In this tutorial, we’ll discuss how to keep your YouTube setup simple by adhering to these basic, cost-efficient lighting principles.

The term YouTuber is ambiguous. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m referring to a specific group of creators. These folks are usually working with a small-to-medium budget, often alone in a home studio environment. 

Creating content in this situation can be incredibly difficult, as you have to look after all aspects of your production, including framing your shot, capturing good sound, lighting the scene, and looking natural on camera. Because lighting can be especially tricky and confusing, here are some principles to make your life easier. 


The Key Light

Window Light

As the name entails, the key light is the most important light source, and it can come from a variety of different places. If I’m working with limited space and budget, I can always set my camera up next to a window. Natural window light is incredibly useful, and it often provides a nice soft source. 

YouTube Setup
One of the keys to a successful YouTube setup is lighting.

So, why would I want soft light? The light is called soft because it takes a long time for the light to transition into shadow. This is known as having a slow falloff. A hard light gives very distinct shadows, meaning there’s little to no transition between light and shadow. Hard light can be difficult to control, it can bring out wrinkles, and it isn’t flattering for portraits. This is why most people prefer soft light sources. 

Natural Light
Experiment with natural light.

While lighting with window sources can give nice, soft light, it does have its limitations. Using natural light, I’ll be tethered to the window. This doesn’t give me many options for angles. If I’m shooting over a long period of time, I’ll also have to worry about changes in the brightness and color temperature. And, I can forget about shooting at night. 

Soft Light

Aputure Light Storm LS C120D II with Light Dome II
The Aputure 120d II with a light dome wraps a soft light around the subject’s face.

If you’ve got the budget and the space, consider getting a softbox. I’m using the Aputure 120d II with a light dome. This is a go-to lighting setup for many YouTubers, and for good reason. This rig is great for shooting portraits, head shots, and interviews because it puts out beautiful, soft light that wraps around the face. This light is very flattering, and it creates nice, natural catchlights in your eyes. 

Background Lighting
Use the 120d with your window source to control the background lighting.

The 120d is a daylight-balanced light, so I can use it with my window sources. It’s dimmable, lightweight, and quiet. With this light, I can shoot at night, as well as at different angles — and control the brightness, angle, and position of the source. I can also use it in conjunction with the window light as a backlight, a fill light, or on the background. 

Angles and Background Lighting
Control the lighting in both day and night shoots, as well as shooting at various angles.

It’s All About the Background

Background Light

Additional Light Source
Separate yourself from the background by incorporating an additional natural light source.

There are a number of ways to use light to separate yourself from the background. For my natural light setup, I have another window behind me that’s adding some good contrast. If you look at this source isolated, you can see how it’s giving me some extra pop.

Aputure Amaran AL-MX Bicolor LED Mini Light
For diversity, experiment with dimmable LEDs.

If I have a bit of money to play with, I can pick up a few of these battery-powered pocket LEDs. Like the 120d, these are dimmable. But with these smaller lights, I can also cycle between color temperatures. I can use these to double as practicals, or just simply use them to light areas of the background. With the plethora of colors, I can achieve a variety of different looks. 

Backlight

Backlight
Separate your subject from the background with a backlight.

Yet another way to help separate me from the background is a backlight. This is a light source that is hitting me directly from behind. Backlights are especially important when your clothes or hair are blending into the background. Again, I can use my large softbox as a backlight — in conjunction with window light — as a key for an interesting look. Or, I can simply place one of these small, dimmable LEDs on a light stand and get it right where I want it. 


Filling It in

Positioning and Bouncing Light

Bouncing Light
Bounce excess light off the wall to light your subject.

I consider having a designated fill light a luxury. Often, you can get by just fine without a fill light. This is especially the case when using soft light sources. Again, soft light gives a slow falloff, with a nice wraparound effect. Even if I’m using natural light from the window, I can position myself at an angle, where the light isn’t hitting me directly but still isn’t creating too much of a dramatic falloff. 

Another low-budget option is to bounce the key light. To avoid buying extra lights, I can position myself next to this white wall. By slightly turning the light, I can bounce some extra light from the wall onto the side of my face. I can also set up a reflector and again use the key to bounce a fill source. 

Extra Lights

Falcon Eyes F7
Use your LEDs as fill lights.

If the wall or a reflector isn’t providing enough fill, I can always use one of the small LEDs as a fill. Since these lights can dim down incredibly low, they work perfectly as fill lights. I can hide one on my desk and dim it exactly to the level I desire. 

And voilà! I’m ready to shoot all night long with this setup.

Final Product
Capturing the perfect light for your YouTube setup.

Interested in the music we were listening to during this tutorial?

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