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8 Broadcast Lighting Tips

8 Keys to Nailing Broadcast Lighting

Who is your audience?

Is it the 500 people in the room?
The 500 people in the video campus across town?
The potentially unlimited number of people watching your web stream?

That is the first question you have to answer when considering how to light your stage. The real answer is very likely all of them, but unless there is an unlimited budget, compromises will have to be made. So when it comes to stage lighting, how do you make the most of what you have to best improve your video capture and playback?

Here are eight practical tips to keep in mind for your next production.

1. Video First

Let’s take a quick look at the video setup. The decisions you make about your video equipment will direct how you light your stage. When considering broadcasting your video, (a broadly used term in this article defined as ‘sending your content anywhere other than the venue where it originated’) the first and most important piece of gear in the system is the camera.

The biggest factor with cameras concerning your lighting system is the camera’s image chip size. The larger the chip, the more light that is allowed to be processed by the camera which improves the image.

2. Camera Images and Iris

If you are looking at cameras with larger chip sizes, then your lighting director’s job just got a lot easier. Simply put, because the camera can take in more light, you won’t need to increase the light level on stage just so the cameras can get a great picture. On the other hand, with small chips, the lighting on stage will need to be brighter for your camera to capture a broadcast-ready image.

3. Even Coverage

In broadcast, there is a much heavier importance on lighting the whole stage and not just the communicator. When the communicator is pacing across the stage and the camera is panning to keep up with him/her then your whole stage becomes the background for the camera shot. This can create problems if your background is dark, or if your communicator walks into a dark area.

Remember that the camera is more sensitive to light levels and less adaptive to change than your own eyes.

4. Color Temperature

Keep the color temperature of your house lights in mind. If you’re not familiar with color temperature differences, here’s a quick analogy. Think of changing light bulbs in your own home. Typically, you are now getting the CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs and replacing the old incandescent filament bulbs. When you did, the light in the room appeared brighter/whiter/blue, right? This is an example of color temperature at work.

Because of the filament in the old incandescent bulb, it burns at a much lower color temperature (measured in degrees Kelvin) causing the light to look yellow. But the CFL bulbs burn at a much higher color temperature, which is why the light appears with a tint of blue. These subtle changes can add up when mixed into a larger lighting system.

If your communicator is Caucasian and appears to have a very flushed, red face at some points during the service, and then at other points appears to be pale, this is a function of mismatched color temperatures.

Incandescent fixtures like the classic ETC Source Four operate at 3200K color temperature which is towards the lower end of the scale. It appears more yellow. Moving lights operate around 5600K or higher, so the white light tends to be tinted with blue.

One way to fix this problem is by color-correcting all of your fixtures to the same temperature. This involves buying color-correcting gels from your favorite lighting supply store for the incandescent fixtures, and dichroic filters for your moving lights. If you are fortunate, (or you planned in your purchases) then your moving lights already have color correction features built in, allowing you greater flexibility as you move forward.

5. Capturing the Audience

If you plan on taking camera shots of the audience, then your house lighting system may have a different color temperature than your stage lighting system.

Do you know whether your house lights are incandescent, fluorescent, or LED? You should consider how important the audience shot is to your broadcast, how good you want it to look, and whether it is worth color-correcting all of your house lighting.

If you are building a new facility, this is something you should always consider in your planning process when picking out house lighting, as it generally won’t cost you any more to choose the right color temperature.

With color temperature in mind, we have to revisit the question: “Who is your audience?“ The lower color temperature lighting (3200K) is generally perceived as “warmer” and more pleasing to the eye in person. The people who are physically in the building generally will like it when the lighting system is color-corrected to 3200K, even if at a subconscious level.

However, the camera prefers a higher color temperature and the image will be perceived as “sharper or crisp” temperature lighting. With any luck, you’ll be in an environment where you’ll be able to experiment with your system to find what works best.

6. White Balancing Your Cameras

Once your color temperature is corrected and consistent throughout your system, you are ready to white-balance your cameras. White balancing is a function every camera has, though you might have to dig through the manual to find it.

If you shoot with more than one camera and the playback always looks like each one is a slightly different color, then you need to white balance. White balancing tells the camera what the color white is in your context.

The easiest way to do this is to set your lighting system to your most common preset, which is often the default look while the presenter is on stage. Set up a white poster board on the stage where the person will stand. Zoom your camera in so you are only shooting the whiteboard, then press the button to set the white balance on your camera. You should do this for every camera without changing the position of the whiteboard or the light setting. For this process, you should also set the house lights to their correct level rather than leaving them on full.

By white balancing, you are making sure all the cameras in your system capture colors in the same way.

7. Lighting the Subject

The next step in improving your lighting for broadcast is to consider how many points you are lighting a subject from. Basic two-point lighting requires a front light and a backlight, but in general, the more points you can light your subject from, the better the coverage will be (reduced amount of shadows).

You’ve most likely heard that your front light should be at a forty-five-degree angle from the presenter on stage, and you’re right if you are only lighting for live. If possible, for broadcast you should consider adding another lighting position or moving your current one farther back to achieve a thirty to thirty-five-degree angle. This will reduce shadows on the subject’s face.

Also, consider adding fill lights out about thirty degrees (there is no hard and fast rule for this) to the left and right of your central lighting positions, so that you can cover more of the side of the presenter’s face.

8. Backlighting is Key

Lastly, a crucial piece to implement in any broadcast lighting scenario is backlighting a subject. By backlighting them, you are providing the definition and contour of the subject to the camera. If your presenter always looks flat on the camera, as if they are fading into the background, you need to increase your backlight.

By understanding what works best for your camera system and making some small adjustments to your lighting system, you can make a big impact on the quality of your video signal. This is true regardless of your budget.

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