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Let There Be Light

Professional lighting probably isn't in your budget, but it's not usually a good idea to rely on natural lighting alone. Natural lighting on video tends to make an image look flatter than it would otherwise be, washes out colors, and just makes your image look drab and home-made. It doesn't really separate your content out from anyone else's.

You can get a professional lighting effect without paying professional fees, though. If you're shooting indoors, all you'll need is two light sources--three, if you happen to have a spare lamp lying around.

One light is your primary lighting source, responsible for creating strong areas of light and strong shadows. Another light, placed directly opposite the first but further away, is responsible for filling in and softening some of the shadows created by the first light, but still preserving the greater contrast and definition. The third light, if you've got one, is small and placed behind the image you're shooting in order to provide a little bit of separation from your background.

That's really all it takes: three light bulbs and some creative ideas for placement. Jack Black (of all people) provides a good tutorial for creating this lighting setup at (full URL: ) The presentation is a little bit absurd and the tutorial is more geared for creative/dramatic work than for commercial purposes, but the information about how to design a lighting setup and place individual lights is simple, solid, and usable.

Notes On Chroma-Keying

Depending on what your basic concept is, you may need to plan your video recording sessions to take into account the process of chroma-keying. Chroma-keying can be an incredibly powerful, cost-effective, and exciting tool to make your video projects more dynamic and visually interesting. But it also gives you a host of new challenges to deal with in your shooting and can lead to some serious technical problems along the way if you're not careful.

Chroma-keying, often called "bluescreening" or "greenscreening", is the process of filming actors, set pieces, and other foreground elements in front of a large solid green or blue-colored screen. The raw footage is then taken into editing software and the solid color is removed entirely, allowing the editor to place an entirely different image in the background. Most TV weather reports use chroma-keying to superimpose the image of the weatherman on top of a map, for example. Chroma-keying is also a commonly used technique in modern CGI-fueled motion pictures--the recent Star Wars prequels, for example, used green screens almost exclusively to create elaborate digital backdrops.

The word "professional" here does not have to mean "expensive." There are plenty of online tutorials (like the one at, notable for its focus on sensible budgeting and easily-found materials) that teach you how to make your own chroma-key screen that'll give you professional performance on a modest budget. If you want to do something interesting in the background of your video--placing a spokesman talking about GPS functions on top of stock footage of cars racing through deserts, for example--you'll want to invest some money and time into chroma-keying.

There are two critical points to remember when preparing to shoot chroma-keyed footage.

One: make sure that you light the scene deliberately in order to limit the number of shadows and highlights that show up on your chroma-keyed backdrop. Strong shadows or lights change the apparent color of the chroma-key backdrop in your raw footage, and you won't be able to remove the area of shadow from your footage without a lot of messy frame-by-frame hand editing. If you light everything to eliminate shadows you can save yourself an infinity of headaches down the line.

Two: make sure that your editing software can deal with chroma-key footage adequately! Badly-done chroma-keying leaves your image with large, weird areas of color in some frames, which looks much worse than no chroma-keying at all and will definitely break your emotional connection with your potential customers. In the next chapter, we'll discuss some of the most common editing suites in detail, with some specific focus on this issue.

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