Live Streaming: Cost-Free Creative Lighting Solutions

Lighting is vital to producing a high quality image that viewers will enjoy watching.  It is also extremely useful for creating a mood/atmosphere for your live streaming events.  And while professional lighting can be very expensive, there are plenty of creative solutions making use of what you already have at home. 

1. Natural Light
Cameras are built to give the best results in natural light because this is when most people tend to use them, so live streaming from the room in your home that gets the most natural light is usually a good idea. Ideally it is best if your phone/webcam is positioned with the window behind it (or at least to one side).

Morning light is considered the “cleanest” light, as it will result in the most faithful reproduction of colours. When using natural light, bear in mind that light levels change more quickly in the mornings and evenings. This is particularly true of evenings, even more so in the winter months (for “evenings”, read “late afternoons”).

2. Artificial Light
The great advantage of artificial light is it allows for streaming at any time of the day or night.  It also gives you total control of the tone/color of lighting and contrasting light levels around your “set”; this, in turn, gives you a greater ability to shape the mood and atmosphere of your live streaming event.

As is the case with “window light”, your phone/webcam should be positioned with your main light source behind it (or at the very least to one side).  You should also be careful not to have smaller light sources pointed directly at the camera, unless it is for intentional effect.

3. Low Light Level
While modern phone/webcams are now capable of delivering high quality images in relatively low level light conditions, they do so at the expense of generating “noise” in the image (a shifting fuzziness).  Color reproduction also tends to suffer and can often look “blown out” (unnatural and dislocated from context).

Where possible increasing the light level is always the best solution; where not, there are a couple of simple steps that can be taken to help.  

  • Reduce Saturation / Color Level
    Reducing the amount of color in the image will help reduce the “blown out” effect. It will also make it simpler for our brains to understand the image, thus viewers will be less put off by the reduced fidelity (due to low light).
  • Narrow Lighting
    Narrow lighting is most iconically associated with “Film Noir”. By lightning specific areas of the frame and leaving others in complete dark/shadow, you can not only reduce the fidelity problems of low light levels, you can also create a highly dramatic and visually exciting effect*.

    *Of course whether this effect suits your style of music is another question.

4. Little Lights
Smaller lights such as lamps, spotlights, and decorative lights (i.e. fairy lights, etc) can be used to create depth and interest within the frame.  This can help add mood, tone, and atmosphere to your live streaming events.

  • Candles
    Candles make for impractical, if not dangerous, choices of lighting.  If featured in the frame of the image, they tend to create odd flares and halo effects.  They also produce highly inconsistent light levels.  And yes, they are also a potential source of housefires.  Bear in mind, when live streaming your mind will be on your performance and your audience, not on the candles.
  • Practicals
    “Practicals” are sometimes used to help raise the level of light produced by smaller lights.  A practical is the term we use for placing a higher wattage bulb in a lamp or spotlight than specified.  I’d strongly advise against this practice as it is very easy to forget to change bulbs back after a live streaming event (or be tempted to leave them for the next event).

    And although relatively risk-free when properly employed and supervised by qualified professionals for short periods of time, left unattended, practicals can quickly overheat and potentially cause a house fire.   

5. Reflectors
Reflectors are often used to soften or fill out shadows and harsh contrasts created by light sources (particularly those that are not diffused).  Professional reflectors are quite expensive, luckily a white towel, sheet, or similar will act as a reflector.  

For example, placing a white towel on the floor or table in front of you will often help to soften harsh shadows below your chin/nose.

6. Diffusion
Diffusers are used to soften a light source, thereby reducing harsh shadows and adding a “texture” to the quality of light.  As with reflectors, professional diffusers can be quite expensive, luckily there are a number of inexpensive alternatives.

Any “light” fabric can act as a diffuser, muslin is one typical choice.  It is important to observe common sense when working with artificial lights.  Lights get hot.  And fabrics tend to be flammable.  Never, and I do mean NEVER, drape a fabric over a light (or have it in contact in any way) and be sure to keep fabrics at a safe distance from light sources.

Tobi

Tobi works as a Mastering Engineer (via Tobisonic Mastering), mastering a wide range of genre. Tobi also remixes and has recently released his debut solo production, All These Things under the handle Tobisonics. Find him on Twitter @masteredbytobi Read More.

3 Comments

  1. Wow, I hope a lot of people read all this info you are putting up here for live streaming because it’s gold-dust. Great work Tobi. :)

  2. Thank you, Neil! Much appreciated! I should have a little more content to add over the next few days. Stay safe and stay healthy!

  3. A wealth of lighting info! Thank you Tobi :)

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