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From the author of Basic Video Lights

Basic Video Lights

Your talent will always look better when lit carefully. Start with a single light source and a reflector. Use diffusing gels or scrims to soften the light and make it more flattering. (Most on-camera lights are harsh and unflattering.)

A Lowell Pro-light is an inexpensive tungsten option, just over $100. Use it as a hair light or background light as you add more lights to your kit. For a little more money, a fluorescent light with two or four tubes keeps subjects cool while providing soft, flat-color light that's balanced for tungsten or daylight.

Fluorescents run about $500–1,500, but one can do the trick if you augment it with reflectors or bounce cards. Videssence, KinoFlo, and Gyoury are popular brands. Don't forget that you'll need light stands and sandbags to keep lights stable. If you're showing a process or a product, fluorescents can also help to make sure that you have enough light, and that the light you use doesn't cast harsh, distracting shadows.

While we're on the subject: Turn off overhead lights. They cause unflattering shadows. Avoid lighting from beneath, unless you're going for "monster movie" effects. Turn off fluorescent lights, if you can. Not only do they cast green light, but they can interfere with your sound track.

Control What Viewers See in the Background

Your background can be a simple roll or half-wide roll of photographic background paper, which comes in many colors and patterns; a (matte) painted wall; or any room that you've arranged carefully to serve as background. Another option is to use spring-loaded backgrounds, which come in many sizes and colors—even greenscreen options.

Editing Software

Simple editing programs can provide everything you need to get started. iMovie and Sony Vegas are favorites, but many people also use Final Cut Express or Premiere Elements, both of which are inexpensive and have the advantage of familiarizing you with the interfaces of the professional models of these programs. Look for easy output in several formats. Adobe's media encoder, built into both Premiere Elements and Final Cut Pro, outputs to .FLV (Flash video), several flavors of MPEG, Windows .WMV, .AVI, and other popular formats. Some cameras come with simple editing software to help you get started.

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