5 Lighting Set-Up Ideas for a Music Video

5 Lighting Set Up Ideas for Music Videos - FilterGrade

Lighting is one of the most important factors for shooting a great video. When it comes to music videos lighting does more than just evenly light talent. It is used to set the mood, tone, and even tell the story of the song through visual effects. Music video lighting allows you to get more creative as a filmmaker. The following lighting setups will get give you plenty of new ways to light indoor and outdoor sets whether it is for a solo performer or a big band. Try out any of these lighting setup ideas for a music video to make your next shoot stand out!


First, The Basics

While you are most likely well aware of three-point lighting there is a lot more that you may not know that you can accomplish with this standard setup. Three-point lighting is the basic and key concept to all successful video lighting. This consist of three lights:

Key light- strongest light in the shot. 

Fill light– softer light that fills shadows on your main subject’s face. 

Back or Rim lighting– adds depth to your shot by giving a soft background glow to your subjects

This is the standard for proper lighting. Where you get creative and really make your lighting stand out is in the execution. The type of light, color, temperature, and angle of each of these lights can be vastly different. Mastering the three-point lighting basic setup is necessary for being able to master any of the other music video lighting set-ups in the article. 

For three-point lighting, you will place your key light (the strongest light) in front of your main subject, usually off to one side, to the right or left of your subject. Usually, this light brightens the side of the face that is shifted away from the camera. The fill light is placed opposite of your key light. Depending on the effect you are going for the key light is typically twice as bright as your fill light. Place the backlight behind your subject on the same side as you fill light. (See diagram below)

The closer these lights are to your subject the more intense the light will be. Place your camera between your fill and key light. For music videos, you will see this basic lighting setup manipulated a number of ways. Using diffusers, color filters, and cookies will allow you to get more creative with your music video lighting. 

To create more drama and mood in your video have the key light closer to your main subjects. This will cause more noticeable shadows. 

If you want a more airy and upbeat feel, move your key light further away. This will cause softer shadows (think professional headshots, corporate videos, and non-for-profit type videos and their lighting).

Colors can make a huge impact on your music videos and will often highlight the mode of the music. Gels and filters are easy to incorporate into your three-point lighting setup. When choosing the best colors you always want to go with complementary colors. So if you want to use a blue filter over your key light you will want to compliment that by using an orange filter over your fill light. This will give you a dark and eerie mood, if you reverse the colors with the orange over the key light and blue over the fill light you will have a much warmer feel to your shot.


Music Video Lighting Setups

Now that we have covered the basics let’s see some innovative ways you can use this setup to boldly and uniquely light your upcoming music video project. As well as some lighting that breaks away from this traditional setup. 

1. Dramatic Indoor Lighting

Photo by Eugenia Maximova on Unsplash

This lighting setup is ideal for indoor shots where you have a wall behind your main subject so the fill light can spill onto it. The camera in this setup is placed to the side of your fill light so it is more perpendicular to the key and backlight source instead of shooting from the same angle. The fill light is placed up higher so you get a nice spill of the light off the background of the set. You can use barn doors to adjust the shape of the light that spills onto the wall.

The backlight is placed behind the talent and closer to the background. It will be directed at a slight angle towards the talent. Place a white diffuser in front of it to soften the light.  

Finally, the key light should be placed in front of the talent. To soften and warm the light you will want to use a white diffuser. You can layer the diffuser until you get the effect you want.

This lighting setup produces a dramatic and moody feel to the scene. Use this setup to light profile shots. 


2. Natural Lighting

When shooting in natural light the best time to do so is during the golden hour. This is the time of day just after sunrise. The light from the sun is less harsh and you get about an hour of perfect lighting to work with. Keep in mind you may only get about 20 minutes of shooting time during the blue hour. 

The blue hour is another favored time to shoot videos. It is the time just before the sun sunrise or just after it has set. This is when there is a blue hue to the outdoors and occurs just before or just after the golden hour. 

Remember that shooting during these hours requires careful attention to light changes. Since your lighting will be changing rapidly it is important to be aware of your white balance and temperature. If you begin shooting during the blue hour and transition to the golden hour the lighting will change drastically. During the blue hour, shoot with a wider aperture, since there isn’t much light, but you will need to adjust this as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. Don’t shoot in auto white balance during the blue hour. This will result in the camera making adjustments and you will lose that blue hue to your footage, which is most likely what you want to keep. 

Shooting outdoors during the day allows you to use the sun as your main source of light.

You can use diffusers and reflectors to bounce the sunlight onto your main subject without having to add additional light. (see diagram below)

You can also use it as your backlighting and use a reflector to reflect light back onto you main subject so the front of their faces and evenly light. (see diagram below)


3. Top Backlighting 

This setup breaks the rules, as it only uses one light but even with the minimalist approach you will capture amazing results. For this simple set, you will need one main light and a solid background, this should be a lighter color for the light to bounce off of. 

Mount your light and set it so that it is behind your talent and slightly angled towards your background. This will create a perfect silhouette of your talent; it creates a nice mood for choreography shots or for full band wide shots.  


4. Two Point Lighting 

If you are shooting against a backdrop you don’t want to highlight this is the seat up to use. You simply set your key light in front of your talent as you would for a typical three-point set up. Diffusers are necessary to soften the light and don’t forget to experiment with different colored gels. Your fill light you want to place more to the side of your talent, still opposite of your key light, but slightly behind them. This is an ideal opportunity to add in some color as well!

This setup works well with close up shots.


5. LED Tube Lighting

In music videos, LED tube lights can be used many ways. They can be placed around the set and made to appear like props, they can be laid across the floor, talent can even hold them and use them during the shot. Plenty of LED lights are designed to change colors so you have even more options. They can be used as a key light, fill light, or background light. For the setup in this example, they will serve as a background light. 

You will want to have a plain flat background to which you can mount your LED lights. You can arrange them in a number of ways. Place them on the ground to add floor backlit or side lighting to your set. They can be stacked vertically down the center of your background, placed in a horizontal line running across the background, or you can be arranged into a shape like a triangle, square, hexagon, and placed in the center of your background. This gives your viewers a direct line of view to the center of your frame. Then you add your key and fill light as they would typically be placed for a standard three-point lighting setup. (see diagram below)

When you place them in the background the light will naturally cause a vignette to your scene. So the edges of the frame will be darker than the center. If you want the opposite effect, add a little fog to your set. The fog helps carry the light across the entire set and will instantly brighten it up. This is perfect for more upbeat videos or club scenes. 


These simple light setups give you a great starting point for setting up lights for your next music video project. Remember that you can modify, change, and make adjustments to any of these set up to fit with the style and tone of the music you will be capturing. Don’t hesitate to experiment and break some of the rules!


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