Good lighting—along with audio and image quality—is key to successful video production. That’s true even if it’s just you talking about your passion to the camera for a vlog or livestream. Moreover, it doesn’t cost much to “light the stream.” That is, to light yourself (and pay attention to the background!) in a way that exudes professionalism.
If you’re working for a business, a nonprofit organization or just teaching an online class, a professional look is what you always want. Conversely, poor lighting projects an unprofessional message to your viewers. They’re less likely to watch a video with poor production values, even if your content is solid. So, what do you need to get the right light?
Stage Your Set to Reflect Your Subject Matter
Many early vloggers used simple backdrops with solid colors as backgrounds. However, as viewers and vloggers got more sophisticated, successful video blogs and live streams now have better-staged backgrounds. A well-staged, well-lit background is easier on the eyes and leads to a better-quality viewer experience.
For example, for videos on his YouTube channel, photography vlogger Jared Polin (“Fro Knows”) has evolved from his bedroom to a high-tech studio. His studio has multiple sets that he uses depending on the topic. Similarly, Photoshop expert Unmesh Dinda (“Piximperfect”) now uses a set with speakers and a keyboard in the background and his computer in the foreground. In previous years, his background was a relatively simply lit, sound-absorbing studio wall. Further, he tells DIR that while most of his lights are “DIY,” he recently added a Godox LC500R 360º, full-color light stick (approx. $200) to add a splash of color in the background.
While both cases are photography-centric, this applies to vlogs and livestreams on any topic. Take a look at your favorite video bloggers to see how they stage their backgrounds. A well-staged background is just as important as your choice of camera, microphone and, of course, lighting. Consider a background that is not too cluttered but has just enough visual clues to reflect your vlog’s or streaming video’s focus.
Light the Stream Professionally
A single on-camera light: This is the simplest solution, but the lighting will be flat. This won’t produce a flattering look unless it is balanced with ambient room light. Alternatively, inexpensive side- or backlights can add dimensionality and interest to your face.
Multiple oﬀ-camera lights: A tried-and-true lighting method is a three-light approach. Use two lights at a 45º angle to the subject (one at full power and one at half-power) and one dimmer light behind and oﬀ to the side of the half-power light. This will add separation between the subject and the background.
Even better: Add diﬀusion to the two 45º light sources for softer, more flattering light.
Even better than that: Use additional, inexpensive lights with colored gels or lights with color settings to emphasize points of interest in the background.
What lights should you use? For a budget of a couple of hundred dollars, you can have all you need to get started with professional-looking livestream and vlog productions. Here are some aﬀordable lights that we recommend.
8 (Mostly) Budget-Priced Lights
Neewer LED T140 Bicolor LED Panel (Under $80)
This Neewer light is a flat LED panel with 2000 lux luminance and the ability to smoothly shift from 3200–5600K. Consequently, you can balance color to the room’s ambient light. Brightness is also adjustable from 0–100%. Furthermore, you can mount the Neewer LED directly on the camera’s shoe mount or attach it to a tripod via a standard 1/4″ screw hole. It’s powered by a built-in, rechargeable lithium battery. However, a DC adapter and cable are included.
Raleno Softbox Photography Kit (Under $60)
If you prefer the flattering look provided by steady softbox light, this Raleno all-in-one two-light kit is a great way to enter the vlogosphere on a tight budget. Each light fixture comes with a 27-inch stand that extends to 85 inches, as well as a 20×28-inch softbox. Two 85-watt 5500K daylight CFL bulbs are included. (You may want to replace them with equivalent LED bulbs when they expire.) In addition, the lights are powered by plugging them into regular power outlets.
Pixel G2s (Under $80)
This small, light and versatile little LED video light from Pixel lets you dial in diﬀerent colors as well as light eﬀects. It also features a color balance range of 2500–8500K and 10 built-in special effects. Moreover, you can attach it to a camera via its hot shoe or mount it on a tripod and light stand. It’s a solid choice if you’re looking to add color accent light to your background, and it will complement other lights in this guide.
Neewer RGB62 App-Control Magnetic Video Light ($40)
This is an inexpensive way to add a splash of color to a scene. Attachable via hot shoe, tripod or magnetic surface, this pocket-sized light oﬀers a full-color range. What’s more, you can charge it via a dedicated app.
Powered by a rechargeable LED battery, its 61 LEDs project up to 800 lux—great for accent light. Moreover, it is said to run for up to 2.6 hours. You can also use multiple units together, either on-camera or oﬀ. The Neewer light also features a 2500–8500K color temperature range and 17 FX scene modes.
Lume Cube 2.0 Waterproof LED ($70)
Lights from Lume Cube are tiny . . . really tiny. Despite their diminutive dimensions, these two-inch cubes project a surprisingly pleasing illumination to supplement ambient light. Primarily for location work, you can control the light’s output via an app on a Bluetooth-enabled device. A $45 accessory pack also lets you modify the light, while the $30 color gel pack lets you add spot color. It’s also waterproof, so you can vlog in the wild.
SmallRig RM01 Mini LED Video Light ($110)
The smallest light on this list is, at 1.5 inches cubed, smaller than a ping-pong ball. This includes its rain- and dustproof housing. It also comes in a kit of three units and includes three desktop mini tripods and an array of light modifiers.
Featuring four brightness levels and eight color filters for that desired splash of color, the RM01 includes a cold shoe attachment as well as a 1/4″ screw hole. Its color temp is 5600K, and it outputs just enough light to accent your background.
Angler RLB18 Bicolor LED Ring Light ($325)
This one’s a splurge—but it may be worth it. And it comes with an 18-inch stand! If your vlog is fashion-forward (for instance) or is about makeup or modeling, shooting through a big ring light can produce stunning results. This Angler LED has an adjustable color balance from 3200–5600K to match the ambient light and a dimmer for 0–100% light.
In addition, it produces a warm, diﬀuse, nearly shadowless light with a wide beam spread. It even has a mirror attachment so you can check your makeup. Cameras are mounted in the middle of the circle via a mini ball head attachment.
Rotolight AEOS 2 Pro ($1,549)
This high-end Rotolight LED serves two purposes. As an LED light projecting over 11,000 lux at 3 feet and an almost foot-wide light source, it’s a powerful source of flattering light. It oﬀers a wide color palate and native IOS and Android control. However, it also doubles as a flash (compatible with Godox, Profoto, Elinchrom, Neewer and Pixapro flash receivers).
So, it’s an investment worth considering for a still photographer with a compatible flash system who also does video and needs a light that can handle both. Plus, it offers 16.7 million colors and 2,500 digital filters.
Whether you splurge on a top-notch system or combine do-it-yourself lights supplemented with specialized illumination, lighting yourself and your background will draw attention to you in a positive way, whether you’re vlogging or Zooming.