Kitting Out Your Recording Studio

Before “camera” and “action,” there must first be lights. Outfitting your studio with the proper lighting rigs can be a daunting task, especially if you are working out of your home, or are just starting a new studio business. Of course, there are different things to consider when buying and installing your lights, namely how big the space is, what it is being used for, and what type of filming you will be doing. A YouTuber who works primarily in their bedroom will have different lighting needs than the website that hosts a panel show, or the commercial that needs to simulate regular office or home interiors. 

Lights are integral to any creative venture; even in a medium where cameras aren’t a primary focus, like music production, there needs to be sufficient lighting for writers, performers, and engineers. Let’s take a look at the basics of studio lighting so that you can make an informed decision about the type of space you’re creating.

Photography by Definition

The word “photography” is a conjunction of two different words, “photo-” meaning light, and “-graph” meaning to write. Every picture or video image taken is–at its most basic concept–the product of a photographer “writing with light,” or allowing light to pass through an aperture and cast images onto a film. Therefore these pictures are recording contrasts of light and dark, which is exactly what you must try to do in your studio.

The lights you set up will help to provide definition through this contrast. This is achieved by strategically placing lights in areas that won’t wash out your subject. There are namely three lights in particular that you’re going to want to look into:

  1. The Key Light

The Key light is the light most associated with video photography. It is the bulb that most prominently lights the subject, usually placed directly in front of, or slightly above or below, the person. If you were to film yourself on YouTube, you would place this light right above the camera so that it could shine right down onto your face, thus throwing shadows underneath you.

  1. The Fill Light

The Fill light is literally used to “fill in” the shadowy areas created by the Key light. The brighter the Key, the deeper the contrast, and the greater the need for a Fill. This light will be placed opposite the Key light but on the same plane. So, returning to our Youtube example, if your bright Key light is in front of you to the right, then the fill would be in front of you to the left. This will keep shadows from pooling around the face, most noticeably around the nose or eyes. 

Remember that the softer the Key light, the less you might need a Fill light. Many people tend to use a natural light source, like a window at midday, to be a Fill light if they’re filming in front of a desk. Naturally, you’ll want something more robust depending on the size of your studio.

  1. Backlight

Once again, the cause of the backlight is to provide contrast between light and dark and the subject from its surroundings. The Backlight is generally positioned behind the subject and above so that as it shines down it casts shadows on the floor. 

The Right Equipment for You

There are myriad different types of kits you can invest in as you set up your recording studio, each complimenting different power and budgetary requirements. For most people’s needs, the versatility of a flash kit powered by your basic electrical grid through the wall outlet will suffice. This is the standard for indoor lighting. Battery-powered, “location” kits are also available for those who are filming outside (or don’t have the space to plug in indoors). The final option is to invest in constantly-running, low-powered LED lights. 

Each of these kits is a viable option, depending on your needs. As you consider the types of lights you use, remember that light is meant to add dimension and contrast, so you will want to explore the differences between hard light and diffused (soft) light, as well as different schemes that might help you light your subject better. Whether it’s film or music production, your recording studio will benefit from a strong light source, strategically placed. The quality of your content will increase, as will your viewership, and you will soon be able to invest in better equipment.

Studio Lighting Basics

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