5 Hacks For Film & Video Lighting

Post Production Filmmaking December 8, 2019 5 min read

Shooting a film or video without thinking about lighting is a recipe for disaster. Cameras don’t pick up light the same way our eyes do, so even if a scene looks to have plenty of light, the camera may not see it that way. Furthermore, there may be enough lighting, but it may not appear even in the shot, or certain parts of the composition may not appear the way you want.

Taking the time, and spending the money to set up professional light kits properly is always the ideal way to go. But sometimes, we don’t have that luxury. Maybe we’re in a tight space, working on a short timeframe, or we just don’t have access to the lights we need.

Luckily, there are some hacks that can help you get a better shot on a budget or in a pinch. Here are 5 lighting hacks for film and video that you can try when you need a few tricks to get the job done.

Start With Bulbs

When shooting indoors, one of the very simplest things you can do to help your video lighting is to change the lightbulbs around you. One of the biggest problems faced when shooting film and video is not enough light. So, the best place you can start if you don’t have your own light kit is with the fixtures around you.

Maybe you are shooting in a house with standard incandescent bulbs. A normal 60-watt incandescent puts out about 800 lumens of light. On the other hand, a compact fluorescent bulb in the 32-35 watt range will put out 2600 lumens, more than 3 times the amount of light. You can also get 2600 lumens out of a 25-28 watt LED light bulb. So, by simply grabbing some higher light-emitting bulbs, you can immediately make a positive impact on lighting for your film or video.

Fluorescent and LED bulbs are a little more costly than traditional incandescents, but with care, they will last much longer, and they are continuously going down in price as they become more and more popular.

Remember that different types of bulbs produce different color temperatures. For instance, incandescent bulbs produce a lower color temperature (more orange), while fluorescent bulbs produce a higher color temperature (more blue). Because of this, you will need to readjust your white balance to match the bulbs and color temperature.

Bulking Up

Okay, so you switched out the bulbs in the room and you still don’t have enough light. Maybe there was only one light socket to begin with or a few lamps. Now it’s time to bulk up on the bulbs.

For a very little extra cost, you can pick up a socket adaptor that will turn one regular light socket into 4. Here’s an example of one available on Amazon for about $8 USD. With these handy adapters, you can quadruple your light output from a single source.

And if you have a light socket that won’t allow you to easily add the socket adaptor, you can start with one of these extenders to give you more room to work with. These will add another $8-$10 USD to your budget.

Remember that these bulb tips will not give you specific pointed light, but will enhance the overall ambient light on set. And that is the basis for a good lighting setup in most cases.

Check out this video by Barnacules Nerdgasm on just how this hack works.

Reflectors

So, you have plenty of light now, but you don’t have it going in the direction you want. In a typical studio setting, you might break out a set of reflectors. These are general fabric discs or squares in silver, gold, white, and black (an anti-reflector). Each will reflect different amounts of light onto your subject. And while they are handy, you can get by with some other very simple and cheap solutions from the grocery store or pharmacy down the street.

Essentially any large solid surface in black or white will give you some level of reflection or shadow, but foam core board is a great solution. It’s fairly sturdy with a large surface area. It generally comes in black and white, with the white having a somewhat shiny white surface, and it’s cheap and easy to find.

Need silver for a little more intense reflection? Open your kitchen drawer and grab some aluminum foil Attach it to one side of your foam core or a flat piece of cardboard, and your silver reflector is ready for action.

Cheap Lamps

Getting ambient light from brighter bulbs is great, but sometimes you really need more strong directed light. After all, this is what a light kit is for. Setting up things like key, fill, and backlights won’t work with an overhead socket and bulb. But if you don’t have access or money for a lighting kit, there are lots of helpful options at the hardware store.

For starters, these little clamp lamps can be very handy. For less than about $10 USD, you can get a portable light that will attach to most anything and has a nice built-in reflection cone to funnel light out.

If you need something a little stronger, you can pick up a set of work lights like these. They range in price from around $30 to $100 USD, but they are readily available at hardware stores when you are in a pinch. They are also pretty portable and, depending on the model, they can put out quite a bit of light.

Diffusers

Okay, we have more light now then we know what to do with. Let’s hope you are lucky enough to have this scenario. That’s where diffusers come in. Of course, your fancy light kit will have various types of diffusers and maybe gels to work with.

But we don’t have time for that. We are light-hackers. Guess what else makes a great diffuser? A bed sheet. A bed sheet will produce a similar effect to a softbox diffuser, and you probably have plenty of them laying around.

Be careful if your lights are putting off heat, not to let the sheet get too hot. Fancy light kits are designed to handle such heat, so you need to always be cautious when working with unconventional materials.

If you are working with something like a clamp lamp, you can put a piece of wax paper or tracing paper in front of it to diffuse the light. Again, make sure you are careful about anything getting too hot.


In a perfect world. we’d always have the extra lighting setup that we wanted, and all of the time and budget to make everything look perfect. But in the real world, with tight budgets, lack of access, and limited time, we have to make do with what we can get. And the reality is, there are a lot of good and cheap substitutes that will bring your lighting to a much higher level.

Let us know what lighting hacks you have tried in the past and how successful they have been in the comments below.