Creative DIY Studio Lighting Setups to Improve Your Videos

Setting up a D.I.Y video studio is a fun experience, and with so many options out there, it can be overwhelming to pick the correct Studio lighting to improve your videos. Doing it on a budget can be even more challenging.

Here are Tips to Consider with your D.I.Y. Studio Lighting Setups to Improve your Videos.

  1.  Types of lighting that you use make a huge difference
  2. Using household items to bounce light
  3. Creating your own props and light stands
  4. Selecting the correct bulb
  5. Having the correct camera equipment
  6. Never filming alone

These are just a few things that you can do on a low budget to help set up a good D.I.Y studio for filming. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of your film project and having more resources available to get the correct tone, color balance, and the shot is going to help improve your lighting setups and improve your videos.

Studio lighting comes down to resources and creativity. You don’t have to spend a lot to improve your lighting in your videos.   Improving studio lighting comes down to understanding the basics behind lighting and how it works.

Types of Lighting

Understanding the different types of light, and setups can make that next shot look spectacular, and you can even do it using things around your house, like aluminum foil, or tee shirts, and towels. It can be an enjoyable experience setting up your D.I.Y studio lighting.

These different types of lighting systems can help improve your videos, depending on what scene you’re shooting.

LightingSoft lightHard lightMotivating lightPractical light
SituationSpeakingIntense focus on the subjectFocused more on the light itself as the subject.Focused on a single setting, where the setting is the focus.
3 pointSpeaking to camera blurred background used as the fill light.No filter on fill light, or key lightUsed in conjunction with other methodsSmall scale, maybe dimmed reflections. The key light is the natural fixture in the room.
NaturalReflective shaderDirect sunlight, high noon.Enhance natural light with equipmentEnhance indoor natural light with equipment.

3 Point Lighting

The setup that most filmmakers use is called 3 point lighting, which refers to the positions in which the key, fill, and backdrop lighting is positioned. In this setup, the key light and fill light are on opposite sides, with the camera in between them. Then the backlight sits opposite of the key light, to light up the back of the person.

  • Key lighting is the main light that comes into your frame and onto your subject. This light is going to provide the most light onto your subject, usually from a 90 or 45-degree angle, depending on your shot.
  • Fill lighting is used to soften the shadows on the subject on the other side of the key light. This is usually a little softer than the key light. This can be used to lower the shadow effect or raise the shadow effects on your subject.
  • The backlight, or hair light, is used to separate the subject from the background; this provides an illuminating light around the subject when filming. This light is placed behind or above the film subject and is usually a hard light.
    The backdrop light is optional but used to place a light between the subject and the backdrop, this lights up the backdrop and provides an ambiance easy to blend and edit.

This creates a dynamic look into the subject that you are filming. The key light provides the bulk of the light, so setting up the key light first is crucial. You want to make sure that the lighting is right where you want it.

Three-point light setup.

Setting up the Fill light next will allow you to adjust the shadow on your subject to get the perfect shot that you are looking for. Leaving the Key light alone, adjust the fill light to your liking, and then move on to the background light.

The background light, or hair light, can either be overhead or shine directly onto the subject from behind. This light won’t create any shadows, so it is the easiest to set up.

Soft Lighting

It is lighting that has a soft cover over it to spread the light in a more even tone across the subject. This type of lighting is not directly shining onto your subject but is almost glowing around your subject. It can be used as a fill light without creating additional shadows. There are several ways to achieve soft lighting, even on a budget.

Bouncing the key light off of a backboard, or aluminum foil paper taped to a stand can soften the natural lighting coming in from your key light. This way almost makes a great balance between the shadow and the light coming from the key light.

Cutting up a medium-thick white shower curtain and then covering the lights with it using clothes hanger pins. This method allows you to still have control over where the light is pointing, without sacrificing position, as you would with the aluminum foil method.

Purchasing a soft light cover is another method that is similar to the shower curtain method, and the covers come in all sorts of different light ratings.

Softer Lighting
Hard Lighting (more contrast)

Hard Lighting

Hard Lighting is the opposite of soft lighting as it is not filtered or diffused. Hard lighting creates distinctive shadows on its subjects and is best used for extremely dramatic scenes. Using the hard lighting technique in an interview type of films and documentaries makes the focus more on the subject than the background.

Hard lighting doesn’t have to be anything special. It can be something as simple as standing in the sun at high noon, or a bright lamp to the center, or angled onto a subject with no fill light. This is the perfect scene shots for super focused shots where you don’t want a lot of attention to other places.

Some good places to use Hard light are:

  • Interviews
  • Documentaries
  • Serious zoom in/out scenes
  • Self filming
  • Youtube explanation videos
  • How to series
  • Product showcase video

Natural Lighting

Natural lighting is exactly how it sounds, using the natural lighting in the area that you wish to shoot the film in. Using the light from the sun and other surroundings can give your video a more natural feel to it, but shorten your time frame to get that perfect shot.

The sun can move pretty fast when you are trying to use it for shots. You don’t want the sun to shift to the point that makes your lighting off. Positioning, light balancing equipment, and scene selection should all be thoroughly planned out.

Visiting the scene prior to shooting is a helpful tip using natural lighting. Take your camera, and see the different effects the natural light has on the camera. You may want to include some artificial light in the scene as a complement to the natural lighting.

Filming outside is the most common form of natural lighting that you can utilize; however, you can also use natural lighting inside as well. Opening a window and using the 3 point lighting system with the sun acting as the key light,  and wall light for Fill light can make for a pretty exciting videocast at low cost.

Motivated Lighting

This is used a lot in scary or horror-based films where the shadow is the subject, or in scenes where the light is a big part of the scene.  This type of lighting generally uses some type of natural camping light or a tunnel light.

Motivated is the keyword; in this case, this utilizes the natural types of lighting that may occur in that specific scene. Such as two western cowboys talking with a gas lantern on a porch at midnight. The motivated lighting may require some additional equipment to enhance the light that is already on the scene.

Some good tricks are putting flash inserts into lanterns, or really bright studio light with a dimming switch inside of an object, like a plastic fish or other prop. The main objective of motivating light is to enhance what is already there.

Hulling out an old lantern and placing a dimmable mini spotlight in the middle of it, can do wonders for a scene. This type of motivated lighting system will help improve some of the more tricky shots.

Practical Lighting

Practical lighting uses the natural lighting within a setting from a distance to capture that perfect shot with just the right amount of darkness, like a good bar scene or a group of friends at a table talking.

The existing lights above the pianist make for a great light source.

With Practical lighting, you want to use point lighting, and with no diffuser. This allows for a more natural look to the ambiance in the scene. Point lighting amplifies the area in which the subjects are sitting and gives the illusion of a regular light bulb.

Using the lampshade to dim, you want to place your point lights inside the shade to get the correct ambiance you are seeking.  You are still using the shade. You are just putting extra lights in the shade instead of using the natural light; this method is similar to motivated lighting but is used on a smaller scale.

Lighting & Studio Equipment

The equipment that you pick is going to be crucial to your lighting set up. There are two ways to do things when it comes to lighting. Cheap, and cannot skimp out on paying for this. Your lighting equipment is more important that your audio equipment when it comes to filming.

Some lighting setups can be set up for less than $100 dollars, and you can still get some good shots. You can also use a combination of purchased goods and some household items to lower your cost.

You want to keep in mind what your objective is for your videos. If you are going to have the same types of videos, then one complete lighting system on Amazon may do the trick, you can usually pick one up for as little as $70.

For the best light kits on Amazon, check out this post I wrote earlier: Amazon’s Top Lighting Kits for Vlogging & Video Production. It’s packed with different kits for every price point and consideration. You can also take a look at my lighting recommendations page that I keep up to date with what I love to use.

If you need something a little more advanced, I would suggest investing in your business for good lighting set up. If you are just starting out, then the one on Amazon would do just fine.

Studio Backdrops

Chroma key works by allowing you to edit out anything else within that same spectrum of color and replacing it with something else. Green and Blue are the most common colors used; however, you could use any color you like as long as it fits within the chroma key scale that you are trying to merge. Green and Blue are the most common because the human skin tone doesn’t contain those colors.

Using a white backdrop can be useful if you want to add something in the background that is nonabrasive. You can also use a white background to keep the focus on a single object such as yourself, it is a little unpleasant when watching a video, but if it is a short excerpt, then a white background is perfect.

Using a black background is an option that requires some extra space. Otherwise, the background itself may just be visible and give you unwanted effects. Try placing the backdrop camera directly behind the subject.

This is a shot of my in my own personal DIY video studio with a black background. See how I made it.

Using a natural background can be lucrative by blurring out the background softly, or by using the natural space to provide a less distracting area. You don’t want to take the focus off of your subject, and you want to make sure that the background is not distracting.

If you want a list of ideas of backdrops, look no farther than this blog post: 50 Ideas for Your DIY YouTube Video Backdrop. I worked hard on that post to create the ultimate guide to all things related to backdrops.

Light Stands

Where you can probably find something to use for a screen, the light stands to need to be the correct height. Using something that is slightly higher than eye level to bring the light from your key light in a downward slope is the most practical. A taller ladder with a good clip light can work, as long as the light can be angled correctly.

If you don’t have a tell ladder available, you can finally use all of those textbooks and a chair. Stack the textbooks up to the proper height on top of a flat bottomed, level chair. This method is less flexible and harder to move around, but it does work.

You could hang the light from the ceiling also if you have a stationary filming spot. Just attach some cord, or rope to the light, not too far away from a power source, and let it hang at the distance that you want the light to be at. The hanging method works best with no wind or movement and with an overhead light.

You could always pick up some light stands on Amazon for about $29 that are adjustable and movable. It really is worth the investment.

Camera Equipment

You cannot get around having a tripod. The tripod is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment in your studio. The tripod allows you to move the camera angle in response to the lighting to get the correct shot. The camera should be set up first, but then also adjusted to get the correct shot.

Having a good camera with some common features is key, you should be able to adjust the shutter speed, and exposure of the camera. You would also want to have the capability to adjust the Iso levels, and ideally, have different lenses available to you for different shots.

Having a good adjustable lens that zooms in can allow you to adjust some of the focal points on your shots. Adjusting the background to be blurry can be achieved through this method.

You want to get a camera that has at least these things as a bare minimum.

  • Adjustable zoom
  • Adjustable shutter speed
  • Adjustable ISO
  • Adjustable exposure
  • Adjustable white balance

I keep a static page up to date with my favorite camera recommendations if you want to dive deeper into selecting a camera.

Picking the Right Light Fixtures

Depending on what you are trying to shoot, there are a lot of different options. Going to your local hardware store, you can pick up almost everything you need. Getting a few clamp lamps, and some heavy-duty clamps are great for your key and Fill lights.

Picking up a light that can be easily pointed in one direction, or focused on an object is great for a backlight. There are items like a small adjustable floor lamp or desk lamp. Sometimes you can make a focused lightbox out of plastic bins, and black construction paper.

C-stands are good to have but can be substituted with anything that can hold up a screen, such as a broomstick and a step stool.  Having a good C-Stand will help with bounce lighting, which can be a great resource.

Desk lamps can be used for overhead, or ground lighting, placing one out of shot onto a higher flat surface, can easily make up for the expensive overhead hanging lights that you see. This is a great backlight and even better backdrop light.

Using Household Items Lighting

Using some household items to reflect light is useful and less expensive than lighting equipment. Using dark colored shirts, or towels can dampen the light coming from the fixture, as well as provide a good undertone of color to the shot.

Maybe you’re going for a good natural street lamp feel, using a yellow towel to bounce the light off of will create a fill light that can easily be achieved. A white sheet is almost a must-have, and most people have at least one lying around.

A white sheet can be used to diffuse light, or as a backdrop, or even to bounce the light off of an object. You can use several articles of clothing to achieve the result that you want. Adjusting the light that is creating the bounce, is an easy way to create the tones that you’re looking for in your shot.

Using things that help amplify the light, such as aluminum foil, can act as a bounce to fill in shadows on the other side of the key light. You can place these aluminum foil sheets anywhere you want the light to bounce in a specific direction. This method has saved me a tone of money over the years.

If you want some clear examples of how to use household items for lighting, take a look at a post I wrote not long ago called Using (& Hacking) IKEA for Your DIY Video Studio.

Creating Your Own Lighting Solutions

You would be amazed at what you can create with a little wood and PVC pipe. I have been to some studios where they just screwed a bunch of PVC pipe together to make stands and light pointers. I have seen people put together their own props and using some wood and paper, create some amazing light fixtures.

 If you need light from underneath, just grab a good small deck, like a pallet, you can place a lamp underneath the pallet to create an almost lined effect with hard light. This sure beats paying for a really expensive spotlight. You can soften the light with a white sheet over the top of the pallet.

If your building a prop already, consider placing something for the lighting within the prop itself. This can be a low-cost way to introduce some motivated lighting. Create a box with one side being the image the light is going through, and the other side being the wooden box that no one sees. Place the lamps in there, on a switch.

Practical lighting may be a little more tricky, but it can still be done. I have seen floor lamps with a translucent paper over the shade, and two studio lights inside pointing up and two more pointing down. This can easily be achieved with an old lamp and some wired clothes hangers. You can get the mini spotlights on Amazon for around $35.00.

Picking the Correct Bulbs For Lighting

Surprisingly, different kelvin ratings have different shades that they mimic, which means that not all lights are created equal.  Lights are rated by Kelvins or K’s, and you want to get some LED lights, not florescent, or filament. You can use these types of lights, but for specific purposes only.

You also want to make sure that you use the same rating bulb in all of the lamps for that specific shot. If you have one 5000K bulb and one 6000K bulb, there is going to be a difference in the spread of the light and tone, which can throw off your color balance in your shot.

Candle1000K
Incandescent light bulb2000K
Household light bulb3000K
Camera Flash4000K
Natural Daylight5000K
Overcast daylight (florescent bulbs)7500K
Daylight (blue sky)10,000K

You want to find the correct color temperature for your video, the cooler color temperature you want, the brighter lights, and the warmer settings you are going to want to use the lower Kelvin lights. Color temperature from your light will mix with your colors in your video.

If you are wearing some light blue shirts, and lighter colors, consider 6000K, if you are in more of an orange mood that day, drop it down to 3000K-4000K. This will give you a more natural look in your film.

Other Practical Lighting Tips

Lighting is a comprehensive subject that you can spend a lifetime perfecting. Hopefully, this primer starts you off in the right direction, but here are a few bonus tips to take note of before you get started.

How to Deal with Glare

Glare occurs when light is reflecting off of a solid surface, glare can be your friend if you can direct the reflection where you want it to go, or “Bounce” it off of an object. However, when glare is staring right back at you from your glasses or that shiny clock behind you, it can be a problem.

If it is a stationary object, move it or move, those are your two options. If it is a non-stationary object, such as glasses, then adjusting the height of the camera, lighting fixtures, or bounce sheets can make or break that pesky glare.

Cover the item with a Chromo-key colored material and edit it out later in post-production.  Or turn it into another object, maybe that old glass tv becomes a wooden crate with some cardboard and markers.

You Never Want to Film Alone

Doing things with other people is always more fun, and filming is no exception. However, it is not just for aesthetics that you want to film with others. There is a practical side to not filming alone. Having another’s input to spot shadow errors can be crucial; it can be difficult to determine where a shadow would be.

Using your friend/film buddy as a model to adjust the lighting on their face first, and then helping them adjust it for you. This can help with the awkward and tedious task of setting up the lighting, shooting 5 secs, and then playing it back to see if you like it.

Also being around people creates more energy, you don’t have to shoot an entire piece only to find that you look bored in your film, or that you were actually looking in the background instead of looking into the camera.  Simply having a filming partner can save hours of editing time.

You want to explore different options and be creative with your lighting. You can get everything you need at a hardware store, or piece it together from Amazon.

Dan Sanchez, MBA

Dan Sanchez is a marketing director, co-host of the B2B Growth show, and blogger. He holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and BS in Marketing Management from Western Governors University. Learn more about Dan »

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