Today's video cameras are able to record useable images with unbelievably small amounts of available light. Some videographers interpret the outstanding low-light performance of their equipment to mean that supplemental lighting is unnecessary. Sadly, this interpretation views lighting only as a source of illumination, and so overlooks the true value of light: its creative potential.

The most basic use of lighting is to raise the overall light level to an intensity compatible with equipment and depth of field requirements. But the real usefulness of lighting lies in its ability to give images depth and dimension. Light is a powerful creative tool that affects mood, style and ambience. It can distinguish subjects from their background, and help to focus a viewer's attention. Light can fill in harsh shadows, accent highlights and brighten colors. Lighting used improperly can be offensive but light mastered and correctly applied is an indispensable and personalized tool of the skilled videographer.

This tutorial attempts to give the reader an appreciation for the creative power of lighting as well as the information necessary to select lighting equipment for their application. For purposes of simplicity we will focus on the two main lighting styles employed for video production, On-Camera lighting and Studio/Location lighting.


The term "Studio" generally indicates a light fixture which, because of its physical characteristics such as size and weight, is best used in a permanent environment. The term "Location" indicates lights which are suitable for transport to a project site. In reality, many lighting systems cross between these categories. Often the strength of a videographer and the size of their vehicle will determine whether a light remains in the studio or finds itself on location. In any event, the rest of this section refers to both styles simply as fixtures.

- Lamp Types for Video

Photoflood Lamps: Looking like a household light bulb on steroids, this inexpensive brute produces a remarkably smooth and pleasant light. Lamp life is relatively short but is offset by the low cost of lamps. Fixtures using photoflood lamps provide excellent results in basic, beginning light setups.

Quartz Lamps: Quartz lamps are by far the most common lamps used in video production. Their small size and high efficiency allow the light fixture to be considerably smaller than fixtures using the photoflood above. Fixtures using quartz lamps run the gamut from consumer to broadcast applications.

Fluorescent Lamps: Although ambient light from conventional fluorescents has long been the bane of videographers, fixtures using special ballasts and tubes are now able to yield soft light and impressive color rendering. Fluorescent fixtures are finding increased use in television studios where their efficiency and low heat are advantageous.

HMI Lights: HMI lights emit intense light at daylight color temperature. They are far more efficient than tungsten lamps and they generate less heat. Their main disadvantage is the cost of the lamp and high-voltage supply. HMI lamps are used mainly in fixtures designed for film and television production especially in daylight environments.

- Feature Styles

Floodlights / "SCOOP" Fixtures: The simplest and least expensive of all fixtures is the open face floodlight, sometimes called a "Scoop". Its metal reflector provides smooth, even lighting over a large area. These fixtures are typically not focusable although barndoors give some control over the spill of light. More sophisticated variations feature a focusing mechanism which allows adjustment of the light spread from a flood to a spot. This greatly enhances the versatility of the fixture.

PAR Fixtures: PAR fixtures consist of a sealed beam lamp which is mounted into a metal housing. Because the lamp is a sealed optical module, the beam spread is a function of the lamp and not of the light fixture. PAR lamps are typically installed on a light truss, tree or pipe and used in theater, stage, display and architectural lighting. They are particularly well-suited to wash and backlighting.

Fresnel Fixtures: The Fresnel (pronounced fre-nell) derives its name from its highly-efficient lens. Their smooth, focusable light has for decades made Fresnel lights a favorite source of illumination. The weight of many Fresnels has typically limited their use to studio or fixed applications; however, newer lightweight fixtures such as NRG's FS-Series can be practically employed both on location and in a studio. Fresnel fixtures are at home in any application where smooth, evenly controllable soft-edged lighting is required.

- Choosing Studio / Location Lighting

Choosing lights or lighting systems for studio or location use involves many user-specific choices that are impossible to explore in this short space. If you are just getting started, select a basic kit from a reputable manufacturer. As your experience grows, add some accessories and perhaps some additional lighting fixtures to allow added creative potential. If you are already an advanced videographer, feel free to exit this tutorial and start ordering!


In many settings, such as weddings or news gathering, the location of the action changes rapidly. This often prevents the practical use of multi-point location lighting. Lighting is still often needed to fill shadows, distinguish subjects from their backgrounds and give the overall shot depth and dimension. Solving this dilemma is the primary purpose of on-camera lighting. As the name suggests, on-camera lighting is intended to be attached to the camera or a bracket directly adjacent to the camera. It is important not to expect a single on-camera light to provide illumination comparable to a multi-point location-lighting system. Within the limitations of a single point-source, however, a quality on-camera light can provide an admirable balance between convenience and lighting quality. Let's take a brief look at common considerations for the selection of an on-camera light.

- Power Source

While some consumer lights have batteries on-board, their limited light output and short runtimes make them inappropriate for professional use. For this reason most professional on-camera lights are powered from an external battery source. Carefully select your power source to make sure that it can properly power the light without shutdown or damage.

Some on-camera lights also allow operation from AC. In most cases, however, the intensity of AC lamps is overpowering and the high heat forces periodic shut-down of the light to prevent fixture damage. Thus, AC capability in a small on-camera light is, at best, reserved for emergencies or when the light is mounted on a separate stand.

- Physical Size

The downsizing trend that started years ago in consumer camcorders is now reaching professional equipment. It is easy to become infatuated with the features of a light and miss the fact that it is an inappropriate size for the camera on which it will be mounted. Bear in mind, it is not just a matter of funny looks; the equipment's accessory mount may not be designed to support larger professional lighting equipment. Thankfully, if you have a compact camera and do find your heart set on a larger light, after-market manufacturers, including NRG, offer auxiliary brackets which both improve camera stability and give a secure mounting point for larger lighting fixtures.

- Lamp Type and Selection

When choosing an on-camera light, give significant consideration to the type of lamps the fixture uses. The lamp is the heart of any lighting system. In the end the lamp's characteristics are major factors in determining the smoothness, intensity and coloration of the captured image, not to mention the runtime of a battery. First, it is important to make sure that the light uses lamps which are available in the wattages, voltages, and color temperatures required for your application. Be sure that the lamp style is widely available. If you will be traveling abroad, consider the lamp's international availability. Finally, consider the lamp's cost and remember to bear in mind the lamp's life expectancy.

- Lamp Efficiency

Many videographers perceive a light's maximum wattage as the supreme measure of the light's value and usefulness. It is important to understand that wattage is nothing more than the amount of power the light consumes. Just because a light uses a lot of power doesn't mean it produces light efficiently. Many brands of lighting have an inefficient matte silver or pebbled finish on their reflectors which fails to transmit the lamp's light output effectively. Other brands use low-efficiency lamps not designed for video applications and available only in limited wattage ranges. one of the reasons for buying a professional light unit such as those made by NRG is that the lamps and reflectors have been designed for optimum efficiency. A high-efficiency light allows a 20% to 30% lower-wattage lamp to achieve the same light levels produced by a less-efficient light fixture. When a light is being powered from a battery this efficiency results in dramatic improvements in runtime and battery life.

- Quality of Construction

On-camera lights have a tendency to get stepped on, smashed into door frames or suffer any similar number of abuses. Even if you are careful with your equipment, choose a light that has a chance of surviving the one day that something goes wrong. Look for a strong external casing and be sure that the primary load-bearing components such as the camera shoe and support arm are made from metal. Check to see that any protrusions are designed to resist breaking. Look for high-quality cabling of the appropriate gauge to support the current draw of the largest lamp you intend to use. Consider the warranty terms and ease of part replacement in the event of damage or failure.

- Features

Many lighting manufacturers use the same lamp types, so it is often the features of the light that define its versatility and usefulness. For example, here at NRG, tool-less lamp changes, ratcheting tilt mechanisms, light-dispersion grids, electronic intensity control and many other thoughtful features have endeared NRG lights to our users. The availability of accessories is another important point to consider. Accessories can tailor the light to your shooting style and to various shooting situations and increase your enjoyment and productivity.


Unfortunately, there is no such thing. If you will be shooting in a fixed location with access to AC power, a multi-light studio/location system will deliver the most evenly lit and natural-looking shots. A multi-point lighting setup also allows great creativity in achieving different lighting effects. Where convenience and rapid mobility are needed, however, nothing beats an on-camera light. In some cases it may be practical for you to combine both on-camera and stand-mounted location lighting. By using multi-point location lighting to create an adequate overall light level and an on-camera light to fill and highlight, the best strengths of each lighting style are combined to create the ultimate in light coverage. Most videographers will want to invest in both a good on-camera light and studio/location-style light fixtures.


Even to veteran pros the vast selection of lighting products and accessories has become quite staggering. Lighting kits can be found for as little as $100 or as much as $20,000 while on-camera lights go from $19-$5,000. Within these ranges fall hundreds of products. How much should you spend and what can you expect to gain if you choose to spend more? The first thing to remember is that "there is no free lunch". If you spend too little you will get a poorly-made product with limited features that will most likely fail under the demands of semi-professional or broadcast use. If you overspend you may be buying the prestige of a particular brand instead of tangible product features. Purchase the product that offers the features you need, is built to perform reliably under your use requirements, and comes from a manufacturer respected for quality and service. A product with these characteristics will be a joy to use for years to come and be more likely to have a solid resale value if your needs change.


Lighting accessories can greatly enhance the versatility of a light and allow you to tailor the look of the light to your specific needs. For example: A color-effect grid to match the amber glow of sunset, an interview grid for natural, inoffensive light at close range, barndoors to control the area covered, a lower-wattage lamp for longer runtimes. Lets take a closer look at some of these accessories and how they can enhance the usefulness of on-camera and studio/location light fixtures.

Barndoors: Barndoors are black metal flaps which prevent light from spilling into unwanted areas. Barndoors are also often used as clip filter and effect gel holders.

Flags: Flags consist of any opaque material that can block or shape light. They can be cut to a desired shape from thin metal or layers of aluminum foil. Flags are often clipped to barndoors, a lightstand or a boom-arm.

Filter Frames: Filter frames are sometimes built into the front of a lighting fixture but can also be a separate stand-mounted accessory. Filter frames typically hold scrims or diffusers to soften light or colored gels to alter the light's color.

Effect Grids: Generally used with on-camera lights, effect grids are made of glass and designed to insert into the front of the light fixture. NRG has one of the most comprehensive grid selections available with complete options for softening light, changing its color or temperature and creating special effects.

Softboxes: A softbox is a structure of translucent material into which a light is placed. It results in maximum diffusion creating a pleasing and natural appearance. Since many softboxes are intended for photographic applications it is important to be sure the softbox can tolerate the heat generated by your lighting fixtures.

Optional Lamps: Changing a lamp can tailor the light fixture to a particular application. For example, changing to a low-wattage high-efficiency lamp in a battery-powered on-camera light will yield longer runtimes. Changing to a daylight lamp will better accommodate outdoor fill situations. As useful as accessories like these can be, when purchasing a light you may want to select only the basic accessories you know you'll need, such as a spare lamp and perhaps basic light-control or diffusion accessories. NRG's lights are extremely versatile right out of the box. Become familiar with a light's performance before investing in accessories that may not be of use in your application.


Video footage often looks flat and lifeless in comparison to film footage. Because of this many people conclude that film is a superior medium. In actuality, many of the differences are a result of lighting. In most cases film revolves around a single camera; therefore, lighting can be highly optimized for a single point-of-view. In video, particularly television footage, multiple camera positions are utilized, thus necessitating a flatter, fuller light coverage. If film-style lighting is employed with a single video camera the effect can be comparably dramatic.

The basic qualities of light as it applies to video production are Color, Intensity, Form, and Direction. By understanding both the physical and psychological characteristics of these qualities, the experienced lighting designer can employ the lighting tools he has purchased to maximum effect.

Shooting with a single on-camera light limits creativity somewhat; however, with accessories and experimentation it is possible to achieve pleasing results. In studio or location settings where multiple fixtures can be utilized the possibilities become endless.

Most videographers will want to start with a classic three-point lighting setup. There are many varying opinions on the placement of these lights but the adjoining illustration shows a typical setup. The first light in this setup is the main apparent source of light, known as the Key Light. It establishes the dimension, form and texture of the subject as well as a hard or soft light quality. Next is the fill light whose purpose is to partially fill in the shadows created by the key light. Ideally, the fill is a more diffused source which will not create opposing shadows. Finally a back light can be used to add highlights and distinguish the subject from the background. Of course, additional lights such as kickers, separators, and background lights can be added as your experience and needs dictate.

As a general rule, simple lighting setups will yield the best effect. Putting lights everywhere makes it difficult to manage the resulting light interactions and can yield a flat, confusing image.

In many cases it is advantageous to follow, not fight, existing ambient light sources. By building on the natural sources of illumination, a pleasing and logical effect can be obtained. In settings where no ambient light is present, try to create a logical substitute. For example if a window on a set suggests a direction for ambient light, don't fight it.

It is important always to remain aware that while your eye views a scene in three dimensions, video is a two-dimensional plane. Just as a painter strives to create a 3-dimensional image on a 2-dimensional canvas, so the lighting artist must strive to create the dimension of depth through lighting technique.

These tips are intended only to give the reader an enthusiasm and respect for the science and art of professional lighting. If you found them to be useful and informative, buy one of the many excellent books available on film and video lighting which will be filled with similar concepts.


While some videographers underestimate the importance of light, others go overboard in its use. Many times in an effort to capture the scene in the best light "technically" possible, subject comfort is forgotten. Excessive light levels can result in over-saturation and fringing of color, washout of white and shadow detail, not to mention violent verbal abuse from human subjects. While each shoot has unique requirements, a good general rule of light is to use it in a way that creates a natural and balanced light level with subtle creative highlights. Are you shooting a staged shot or shooting consistently in similar environments? If so, try standing in the place you anticipate your subject will be and see if the light level and placement are tolerable. If you are blinded or your hair catches on fire, subtle changes in light placement may be needed. Many times compromises between technically optimum lighting and what is practical for your equipment and location will have to be made. Explaining these limitations to a client will help to eliminate unrealistic expectations and ensure satisfaction with the final production.


This tutorial has attempted to cover a range of subjects so broad that it has done little justice to any of them. In the end, the most important point to be grasped is that lighting is an infinitely creative art form. Purchasing quality lighting tools is a great starting point, but a serious videographer should not stop there. Instead, the user of lighting should attempt to better the quality of their productions by becoming ever more proficient as an artist of light.

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