I make videos showing myself playing guitar. I need advice on purchasing lighting. Budget: $100.

How much light do I need? I read articles about various lighting types, but they rarely give any specific watt or lumen values.

I don't want to sweat in super bright light. I can accept some shadows and I prefer a natural look. I just want my camera to function without much noise, with decent color reproduction. I also don't want to think much about the lights (e.g. adjusting position, turning on and off). I want to "set and forget" and focus on playing music.

I record indoor, in the evenings, with no sunlight. The lights I buy would be the only light source.

I presume the light shouldn't be closer than 5' from myself otherwise it will be strongly nonuniform (e.g. shining brightly on one end of my guitar only, if positioned on the side). Sometimes I also move a bit while playing (say ±1'), and I don't want to worry about moving in and out of the beam of light too much.

I found the following options within my budget:

  1. A small softbox (20–30 inch), perhaps accompanied with another small light. Is it even large enough for my needs? If I position it farther from myself, should I compensate with a stronger light bulb? How strong? Would heating up be a concern in prolonged operation?

  2. A pair of umbrellas. Quite some flexibility in this price range, but again I'm clueless about how strong the light bulbs should be.

  3. A LED panel, perhaps accompanied with another small light. LEDs seem to have excellent CRI, but also seem to be dimmer (20–40W in this price range; yes I know LEDs give more lumen per watt, but it still seems low). Specifications often don't even mention wattage! Is that sufficient for the main light? How badly do I need to diffuse the light, and if I do, do I need to compensate with more power?


There are several things to consider when purchasing and setting up lights.

As for the brightness, the brighter you're lit up, the less noisy your image will be. Brighter light will also allow your camera to reduce it's aperture. The smaller aperture will make the area that is in focus bigger, giving you more room to move around in and still be in focus. There are several factors that go into how bright you will be. When I shoot video for clients, I use 1000W incandescent to light up a room that is anywhere from 5x5ft to 20x20ft. Any bigger than that and I'll probably bring in more lights for the main light source. If you are using LED, 1000 incandescent (tungsten) watts are about equal to 167 LED watts.

As for the setup, if you are moving around in your videos and trying to make sure your space is evenly lit, I suggest pointing the light at the ceiling instead of at you as long as your ceiling is white. This makes the light even and look natural. When doing this, remember that the lit up spot on the ceiling is now your light source. Make sure the light source (lit spot on the ceiling) is in front of you and (in my preference) off to one side. Play around with the positioning to your liking, but look up images of "loop lighting" (off to one side) and "butterfly lighting" (centered) to see the styles of lighting I'm talking about. The most important takeaway from those is the small nose shadow on the face. Those two style are what's used for most photography and video of people outside of mood lighting. I always diffuse the light with the ceiling, a soft-box or an umbrella when shooting, unless there is good reason to use hard/direct lighting.

If you do not want to use the ceiling method, both softboxes and umbrellas work well. The one place I see people make mistakes with the softboxes is placing the box too close the subject which ends up making the light vary too much when you move around and makes the background a bit dark compared to the subject. Being too close with the light also makes the lite seem like a light you set up for the video and not natural lighting.

Now for incandescent vs LED. Personally I never use LEDs for video. There are several reasons for this. First off, LEDs are blinking lights. If you don't believe me, put one on a rope and swing it in a circle and you'll see a dotted path. What this will end up doing is making your strumming hand (and any other decent movement) look like it's a multiple exposure, where you have several sharp images of your hand instead of a smooth motion blur. Some newer LEDs have a refresh rate fast enough to make this a non-issue but they usually cost a pretty penny. The other big issue with LEDs is the color they put out. Incandescent bulbs put out a very wide gamut of color, meaning every visible color is being put out from the bulb. LEDs only put out a single narrow color, or in the case of some LED arrays, a group of narrow colors. The lack of a full gamut, means that some colors will look muted while others are very vibrant. Skin tone can end up looking dead-like. This makes color correction extremely difficult and something many musicians do not want to deal with. Of coarse the down side to incandescent is the heat it puts off. How much of a problem the heat will be depends on your space. A small room will heat up quickly. If you're in a living-room, you probably have enough space for most of the heat to dissipate and for the air conditioning to take care of the rest. If sweating becomes a mild issue, get some colorless power from a theater makeup store to apply before videos.

  • LED panels are a lot better than that, these days. They're replacing the old Kino Flo 4-banks (to be phased out June 2020) on even the highest-budget productions & if they're good enough for David Yates &c they're good enough for me. They're temperature, brightness (& now full-colour) variable & have no discernible flicker, movie or stills. I've a couple of cheaper units, about $£€ 150 each, also totally flicker-free. This article has plenty of info from beginner up, with recommendations - studiobinder.com/blog/best-led-video-light (no affiliation) – Tetsujin Jan 27 at 11:02

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