Great lighting and poor cameras will give you a better quality of picture than great cameras and poor lighting - upgrade you lighting as a priority.
OK, warning, if you are a lighting specialist please look away now or I am sure you will be rolling your eyes by the end of this article – I can hear them moving already……..
So, now we have eliminated our lighting specialists let me talk to you about lighting (I am NOT a specialist in this area by the way).
Why is lighting important? Well, if you have read my previous content, you’ll be aware that when making tech improvements I recommend you prioritise audio as the most important thing to focus on. You can see instant and significant improvements to your live stream quality by improving the quality of your audio. I would recommend you read the article "What do you need from your audio team" for my thoughts on that.
The second area that will see you take the greatest strides forward (after you have achieved great audio) is your lighting.
I see many people on Facebook tech forums talking about the cameras they need to invest in to get better quality images on their broadcasts and whilst camera technology is important (and should be part of any improvement strategy) you will see greater results from getting your lighting right rather than investing in new cameras.
Poor lighting combined with great cameras will still result in poor images, great lighting and lower spec cameras will give you better images.
Also, investing in lighting is cheaper than investing in cameras, a quick and affordable win.
I would recommend this is an area you should aim to enlist the help of a lighting specialist. They can save you considerable money and lots of frustration.
Aim at getting an independent lighting specialist, and not a “gear company”, who can help you achieve your vision rather than focus on selling you equipment. I can’t stress this enough - a good lighting designer can save you a lot of money in equipment purchases and could repay (in savings) the fee they charge. Oh, and by the way, if you are doing this due to live streaming then get a lighting guy who works in the TV/Broadcast space rather than only concerts or events.
Now, I hear you say, “How do I find a good lighting guy I can trust?” Well, you can spend endless hours scrolling through places like LinkedIn, Facebook, industry directories looking for suggestions, or you might talk to other churches and ministries for recommendations (that’s a better idea). Or, we can take the headache out of it and suggest the people we love to work with.
Shameless plug…….. One of the things I want to help you with through our Media Mentoring Programme is giving you access to the best people in all the production disciplines, for instance we’ll be doing Masterclasses with the best lighting guys in the business and allowing you to hear from them and get direct access to them saving you tons of time and overwhelm trying to find reliable people yourselves. Let us relieve you of that pressure.
I was recently talking with a friend of mine who is a BRILLIANT lighting designer and he shared with me about a project he had worked on – let me use the story he told me to illustrate my point.
A church had “employed” a tech company to come in and install a new lighting set up. They hadn’t used a specialist lighting designer and instead had relied on the company. A little while after (and having spent a lot of money) they were not happy with the results. So, they contacted my friend and asked for his help (better late than never). He came in, took down all the fixtures and started again. It took him a couple of days. The church pastor then came in and asked when he would finish. When he said he was finished, the pastor pointed to all the lights lying on the floor and said “What about those?” to which he responded “You don’t need them”. To give you a full picture, out of 200 lighting fixtures the church had purchased and installed, my friend used 32. Let that sink in for a moment. The pastor agreed that the end result (how it looked on camera) was way better than it had been with the 200 lights. Lots of wasted money.
A great lighting designer can work WITH you, understand the vision you have for how you want it to look and achieve your vision within your budget – and save you extra costs. It’s money well invested.
Now, to those who can’t afford to get a lighting guru in to help, what can you do? Well, here is a simple diagram of how to “light” a subject based on classic 3 point lighting:
The Key light – place this as close to the angle of the camera lens as possible, far enough away so you can angle it at around 45 degrees. This will get rid of what I call “panda eyes” – deep shadows around the eyes. You want this to be a softer light OR use diffuser or something similar to make it softer.
The Fill light – can be from either side of the subject BUT is best from the other side of the lens. It eliminates any harsh shadows caused by the key.
The Back light – don’t skip this one, its important but often overlooked. Place this behind the subject. It provides light around their head and shoulders (some people call this a rim light). It will cause them to “stand out” from the back ground. This light will make a big difference to your image quality. You can add colour gels to this light as well but be wary of doing that as the wrong colours can look strange or garish if not thought through.
The one final thing I would add is that you should also make some creative decisions on how you want your “background” to be. You might want to add some extra lighting for colour or for highlighting certain elements of the back ground. Whatever you do though spending some time to design how your background looks and then light it (if needed) will also add to the production quality of your feed.
So, in summary, to make the most significant impact on your image quality, concentrate on lighting over cameras. Then, if you can, get a specialist lighting designer in to help you (it will save you money) but if you can’t then start with getting a basic 3 point lighting set up in place.
Hope this has been helpful. What is the one thing you feel you could do at the moment to improve your lighting?