Video Camcorders: 4 Basic Lighting Tips

When dealing with video camcorders, one of the first things you'll notice in a quality video is good lighting. Highlights or bright spots are the first thing that draws your eye's attention. Here are a few key tips that will help your videos look balanced so that your audience can see exactly what you want them to.

1. Daylight or Natural Lighting

The best way to make sure there's enough light is to use your camcorder outdoors on a sunny day. Most lenses are geared to daylight. One of the best ways to manipulate daylight is by using reflectors or sheets of foamcore to reflect the sun where you want it. Reflect the light and fill in dark spots. It just takes a little practice. Watch where the light gets reflected and use it.

2. On-Camera Lights

One of the easiest ways to make sure there is enough light is to mount a light on your camera. Some home-use cameras still include a "foot" where you can slide the light on top of the camera, and there are some lights that you can connect underneath, where the camera connects to a tripod. A benefit is that these lights are designed to make sure there's enough light to capture your image. For most home movies, that will probably be acceptable. The downside is that they may drain the same battery that powers your camcorder. Another limitation is that they direct the light in the same place the camera is; that is, the light follows the lens, and it looks artificial. 

3. Light Kits

Kits by companies like Lowell, Targus and Lumiere can help. The main lights you'll need are a spotlight, backlight and fill-light. Your spotlight will point direct light at the main subject of your frame. Your backlight will be aimed at the back-side of your subject (at an angle), and the highlights will help bring it out from your background. The fill-light is to show that there is something in your background without bringing too much attention to it. There are usually filters to help bring down the intensity of your light, if necessary.
4. Enough Light

Indoors or outdoors, the vital element in getting a good image is to make sure there's enough light. Your eye is a miraculous creation, and it's generally much more sensitive than a simple, manmade lens. That being the case, if you're recording inside, and that single light looks like it may be barely enough, it probably won't be. Make sure there's enough light.

A note about night vision: many camcorders are equipped with a night-vision feature. Many times, this will allow you to record a simple, monochromatic image (that is, black-and-white.) Most of the time, it's better to manipulate your own lights to shoot at night.

These guidelines will help you get a good, solid image, but, it's also important to realize the value of the cliché that "sometimes rules are made to be broken." For a horror piece, shadows (and what you don't see) add tension. For comedy, to have a character sobbing while the lighting is bright all around them can accentuate the irony. Use the light that's appropriate.