Lighting the perfect shot for your music video

In Part Two of her series on video production, Yulia Hauer explains three key principles behind creating eye-pleasing video content.

Video content is an amazing way for vocalists to reach their audience. As I explained in my first article, Making Your Own Music Video At Home, if you’re not using video, you’re missing a trick. Today’s online platforms can’t get enough of moving images. Here are three ways to help you create the perfect shot.

Setting the scene with Three Point Lighting Technique

Set the scene

“Mise en scène” is a term often used in theatre or cinematography. Intimidating as this French phrase might be, it translates as “placing on stage” or “putting in the scene” and refers to the set, props, costumes, make-up and anything else that might be seen in a shot. In film, it is more broadly applied to include lighting, colouring and effects used in a scene.

Treat your location as a film set. If that location happens to be your living room, have a good think about the backdrop and the angle from which you’ll be filming. Consider which items will make great props and which items you’ll need to put outside while filming.

The keyboard or guitar you’ve got lying around might enhance the scene you’re trying to set, but distracting personal items will need to be moved so they don’t detract from the professional image you’re aiming for. You should also consider
your wardrobe and make-up before shooting.

Bright ideas

Once your scene is set, think about lighting. This will probably have the biggest impact on the quality of your footage.

Remember, the biggest light source in the world – the sun – is available to you free of charge. Ask yourself; will you have access to natural light when you are filming? Natural light is influenced by time, weather and location, so consider all these factors.

If there are no natural light sources in your filming location, use whatever lighting you have available. When I first began making videos at home, my budget was so limited that I used an Ikea lamp propped up against a chair. DIY is your friend. If you don’t have a budget, use your creativity.

Whichever light sources you choose, it’s worth understanding the most fundamental lighting method: the Three Point Lighting Technique.

A simple but versatile method used in all kinds of visual media, this technique utilises three lights called the key lightfill light and backlight. As the name suggests, you will need three light sources to fully employ the method, but the principle still applies if you have only one or two lights available, in which case you should prioritise having a key light, using your second light as either the backlight or the fill light.

The key light will be the main light source, so use the strongest light available for this job. It is placed to the side of the camera/subject and will cover most of the subject’s face, leaving some shadow on the other side.

The fill light is the secondary light and will be placed on the opposite side of the camera, filling in with light the shadows left by the key light. This light is usually less powerful than the key light.

The backlight (also known as rim light or hair light) is placed behind the subject and creates depth by highlighting its silhouette. Whilst it doesn’t shine light directly onto the subject, it helps create a three-dimensional look, separating the subject from the background.

Frame it

Once you’ve set your scene and lighting, the next step is to set up the camera to frame the shot. Here, keep in mind the Rule of Thirds, a fundamental guideline in photography and composition.

The human eye is naturally drawn to certain parts of an image and, when framing a shot, we can take advantage of that to compose the image in a way that is most attractive to the viewer.

Do this by drawing an imaginary tic-tac-toe board across the image, dividing it into nine equal squares. The sections where the lines cross are said to be the strongest focal points, while the lines themselves are the second strongest focal points.

Once you’re happy with your scene, your lighting and the framing of your shot, you’re all ready to hit that record button.

Yulia Hauer is an Austrian-American video and music producer living in the UK. Having worked in the music industry for the past ten years she started her own video production company Wyld Films in 2017. Follow her adventures on Instagram: yuliavideographer.