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Mind Readings: Cheap Lighting

In today’s episode, we talked about the misconception that cheap lighting equals cheap content. While it may be true that there is a certain minimum level of quality that indicates you have invested at least a little something, it’s not much when it comes to lighting. With a few thrift store lamps and some experimentation, you can achieve a professional and expensive look with inexpensive lighting. A photon is a photon, as long as the light is safe, and techniques are more important than price.

Mind Readings: Cheap Lighting

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In today’s episode, let’s talk about a misconception. I saw an ad on Instagram not too long ago from a company that makes very expensive lights, and it was positioned at us as marketers and content creators. The ad copy said “cheap lighting equals cheap content.” Let me just say, as a person who did lighting and sound design in theater, I can confidently say this is mostly false. Yes, there’s a certain minimum level of quality that indicates that you have invested at least a little something, but it’s not much when it comes to lighting. It really isn’t. Theaters, even the most professional ones – like the Ed Sullivan Theater – are held together largely with gaffer’s tape. Everything is MacGyvered together in ways that probably violate multiple safety regulations, such as OSHA regulations, fire codes, and a variety of other rules. When you look at some of the lighting setups that have happened in theaters, on movie sets, on TV sets, and any other entertainment production, and you see how everything is sort of taped together, you would not think “wow, that’s really expensive gear they’ve got there.” You would think “wow, that’s really taped together.” And yet, from the audience’s perspective, you’d never know, as long as we did our jobs right. Got a broken red fresnel? Cool, get out the roll of red plastic wrap, slap it over that for now. And the days before LED lighting, you had to hope that the light wasn’t on for too long because the filament could melt. You had to get the scene lit and done, and then take the smoking plastic wrap off the light. Got a broken lightbox? Tape it back together with some shims and gaffer’s tape and cardboard.

I’m not saying that your desk or your home office lighting should be dangerous or unsafe, but I am 100% saying that you don’t need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on all these fancy lights to do basic videography. What you need to learn is how to do lighting properly. You can watch YouTube videos, read tutorials online, and you can light a home office video with a professional and expensive look with a couple of lamps from the thrift store and look like a pro, as long as you position the lights correctly. In my office here, I’ve got a major light here, which is a thing I picked up off the street. It’s got a single bulb in it. I’ve got a fill light here in the ceiling, and it does the job. That cost me nothing – the bulb was like 5. Now, that bulb is built into this, and it was like5. I could maybe install a sidelight here, but I actually like the way this looks. You don’t need a ton of stuff, you certainly don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to get a good look. You just need that overhead key light at about a 45-degree angle in your head – so this is shining at a 45-degree angle. And a dimmer backlight to backlight the scene and make it look good. If you got some shadows that are unflattering, get the third light – may be a fill light or something, you know, even something as simple as this little ring light here. I put this far enough away to take away some of the shadows. Turn it down a little bit, and there’s a nice little fill, right? This is like a $2 widget, and you can see the difference in the shadows and things. So it’s just a question of experimentation with inexpensive lights.

What most people do wrong with lighting is they have a key light right in their face. They do this with a ring light – “wow, that’s really bright.” But this doesn’t look good – this is like that hostage video look. So they have that, or they have just crazy amounts of light gels, washing everything out. And if I put this here, you can see it doesn’t do a great job. If you’ve got just lights everywhere coming in from every direction, it doesn’t look good. Get a couple of handheld lights or a lamp and just move stuff around and see how you look best.

But understand that we’re not spending hundreds of dollars – that ad is just almost offensively misleading. Almost everything is more about what you do with the tools, not how expensive they are. Once you’ve got above broken or dangerous levels of quality, it’s all about the technique and not the price. So if you’re thinking about doing more video, if you’re going to do more video, learn how to do lighting with good technique and save your dollars for something where the quality really matters. A photon is a photon – as long as the light is safe, you can do a lot with it.

Thanks for watching. Talk to you soon. If you liked this video, go ahead and hit that subscribe button.

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