style headphones which can be bought fairly cheap from Sony or Sennheiser. ( these sell for as cheap as $25 )

If you shoot outside you will have to rig some kind of "dead cat" wind muff to help reduce any wind noise. ( you can either buy a commercial H4n wind muff or make your own )

July 27, 2015 at 7:15PM, Edited July 27, 7:18PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

Well i think you should try as much as natural light you can get. Also light your scenes up well good if not you end up with grain.
For the Zoom. I have a Zoom H1. I know its picks up the sound really intense. So maybe yes with the right settings attach it on a pole and you are good.
But maybe for really long distance use a lavelier mic or a shotgun with the zoom, when you can hide it in the near of your actor. :) I hope i could help.

July 28, 2015 at 12:12PM

Cathy Danneberg
Filmmaker, Editor, Designer, VFX

Thanks a lot for your answers Guy and Cathy! It really helps. :)

July 28, 2015 at 5:32PM


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