Vlog Lighting: Setups, Tips, Kits, & Cheap DIY Solutions

No matter what you’re into, video blogging (vlogging) about it can be a great way to get more involved with other people who are into the same thing. Anyone with a camera phone or a laptop has everything they need to shoot video for a vlog, but you’ll quickly realize that a little bit of lighting will make a huge difference in how your vlog looks.

Vlog lighting doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. There are some basic setups, helpful tips, ready-to-use kits, and budget-friendly DIY solutions that will help you shoot video that will make your vlog stand-out in a crowd.

Having great content is definitely important if you want your vlog to be the spot that your followers check first when they have a question. But how you present that content will definitely help you attract and keep followers. Lighting can be the biggest difference-maker when it comes to getting a look that works. Read on to learn more about:

  • Setups for Typical Lighting Situations
  • Tips the Pros Use to Get Great Results
  • Kits with Everything You Need to Get Started
  • DIY Solutions to Get Started on a Budget

How to Set-Up Lighting for Typical Vlog Situations

It’s hard to draw a line around what is or isn’t “typical” out of all the situations that are possible in vlogging. Your “set” and lighting needs will be very different if you’re vlogging about job tips for welders who work in the field than if you’re blogging beauty tips from your bedroom.

There are some general scenarios that we can talk about that will give you the basics—tweak until you get it right for your particular needs. We’ll cover lighting set-ups for:

  1. Natural Lighting
  2. Artificial Lighting
  3. Multicamera Shooting

Natural Lighting

Natural light is a free source of lighting and can be everything you need to get better video, whether you’re shooting indoors or outside. It can also present some real challenges as it can be unpredictable and change without warning.

Outdoor Shooting: The biggest challenge when it comes to shooting outside is the sheer number of factors that are beyond your control. But if your vlog is about a topic that takes place in the outdoors, the best way to get the video your followers will love is to go to where the action is.

With some practice and experience, you’ll quickly get to the point where you’re able to take advantage when conditions are in your favor and make the best of it when they aren’t.

Even when you accept that time of year, time of day and weather are beyond your control. You’ll still find it hard to balance what will make the video look great with how to get video of what you’re shooting.

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Other Shot Variables

Think strategically about how to shoot what you can in the best lighting conditions possible. When you can’t bring the shot to the ideal conditions, use the pro tips, portable lighting kits, and DIY solutions we discuss below to get better at getting the best you can out of what you have to work with.

If you’re shooting indoors, natural lighting can be a free resource for getting a better look than you would if you just turn the camera on and go for it. The key is to set up your shot so that the windows in the room and the camera are working together.

Natural light is great for getting soft lighting and good skin tones. Be sure to put the camera against the window, pointed inward. Adjust the angle of the camera and consider some backlighting if you have any problems with shadows.

If this is your primary set-up for vlogging, you’ll need to take advantage of the days when the lighting is good. After a while, you’ll get a process down that has you getting consistent, high-quality results.

Even if you use natural lighting – but especially if good natural light isn’t an option for you – having some artificial lighting available will give you more options and get you even better results. Let’s look at some basic set-ups using artificial light.

Artificial Lighting

Investing just a little bit of money in artificial lighting can pay-off big time when it comes to getting better shots when conditions are challenging, freeing yourself from a schedule set by the weather and lighting conditions nature provides and fine-tuning your set-up to do exactly what you need it to do.

To give you some options that will fit most situations and most budgets regardless of your experience with lighting, we’ll discuss:

  1. Single Light Set-ups
  2. Two-Light Set-ups
  3. Three-Light Set-ups

Single Light Set-ups

A single light set-up can be a simple and cost-effective way to stick with your basic window-lit set-up but take control of your shooting schedule regardless of what mother nature has to say about it. With a basic set-up and some of the pro tips that we’ll discuss below, you’ll quickly get to the point where you can mimic, or even improve on, natural light.

One great option for vlogging with a single light set-up is a ring light. They’re inexpensive to purchase – and as we’ll discuss below, they’re easy enough to make yourself. A ring light’s greatest strength in some situations is also the biggest drawback in others. A ring light mounts around your camera. So, when you’re working with a single light it limits your lighting options.

You can see from the rings in his Darious Britt’s that he’s using single ring light.

Ring lights are just one option. You can also get great results with a single softbox, umbrella stand, or LED panel. These lighting options will give you more flexibility to work with different lighting angles in three dimensions as they can be positioned independently from the camera.

Two-Light Set-ups

Using two lights will give you a lot more control over the look of your videos than working with natural light or a single light source alone. The biggest reason for that is that you can use backlighting to adjust the depth of field and make the subject of the shot really pop.

If your primary light source is a window or a ring light, then you’ll have to work with what they allow. This means balancing their strengths and weaknesses against the background that you want to have in the shot and the spot that you want the subject of your shot to occupy in relation to them. Backlighting can help you fix any issues that are giving you headaches.

This is me utilizing two DIY light sources I made from cheap stuff from Walmart (minus the IKEA pendant lights hanging in the back).

If you’re using a more versatile option as your primary light source, then adding a second light for backlighting gives you tremendous flexibility when it comes to finding the right lighting for your setting. By adjusting the distance from the subject, height, and angle in relation to the camera’s gaze, you’ll be able to get some serious, professional-looking video.

Three-Light Set-ups

 If you want to have all of the options that you’ll ever need and start to experiment with the exact set up that the pros would use for portrait photography or single-camera interviews on video, then you’ll want to go with a three-light set-up.

The first light in your set-up will be the brightest of the three. It’s commonly referred to as the key light. This is the primary source of illumination for the shot, but it will also be the source of all of your issues with shadows.

Three-point light setup.

You’ll want to reduce – but not eliminate – the shadows caused by your key light. To do this, you’ll want to put a filler light on the opposite side of the camera. Set it high and diffuse the light so that it improves the overall front-lighting effect without creating more problems than you have to solve.

Finally, use a Backlight or Hair Light placed above and behind the subject. This will create separation between the subject and the background in your shot. The combined effect of a three-light system will give you endless options for adjustment until you find what’s just right for your vlog.

Multicamera Shooting

As we said earlier, all it takes to get started shooting video for a vlog is a camera phone or a laptop. Chances are good that you have at least one of each. You might even have a still camera that records video or a camcorder. Why not take advantage of all the tools at your disposal?

As the editing software for blending multiple camera angles becomes more affordable and user-friendly, multiple-camera shooting for vlogs is only going to become more prevalent. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, experimenting with this option is a great way to move to the front of the pack.

Lighting for a multicamera shoot can be a bit tricky. All of the lighting techniques we discussed above assume that you’re trying to dial in the perfect lighting for a single camera angle. As you add more cameras to the mix, you’ll find that what’s right for one will be all wrong for the others. You’ll also quickly realize how often lighting equipment gets in the shot from multiple angles.

Fortunately, there is a pretty easy rule of thumb for lighting when multiple cameras are going to be used: Go wide, go high, and go bright. If a professional rigging system or ceiling lighting aren’t options, you can still get good results using a tall camera stand. Set them as wide and high as possible to stay out of the shot. Go bright and add lights as needed.

Pro Tips to Fine Tune and Troubleshoot Your Vlog Lighting

The lighting set-ups we discussed above should give you enough options to choose from to help you find the right solution for your shooting requirements and budget. Just thinking about lighting when you shoot will make a difference. Getting some lights and experimenting with the set-ups we outlined for you will definitely move things along from there.

But if it were as easy as purchasing or making some lights, then everybody would do it, and everybody’s vlog would look awesome. Having the equipment and a basic understanding of how to set it up is a great way to get the ball rolling. With a few tips and tricks from experts in film lighting, you’ll be able to dial your set-up in and get a great video every time.

Here are some pointers from the folks who get paid to make videos look great:

Tip 1: Use What You Have, Make What You Can, Buy What You Need

I asked some of my friends who shoot videos and photos for a living if they had any good advice for someone just starting to think about how to use lighting to improve their vlog videos. To a person, they each gave me some version of this number one rule.

Before you spend money on things you don’t know how to use, figure out what you can do with what you already have. If you need something, see if you can make it yourself before you buy it. You might find that the unique features of your DIY set-up are what give your vlog the look and feel that your viewers love.

Work lights like the one in the photo to the left can be a great place to start. Or, you can use what videographers call “practical light” which is the existing light sources in a scene. These are illustrated in the photos on the right where there are existing light sources that can be used in the room.

Tip 2: Give Yourself Options

This tip has less to do with the lights in your lighting system and more to do with what you can make those lights do. Stands, diffusers, reflectors, and other accessories will allow you to tweak and adjust the lighting of a scene.

Making sure that your toolkit has enough options to let you do what you need to do will make sure that you get the results you want instead of settling for the best your equipment can deliver.

I have some great recommendations for lights on this page as well as a cheap DIY solution you can make from a few basic items found in Walmart.

Tip 3: Don’t Mix Hot and Cold

The warmth or coolness of a light source is measured in Kelvins. Sometimes you’ll want a warmer light, and sometimes a cooler light will give you the look you’re going for. But no matter what, you should never mix the bulbs in your light sources.

Keep it consistent or things will get weird fast. If you’re going to give yourself options, it’s best to switch between separate lights. Mixing light sources within a lighting fixture will only cause problems.

Tip 4: Aim for the Sky

As a general rule, getting your light source higher is going to give you a better result. It will keep shadows short and low and take that headache out of your lighting equation. That’s one reason having good options for light stands is so important.

That doesn’t mean that you should always push your lights all the way to the ceiling. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a light a few inches above the subject so that you can angle it downward and cast the shadows into space that won’t be caught on camera.

Tip 5: What’s in the Background

We can’t go into all of the finer points that you can consider in relation to mise-en-scene, but obviously you should do what you can to make what’s behind you in a shot work for you instead of against you if you want your vlog to look cool.

By adjusting your lighting technique, you can make the background of your shot sharper or softer, depending on what you want. This can make a big difference in the overall appearance of your videos.

For more on backgrounds and backdrops, see a poster I wrote earlier called 50 Ideas for Your YouTube Video Backdrop.

Tip 6: Depth of Field

This tip is similar to the one on background, but it has more to do with how you stand out against the background. After all, you’re the star of the show. You should look at least as good as anything else in the shot—why not light the shot so that you’re the best-looking thing in it?

Lighting Kits You Should Consider

If you’ve gone as far as you can go with the equipment that you currently have and you still feel like you want or need better video for your vlog, you’ve definitely got a lot of options to consider when you’re shopping. There are some basics features that you should look for whenever you’re shopping lighting:

  • Adjustable Beam Spread: This will give you greater control over the intensity and direction of propagation.
  • Stand Height: Sturdy, adjustable stands are a must when it comes to setting up your lighting.
  • Portability: This feature should suite your needs. Those needs will differ if you’re setting up a permanent in-home studio rather than taking your show on the road.

These are just some of the basic options that you’ll want to consider when you compare the different products that address your needs and fall within your budget. As you can imagine, comparing these and other variables across multiple items can quickly become overwhelming.

Why not consider purchasing a lighting kit? You’ll know that all of the components will work together, and you’ll be able to choose a single solution that gives you all of the options you need at a price that fits your budget.

Here are 5 lighting equipment kits that get rave reviews from users:

  1. Stellar Photo/Video 18” CFL Ring Light – A great solution for most vloggers, this system will give you a dependable light source that works for most shoots. It’s a top choice for professional videographers. It offers adjustable brightness and an adjustable stand. It uses fluorescent lighting, so you won’t have to worry about overheating.
  2. StudioFX 2400 Watt Large Photography Softbox – A three-piece system that includes two softboxes and an overhead hair light softbox on a boom. This kit has everything you need for complete, continuous lighting and a perfect set-up every time.
  3. Fancierstudio 2400 Watt Professional Lighting Kit – A professional lighting kit that gives you what you need to set-up with confidence in a variety of settings and situations. It is a great package for makeup tutorials, product reviews, interviews, and podcasts. It can even handle lighting multiple subjects in a single frame.
  4. LimoStudio LED Lighting Kit AGG1089 – This kit offers LED panels as the lighting sources. It will give you a soft, diffused light but still packs enough power to handle a range of applications. While LED is great for kicker or backlighting, you might need to supplement this kit with something harder for your key light.
  5. LimoStudio Dimmable Fluorescent Round Ring Light – A 13” ring that is great for close-up shots. This ring is mountable on any light stand but does not come with one. Having the ability to mount your phone or your camera in the center of the ring gives you great options. The gooseneck on this ring makes adjustments during shooting a snap.

For recommendations on budget light kits from Amazon check out my post: Amazon’s Top Lighting Kits For Vlogging & Video Production.

DIY Solutions to Get Started (or Keep Going) on a Budget

Whether you’re just starting out as a vlogger or you’ve been at it for a while, you’ve probably wondered whether spending your hard-earned money on lighting products is the best way to invest in your vlog.

If you’re willing to put in a little bit of time and effort, there are a number of projects that can get you professional-grade equipment at a fraction of the cost. Thanks to folks who vlog about lighting, you can usually find a how-to video to walk you through any project that you’re ready to take on. Here are some of the most useful items—covered in some of the most helpful tutorials.

DIY Lightbar

The helpful folks at Film Riot have put together an easy to follow step-by-step for making a durable and versatile lightbar. They give you a shopping list and detailed instructions. All you have to do is follow along to get a light bar that will work with almost any screw-in type bulbs that you want to use to light your project.

DIY Powerful Video Light

Indy Mogul teaches you how to turn some cake pans, a dish tub, and basic electrical supplies into what is sure to be the key light in your new setup—and all for under $90! There’s a little bit more work involved in this project, but when you’re done, you’ll have an 800-watt video light for a fraction of what it would cost to buy one new.

DIY Light Bank

If you’ve ever thought about using a green screen to improve the background of your vlog or give you options or special circumstances, then you probably already know how important even, diffused light is to getting good results. If you didn’t before, now you know.

The Basic Filmmaker shows you how to build your own green screen bank lights in about five minutes so you won’t have to pay thousands of dollars for them.

DIY Ring Light

If you’ve checked out what a ring light can do for the look and feel of your vlog and now you just have to have one of your own, you’re in luck!

Tom Antos gives you easy to follow instructions that will save you a big chunk of the $200 or more that you will spend if you buy a ring light.

DIY Lighting Kit

When it comes to setting up a comprehensive toolkit for lighting videos in a variety of settings and situations, the costs start to add up pretty quickly. But there are great ways to make your own stands and other essential items that will save you a lot of dough.

Luke Leonard from Full Sail University has some great tips for getting started.

Add to Luke’s basic kit with these tips from Film RIot.

DIY Light Diffusers

When you’ve got all of the lighting options, stands, and other key items that you need, you’ll probably find that you still want more options for fine-tuning how those lights make your vlog look. Diffusers are a great item to have in your toolkit for making adjustments to your lighting set-up.

Tony Rusland shows you how to build your own diffusion panels instead of buying them.

https://vimeo.com/103534460

DIY Light Gels

One final thing you can do for yourself is to make your own light gels. This can be as simple as the spray paint trick that Film Riot showed us in the Light Kit video above. Or, you can put a little more effort into your gels to go farther on fewer bulbs.

Nate’s Film Tutorials has put together a great video that will show you how to make light gels from items you can find at your local craft store.

Conclusion

Well, there you have it! The what, why, and where of video lighting that every vlogger needs to know. All you have to do is supply the who (You!) and the when (Now!).

Take our advice, think of lighting your vlog as learning to perform magic tricks. It’s best to start small and work on simple tricks until you can make your audiences sit up and take notice. But there is so much to learn and so many things that you can do that you should never stop learning.

Over time, the challenges that have you scratching your head right now will become easy to solve issues. You’ll get to the point where you can light any setting for any scene in any situation and get exactly the look you’re going for.

Maybe someday soon, the tips and tricks you pick up along the way will be the video tutorials that make up the list of an advanced tutorial for the folks who are where you used to be on the journey to becoming a self-taught lighting pro.

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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