Lighting for Video vs. the Room

7 min read

Before I get into the “why,” I’ll first lead off with my personal belief about how to balance lighting for video vs. lighting for the room.
If you are using IMAG, then that should take priority over lighting for the room.

OK, if you made it this far, then you are either a video director or possibly an angry lighting designer. Either way, you are still with me right?

So let’s continue.

This subject was rarely a tension for me over the years I believe, because for many years I served as the Video/Lighting Coordinator at Port City Community Church in Wilmington, N.C. This had me directly in charge and responsible for the look and feel of both video and lighting. While that might have put me in the position to argue with myself over the course of the week, it also might have gotten me admitted to the hospital had I done so. Instead, I chose to have both elements work together to create the best experience possible.

After just a few short weeks, I discovered that I could adjust my lighting to look great on camera primarily and still look great for the house. I did, however, have trouble lighting the house primarily and have that translate to the screens/broadcast.

There are a lot of technical decisions that go into making lighting look good for both video and the room, but I won’t get into those here. There are quite a lot of factors that go into dialing it in such as: color temperature, camera sensor sizes, iris levels, skin tones, lighting fixtures and so on. What I hope to provide here is to begin with a few tips and tricks to see from both sides of the decision making process.

Work Together

Your weekend service or event doesn’t happen without all areas of production coming together to create one entire experience. Whether you work together to create this experience is up to you and your team, but the people experiencing the service/event assume that each and every one of you worked together.

Watch the Recording: Spend some time each week watching back the service as a team and work toward being able to critique not only each other, but your own work and how it helps or hurts the other elements.

Watch the Work of Others: Attend other shows with high end productions, and watch how they light for the room. Share with each other what you loved about the feel of the room and not how it would translate to video just yet. Begin to learn what you both love about the lighting specifically. Next up, then watch a few of your favorite concert films or church services online. Here you share what you love regarding the look of the video. Spend some time discussing how the lighting helped accomplish the looks you see. You can now dip back to the first live show you watched and talk about what elements and ways you can help create the “feel” you experienced in the room and have it translate to video.

Watch During Run Through: I wrote all about the run through process here, but take some time each week to walk through each lighting cue/step and how it relates to video together. This is not the time for video to review and ask or demand changes. Instead, this is a time to join together to find what works best for the experience you are creating for everyone in the room and those watching a screen, TV or computer screen.

Program with Cameras On

Something I began to do during my last year or so as an lighting designer at Port City Community Church was to turn on our studio cameras and occasionally a mobile camera to use as a reference while programming. Then I would use a program monitor or multi-viewer to monitor the scenes as I would create them. For the majority of time, I did not need to reference this during my programming, because I had set levels for all key lighting on band members. But during special intros or instrumental breaks, I would rely on these cameras to find the look that was best seen in the room and on video. And I could accomplish this by using the following tip:

Use a Mannequin

We picked up a mannequin after years of kicking around the idea and it helped me out personally while programming. Simply place it in key positions and use it as a stand in to see how your scenes might play out on the screens. Using a mannequin will not solve all issues due to different skin tones, but it will get you very close. I usually did not need to adjust key light levels when using the stand-in mannequin.

Set Your Key Light

This one I highly recommend personally, if you are not able to have a true shader position in the control room on all your cameras. Go ahead and pick up a simple light meter to begin with. Then find the lighting level you and your team find as the sweet spot for both the room and on video. This can take a while, and a few weeks of adjustments to find the right look and technical specs. But here you are determining the level of key light on each subject, alongside your camera settings. Those camera settings will consist of many options such as iris level, shutter speed, focal depth, gain level, etc. Once you land that look, save each position’s levels on your lighting console and use those as your program.

And as a picky personal opinion, I run my key lights at the decided levels or they are completely out, with the exception of the occasional backlight only or uplight. Running your worship leader’s or band members’ light lower to create a dynamic look in the room usually creates terrible lighting for video on those large side screens in your room. But, this is only if you have no way of properly shading during your experience. With a proper shader, you can break many of the tips I have suggested in this section by adjusting your iris levels on the fly.

These are just some of the simple ways to begin helping create a healthy marriage between lighting for both the room and for video.

I will leave you with this before you go. You can figure the technical side of things out. I hope to write an article that really dives into the technical side of making this happen, but the first step is coming together as a team around the common goal: to create an overall great experience for everyone participating. Whether one comes together in the room, down the hall in overflow or hundreds of miles away in their hotel room – the key should be to work together to create the best experience possible.

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