Setting the Mood with a Video Light

Hello everyone and welcome to today’s blog post! We are beyond excited that you guys come here week in and week out to check out the goodness, and we are super excited to have you here! Today we are going to go over the basics of utilizing a video light in your wedding or portrait work.

The video light is an awesome tool that we have been using for a few years, but as many of you may know, it can sometimes be super difficult to use for portraits because the light can either look really awesome, or REALLY bad! Most of the time, we use the video light for things other than just taking portraits, like using it to help us focus on a really dark exit shot, using it as a background light to add some more depth and separation, or using it to light small things like flowers or the cake at the reception. We will get into those uses in another post, but today we wanted to dive right into the most difficult way to use it; as the Main Light source for a portrait shot. Sometimes you are just stuck shooting the bride and groom in the reception, or in a dark room with little available light and you have to get an awesome shot. You don’t want to use a strobe because it is too big, or too much set-up work and you want a constant light source that makes focusing on your subject easier. So today, we are going to share some basic tips for getting your video light portraits to look awesome, and how to avoid disaster!

First up, what video light do we use and why? We use the Lowel ID Light for a few reasons:

1. The Lowel ID light is dimmable. The original Lowel I Light, was either on, or off. The ID Light can be dimmed from no watts, to up to 100 watts of power. That comes in very handy because you can move the light wherever you want, then adjust the dimmer to balance the light with the existing light (if there is any).

2. The light is focusable. You can make the light source spread out for a wide beam (which is great for adding some fill light to say an exit shot), or you can focus it into the center for a spot light effect which makes it stronger, and also helps the light to not fly all over the place and instead go right where you want it.

3. This light comes with lots of little cool accessories, and if you are one of our lady blog followers, then you know how awesome accessories can be! Its all about the bling! We us the Barn Doors (which allow us to shape the light so it goes exactly where we want it by folding and shaping them), the Diffuser Glass (which helps soften the light just a touch), and for power we use the Bescor 4.5 amp battery that weighs about 3 pounds and allows the unit to run for about 35 minutes straight at full power (and we have never had it go dead at a wedding yet). You can also get the Day Blue Lighting Gels which turn the color of the light (which is tungsten to match orange, indoor lighting) into daylight color for late day outdoor shots.

Now that we know why we use the light and what accessories work well with it, lets look at the techniques that we utilize to make our images turn out looking great in the camera, consistently. There are 3 things that we go through in our “check list”: Direction, Height and Power. We hit these three steps in order to make sure that we get the shot that we envision and get it every time. Lets walk through the steps and look at some images!

1. Direction of the video light

The go to direction of the light that works great while adding a big highlight and shadow to our subject, is to place the light between 30 and 45 degrees to camera right or left (since our couple is looking to camera left, the light is on that side, if they were looking to camera right, the light would be place there). What this does, is highlight a much smaller part of our clients and create deep shadows on the other side. This is cool because it gives the viewer the feeling that these images were shot late at night or in a dark area. Instead of lighting them straight on (glamor lighting) we prefer (most of the time) to create a moody looking image that feels very mysterious and romantic. The trick here is, if you are shooting more than one person and both of them are not looking in the same direction like in the image above, you will have different lighting patterns on both of their faces. Which can either be really cool, or really not cool. In the image above, the light is at about a 35 degree angle to camera left, the bride is looking straight at the light (which is technically glamor lighting her face) but her body is angled toward the camera which gives us that nice highlight and shadow effect on her and keeps the image moody, even though her face is totally lit. The groom on the other hand is looking right at the bride, so the light is not hitting his face at all. Normally this would be a big no no, but because the bride is closer to the camera and her face is lit nicely, and because the groom is not looking at the camera, he becomes more of a prop in this shot and looks cool and mysterious. This shot works, but is much harder to pull off because of all of those elements that are in play. We took all the image in this post at our real wedding experience workshop in January, and one question we were asked was if this lighting pattern was “correct” or not. So this type of shot is a little tougher to pull off because of that dramatic lighting no the groom.

The simple shot for this set up would have been to turn both of their faces toward the light which would have created a similar lighting pattern on both of them, then you would not have to worry about those other elements described above.

In this shot, the light is a bit further to camera left at about 40 degrees, both of our subjects are looking toward the light and we have a nice highlight and shadow side of their faces. They also both have light in their eyes which is exactly what we want if they are both being “featured” in the shot.

2. Height of the video light

The height of the light is incredibly critical when using a video light. The reason that the height is soooo important is because we are dealing with a “hard” light source. meaning that the light source is very small (like the sun at high noon) and if you have ever shot at high noon with the harsh sun hitting the top of your subjects head, you know how bad the light can look when it is not in the right place. If we were using a huge light source (like a big window or soft box) then we could get away with the light not being the perfect height because big lights don’t have such strong shadows like small light sources do.

We need to make sure that the shadows this small light creates are in the right place in order to give us a good looking pattern of light on their faces. So, what we do, is raise the light above the center of their eyes and watch the shadow that the light creates that is under their noses. Notice on the shot above that there is a small shadow just under the brides nose, but it does not hit her mouth. That is the “correct” height that the light should be at in order to have the catch light in her eyes be just above the pupil where it technically should be (we say “technically” because you can always break the rules like in the first image we showed), and therefore giving us a pleasing light pattern on her face, but not raising it too high so that her eyes become dark and the shadow under her nose hits her mouth and makes her look like she has a mustache. :) The groom has his face pointed straight at the camera and the lighting on his face is more of a 45 degree angle. He is also looking downward a bit which makes his eyes go slightly into the shadows, therefore breaking the rules a bit, but still making a cool shot. The bride is really the focus, so the light on her is the most critical.

Another tip here that helps keep you out of photo-chop fixing stuff, is to make sure that the light is at equal or similar power on both of your subjects faces. How can you do that though if the light is off to one side and your subjects are not super close together? Shouldn’t the bride be WAY brighter since she is much closer to the light? Many photographers will tell you that you should use the inverse square law, where you just keep moving the light further and further away until the light does not fall off so heavy (and that does work) but sooner than later, especially using a limited power video light, you will run out of power.

The better technique to use here is called feathering. Feathering the light is when you turn the light more towards the subject that is further away from the light (in the shot above, that is the groom) and keep turning it until both the bride and groom are the same brightness. You may end up turning the light until it almost is not pointing at the bride at all (or the person closest to the light) but just watch them both until they are both evenly lit. This technique is not as tricky as you may think, and once you get the hang of it it works great and helps you avoid having to dodge or burn anyone later.

3. Power of the video light

The last one is the easiest one to manage. If you saw the post we did on Reception Lighting Part 1, we talked about how to use a 3 to 1 lighting ratio to get great shots of cakes and details. We simply use the same technique here with the video light. In the case of the shots above, where the only existing light was the one on the background hitting the red sign, we can simply set our camera to take either a correct exposure, or a slightly dark exposure (depending on how moody you want the shot to be) of that background, then simply turn the video light up brighter and brighter until you get a correct exposure on your couple. We use the histogram on the camera to determine when we are just bright enough to get a correctly exposed shot. For further detailed explanation of that process, check out the Reception Light Post here!

Extra tip for getting cool looking shots: We always look for some sort of cool existing light that is maybe hitting a background, shining on a wall or painting, or can shine on the couple’s back for a kicker light (think headlights from a car, street lights, or lights in a bar hitting the wall like in our shots above). Using one or multiple existing lights adds more depth and dimension to your images!

That is it! using those three steps we can get great video light shots every time with no guess work and no excessive post-production! We will also do some posts on using the video light to get killer details and show you how to use is as a fill light for exit shots and as a background light for cake cutting shots and portraits!

Do you have a Tips and Tricks Post that you want us to do? Email us and let us know and it may just end up right here!