Learning 17 MIN READ

How to Choose the Best Lighting Setup for your Videos [Guide]

A professional camera set up that is ready for a photo shooting.

One of the most significant factors that makes a video look professional is lighting. It doesn’t matter how much money was spent on a camera or lens. Good lighting is one of the most critical elements to creating great footage, and looking professional, especially when creating online courses.

Fortunately, getting great lighting isn’t hard to do.

Following some basic lighting rules, you can get impressive results from even the cheapest lighting kits!

Here, we outline the different types of lighting setups that you can use depending on how your content is recorded. We’ll also share equipment recommendations for an easy budget setup that will get you 95% of the result, as well as a higher end setup for maximum impact.

Let’s see what you can do for each shooting condition:

Shooting Indoors

Shooting in your office with a webcam, phone or a small camera

Most of the online video lectures show the instructor’s presence in full-screen (known as talking-head videos). Videos with the presenter directly speaking to the audience are natural, help learners familiarize with the instructor and therefore build a strong rapport with them.

If you want to shoot such a video while sitting in your office, you need light to get better results. The more light, the better your video. So, what are the options here?

1A ring light

OPV Dimmable LED Ring Light, Image Source

For many people who sit in front of your camera, the most common light source they use is a ring light. A ring light is a circular light (usually around 20 inches in diameter) which can be attached to a tripod with your camera positioned in the open center space of the light.

Ring lights are great. They cast even lighting and eliminate any harsh shadows. You can also find a small one to attach to your iPhone if you want to do a selfie video on the go. This ring light on Amazon is about $100 and includes a stand that also acts as a tripod for your smartphone.

Of course, there is a variety of other ring lights you can choose from Amazon. You can choose based on your equipment and budget.

2Tabletop studio lights

Linco Lincostore Photography Photo Table Top Studio Lighting Kit, Image Source

With zenith 30 inches height these lights can be ideal for online course creators. They are much as bright as their freestanding counterparts, and they are smaller too. This two-light setup, with 40W (5,500K) bulbs, is more than enough for a simple recording setup. And they include diffusion material too.

3A lantern setup

White paper lantern example from Amazon

Another smart option is to put two white paper lanterns right over your desk, mostly behind your computer. Maybe you’ll have to use a light socket and some stand to hang them. With this equipment, you can get a beautiful soft light.

4Two simple lamps

Office lamps are available in all houses and may be the best choice if you want to avoid lighting expenses. Place the lamps on each side of your camera and point the light towards your face. If the light is too harsh, you can use some diffusion material (e.g., white kitchen roll) and hang it with clothespins over the lights.

Light Diffusion, Image Source

Using many technical lights and standing in front of a camera

Let’s suppose you want to create a talking-head video while you are standing in your room. Probably you will need a whiteboard next to you. In this case, you’ll want even more light to fill the room.

Especially if you are recording in a room with little or no outside light shining in, then you will need some supplementary lighting. What you need are some more studio lights that will help you shoot like a pro. Studio lights can be used in different setups, giving different results.

Let’s look at some common setups:

1Setup with two lights

You can use two lights, a key light, and a fill light. The key light is the brightest of the two lights and serves as the primary source of illuminating yourself. The fill light complements the key light by softly lighting the parts of you not illuminated by the key light.

Fill lights are typically around half as bright as key lights and illuminate the harsh shadows. For a better result lights should be placed higher than your height. Also, you should be distant enough from the background to reduce shadows.

The key and fill light help illuminate the face evenly on both sides, Image Source

The setup: Place two lights on either side of you, just above the eye line. This setup will still be helpful even if there is some movement around the room and you are not facing the camera the entire time.

2Setup with three lights

A new element you can add in your lighting setup is a third light as a backlight. If you put a light in your back (also known as rim light) pointing towards you, create beautiful highlights in your hair and body line. This light also separates from the background.

Backlights create beautiful highlights in your portrait, Image Source
Three Point Lighting, Image Source & Source Video

3Setup with four lights

This setup includes apart from the key light, the fill light, and the backlight also a background light.

The background light illuminates any background you have, making the overall picture more beautiful. Position a fourth light on a fourth stand just behind you, facing the wall, at about waist height to get rid of any shadows that would otherwise fall onto the background wall or surface.

Depending on your space, you may not need the fourth light. However we feel that it is best to get a fourth light so that you always have it should you need it, or when you want to elevate the look of your video lessons further.

You’ll be surprised at how those four lights can dramatically increase the quality of your shots. If you need a specific type of shot, you can adapt your system by adding or removing lights to achieve various effects. It just depends on what you want your shots to look like.

For example, if you remove the fill light from the equation, you will get a more dramatic look with shadows taking over half of your face. Some people like the look of having a harsh shadow on their face, where one side is lit very well, and the other side isn’t.

Others prefer a more consistent, more even lighting to their videos, where there is not too much harsh shadow. But there is no right or wrong with this!

It is a creative process.

Four lights lighting example, Image Source

If you’re just getting started with lighting, you can get by with a two-point setup that uses only the key and fill lights. While the backlight and the background light add a nice depth to your picture, they are not necessarily essential.

Remember: The most important thing is to lighten yourself up very well, as you are the main subject of your video which delivers the content.

My lights are too harsh what can I do?

There is a term in photography- Light quality- that refers to how harsh or soft the light is. There’s a vast difference in the image when you use a harsh light versus a soft light.

The secret is to look at the shadows. If there’s a clear, distinct line along the shadow’s edge, then it’s harsh light. Harsh lights create harsh-edged shadows.

If the shadow has a soft edge that gradually fades out of the shadow area, then the light source is a soft light. Soft lights create soft-edged shadows. Generally speaking, people usually look best under a soft light.

Beauty shots, for example, benefit the most from using more soft light. That’s why it’s such a vital video lighting technique. Most of the time it’s a good idea to use soft light for your key and fill lights. This provides an evenly lit shot.

Harsh vs Soft light

On the other hand, harsh light is effective for backlights pointing on your background because you want to create sharp, distinct edges. Harsh lighting also provides the contrast you’d find in natural lighting, so it’s best to use it when you want your lighting to look like it’s not coming from lights.

How do I change a harsh light into a soft light?

With a lamp dimmer and dimmable bulbs you can have the ultimate lighting control. With these accessories, you can easily adjust the amount of light hitting you. Be careful, because if you buy non-dimmable bulbs, they will flicker as you dim them.

If the light is too harsh on its own, put some diffusion material in front of the light (for example white kitchen roll or a piece of a white shower curtain). This way, the harsh light becomes softer.

Alternatively, you can bounce lights off a surface (a wall, ceiling, or reflector) to create soft light.

When you reflect light to a wall, you create a softer lighting, Image Source

If you still can’t achieve a soft light with the above techniques, try making the lights larger. The light becomes softer as the light source becomes larger. Lights become larger when you put them farther from where you had placed them.

Apart from light quality, you should also pay attention to the light temperature. Not all lights are created equal. Some lights appear “cooler” and other “warmer” on camera and the human eye as well.

This concept is called color temperature and can be measured on a scale of Kelvin.

Color temperature on a Kelvin scale, Image Source

It’s best not to combine lights of different temperatures because this can lead to improper color balance and unnatural looking footage. Use the bulbs that are daylight balanced at 5000 Kelvin and have a high color rendering index (85+). This will help you produce the highest quality and most flattering light possible.

The last tip to say here is: When you are creating your lectures, try to leave the equipment exactly the way you want it, so it will be a matter of walking in, turning your lights on, making any minor adjustments if you need to and then you are good to go. This is going to save you a lot of time, than setting everything up every time you want to shoot.

Video Lighting Tools Recommendations

Low budget

For your key light choose a 10″ clamp light at the price of $11,86. And for your fill and backlight choose 8″ clamp lights ($10). These lamps are versatile and can be mounted in a variety of ways. In this case, use a white curtain ($6) to create diffusion material and soften the light.

What bulbs should I use?

Incandescent Bulbs cast a warm glow but are the least efficient, and they need to be replaced most often. Use an incandescent bulb when you want a cozier effect or want to highlight the actual color of a shade. We suggest that you use a 60 W led light ($7.86) or a 100 W led light ($9.60).

Halogen Bulbs provide 25 to 30 percent more light than incandescent bulbs, using the same amount of electricity. They’re better suited for offices, kitchens, or lamps with warm-colored shades. GU10 Halogen Spot Light ($11.99) is an optimal choice for this purpose.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs. CFLs are the most efficient. The bulbs last much longer than incandescent, and they use less electricity too. They tend to emit a cold light, so they’re perfect for canceling out their shadows. The Kino Flo 26 watt CFLs are excellent.

Whatever light you choose from the above, remember that it’s best not to mix lights of different color temperatures.

Medium budget

Yongnuo Yn300 Air Pro LED light Controller are really nice soft lights that can be either powered by batteries or plug them to the wall but the price is a little higher ($49), but in this case, you can avoid searching for diffusion material.

Higher budget

Your next option is studio lights. Studio lights provide everything you need to set up, and you can find a full kit starting from $50. These kits commonly use large fluorescent lights and include useful diffusion material and light stands. In these lights, you can often control the number of lit bulbs you want to light. For this setup, you can still choose between incandescent, halogen or fluorescent light bulbs. And you can find many more fancy features, ability to change color on the fly, better diffusion and stronger output.

Here are some of the kits used by instructors:

You can find more Portable Photo Studios here.

Shooting Next to a Window = Zero Cost Lighting

Natural light is the best choice if you want to avoid costs. Pick a brightly lit spot to record (the lighter, the better), with the light source facing you rather than coming from behind you. The light will be most flattering when it is a soft light. Try to use a curtain to diffuse the light and soften it up. To help you understand how window lighting works we will use Andyax’s example:

The window light works as the key light. This might create harsh shadows on the other side of your face that is not lit. To avoid shadows, one solution is to place your desk right in front of a large window. This way, you’ll have great even lighting from the sun.

If this setup is not possible for you, use a piece of aluminum paper to reflect the light that is coming from the window and point it to the darkest side of your face. Just like this, shadows disappear.

Of course, instead of a piece of aluminum, you can use a lamp from your house or another professional reflector. The great thing is with these simple setup and zero costs you can achieve the perfect lighting in your room.

If you have got an extra lamp put a third source of light (either a lamp or a reflector) to lighten yourself from the back.

So, the final setup of lights will look like the picture below, where the key light derives from the window.

The easiest, and arguably the best type of lighting for your instructional videos will be natural light. So long as your shot looks natural and relatively shadow-free, you’re golden. You should be very careful, however. The sun moves and can make it difficult to achieve consistency in your shots. But, with careful planning and adjustments as needed, you can certainly use natural light sources for your videos.

Backdrops for indoor shooting

While your students will mainly see you, you are not the only element on camera. Components you present in your background help to create the overall style you’re presenting. Make a point to ask yourself, “What does my backdrop say about me?” before selecting your choice. Also, before shooting, we believe you should study ways to improve your photography and photography composition rules that will help you better direct your shots.

Which are the most popular ways instructors use backgrounds? Let’s see some common solutions that might inspire you:

A real indoor environment – your office or your bedroom

The simplest background is a tidy room. A tidy room allows you to shoot yourself even in front of your office. Seeing people in their natural environment feels genuine and adds a sense of time and place to the scene. A natural backdrop stand feels spontaneous, rather than like an artificial setup. Also, if you have a unique home, office, etc., this is an opportunity to get people interested in what makes you unique!

Look for areas and settings that are dynamic, and have corners, angles, and colors. Don’t shoot head on to a wall, instead use unique perspectives to add depth to your videos. Look for other objects (lights, vases, flowers, etc.) to balance out your shot, but never distract!

Home office setup, Image Source

Just make sure that the background of your scene is tidy and well organized. Keep things clean and simple, focus the attention on you, the person on camera and cover up a messy, unorganized background. Consider what’s in your shot. Take a minute and move any unnecessary or distracting items.

If you have something moving in the background, let’s say a curtain blowing in the wind or people walking by outside your window, you’ll lose the attention of your viewer, which is not desired. Before hitting record, make a quick check to ensure nothing in the background is moving.

Then, if there is something that stands out in the background, it is probably because of what color it is. Βe aware of it. Either have a bunch of complementary colors or have a few muted ones. If you have a single, large object in the background that is distracting, that can be tough for viewers to avoid looking at.

Distance to the background from you is the most significant factor in determining how much is in focus. Having distance between you and the background doesn’t allow any confusion for the viewer as to what they should be looking at.

If the background doesn’t look exciting or isn’t essential to the story, use a fast lens like a 50mm and blur it out. This keeps the focus on you and away from what’s happening behind you.

Choosing a background, Image Source

A fake background

If your home furniture doesn’t allow a nice-looking shot, it is better to create a fake background in a corner of your home. A fake backdrop has a professional and clean look. The best part is you don’t have to clean up your office when shooting! Here are your options:

A fake office background

There are plenty of fake office backgrounds that look professional. You can find ready-made home office photo backdrops on Amazon or other Luxury Office Backdrops. Alternatively, you can choose a green screen background. A green screen will allow you to place yourself in any backdrop you like in the video editing stage. Learn more about green screens here.

A solid color background

A solid color background is perfect when you want to easily add other text and graphics on the screen beside you.

Blanket or sheet
It sounds simple, but hanging a solid-color blanket behind you can look really polished and professional. Make sure that this blanket is not too distracting.

A plain wall
If you have a plain-colored wall anywhere in your house, you could just film in front of that. To get the best quality possible, sit a foot or two in front of your wall, so the camera blurs it out a little bit.

Collapsible, portable webcam background and green screen
Made of neoprene, nylon fabric and available in all colors, this accessory is perfect for teachers who want a professional web presence.

A professional background
For a professional background set-up, you’ll need a bigger room to build a studio. A background paper should cost a little less than $40, and you can find it in several colors. What you have to do is experiment with colors before buying one. Prefer muted tones like gray and dark blue. The frame to hang the paper costs a little over $30. However, if you prefer you can even use a simple curtain rod, other backdrop systems or even do it yourself.

The whiteboard background

A traditional background for online instructors is the whiteboard. A whiteboard allows you to explain the basic concepts of your lectures and sometimes is essential if you want your students to remember essential things. The most significant challenges of shooting in front of a whiteboard are the reflections and glare.

However, if you place your lights carefully, you can avoid those reflections.

Experiment with other backdrop ideas. Read also Exploring Professional & Cost-Effective Backdrops for YouTube Videos.

Shooting Outdoors

As a video creator, the sun is the most powerful and most affordable source of light available to you. Therefore, shooting outside with a real background (in your garden, in a square, etc.) may be an excellent choice for your course production. The downside of outside shooting is that the sunlight is brighter and this makes it harder to control the hardness of its light.
However, with the right equipment and most of all the right observation of the sunlight at different hours of the day, you can have great soft light and no shadows at all on your face. Let’s look at some great solutions you have when shooting outdoors:

Equipment you will need for outside shooting

An ND filter
If you do more shots outside, picking and ND filter will help you to get a well-balanced shot. ND filters darken the video image. Those filters help you maintain the depth of field you want (thus keeping the camera settings) while at the same time lets you darken your image, making the back and foreground adequately exposed.

Some cameras have ND filters built-in, but if you are using a DSLR camera, most of them don’t come with that option. So, you need to pick an extra filter. However, if you want to stay low budget, avoiding this option won’t prohibit you from making nice shots.

When the sun is in front of you, you’ll notice more harsh shadows, and when the sun is behind you, they may appear to be underexposed. In both of these scenarios, reflectors can help to bounce or diffuse light. If you’re starting to shoot outside more, consider picking up a 5 in 1 reflector.

5 in 1 reflector

Why are there different colors in reflectors?

If you are shooting solo we recommend that you buy a reflector stand:

If you want to save money pieces of aluminum paper can work as a silver reflector too! Now, let’s see how to start shooting outside:

Shooting during a sunny day

1The light is coming from the front of you

Shooting in the middle of the day is the most challenging. It will give you the harshest shadows and highlights on your face. If the sun is in front of you, you’ll want to take the cover off the reflector and diffuse the light. Put the reflector between you and the sun to diffuse the light. The light becomes much softer and even than before.

2The light is coming from behind you

If the sun is behind you, you can bounce the light by using the white side of the reflector.
This will make your face look more flattering, and now you’ll be able to achieve a well-balanced, properly exposed shot.

If you need more light, try using the silver or the gold sides of your reflector.

3In the high noon

Shadows are pretty harsh. You should try to diffuse the sunlight by putting the no cover reflector right above your head.

Even placing yourself underneath a shaded tree is a form of diffusing light.. Ideally, the sunlight should be bouncing off a nearby building. Also mind that, shooting in the early morning or late afternoon (at 9 am or 5 pm) are great times to plan a shoot. There are fewer shadows, and you will have an easier time getting a good looking shot.

Shooting on a cloudy day

Clouds are a great source of diffusion that decreases harsh shadows in your shot. Mind that on a cloudy day, you might have moments of extreme brightness or extreme darkness. However, if the sky is just one big cloud rather than smaller ones you are probably going to have perfect lighting.

Shooting on a cloudy day may be a solution to avoid harsh light

Shooting at the Golden Hour

The Golden Hour is the time just after sunrise or just before sunset where the sun’s light is warmer and softer (lasts roughly an hour). This combination leads to more beautiful lighting. The light at that hour is more soft which leads to less harsh shadows.

Overall, it will be easier to expose both sides of a person’s face during the golden hour. However, shooting at that hour inherently has a short timespan for getting the right shot, making it impractical for long video shoots.

Using the Sun as a Backlight

Whether you’re shooting at the golden hour or during the middle of the day, try using the sun as a backlight. By placing yourself in the frame with the sun lighting the back of your head, you typically get a nice-looking image.

Use the sun as hairlight and reflectors to reflect the sun’s light on your face. Image Source

With the sun as a backlight, you will be more separated from the background. This gives you a nice halo around you that also looks great! However, you must still use a reflector, to lit also your face.

These are some of the basics of filming outside. You can study more in-depth outside filming, use multiple reflectors or even your own lighting setups.


Lighting your video shoot can be tricky. Setting up the right lighting helps you better set the mood and tone and draw attention to the priority subject of the video-you.

And, for an online course creator, it is essential to create a big impact.

All you really need to do in an online course video is make the featured speaker look fabulous and make your setting look welcoming with the right backdrop. Use these tips to make your video lectures look warm, natural, and beautifully lit.

Effective lighting for your video is more about taste than owning the right equipment. If you follow some basic lighting principles discussed here, you can get impressive results from even the cheapest of lighting kits.

With the basics down, feel free to experiment with lighting that works for you. Try adjusting the different brightnesses and play around with the shadows and really get creative.

You may want to invest in gear that will give you complete control of how your scene looks. This will give you the ability to shoot no matter under any circumstances.

Still, using natural light is a viable option for you and think closely; Natural light might be the desired look you want for your next course.

Register for free

The Complete Guide to Creating Awesome Interactive Videos

Learn how to design and create interactive videos with LearnWorlds video editor.
(Visited 25,212 times, 1 visits today)
Course Designer & Content Creator at LearnWorlds

Anthea is a Course designer and Content Creator for the LearnWorlds team. She holds years of experience in instructional design and teaching. With a Master of Education (M.Ed.) focused in Modern Teaching Methods & ICT (Information & Communications Technology), she supplements her knowledge with practical experience in E-Learning and Educational Technology.