Science Video Tip: How to Deal with Lighting Issues

Lighting is probably one of the biggest challenges for scientists making videos, especially while doing fieldwork.

Backlighting is a common mistake in which the subject is positioned in front of a window or other light source, putting their image in shadow. By moving the camera so that the light is behind the camera or to the side will solve this issue.  In the video below, I provide an example in which I wanted to shoot footage in a field station laboratory but the light from the windows was interfering with the shot.  Because of the configuration of the laboratory, it was not possible to shoot the lab bench in a way to put the light behind the camera.  I resolved the problem by blocking the light from the windows with some seat cushions and opening a door to introduce light from the side.

Outdoors, we have little control over light intensity and direction.  It’s difficult to avoid shadows during midday when the sun is overhead.   People often wear caps in the field, and these throw even more shadows on the person’s face.  One solution is to use a reflector.  You can buy one specifically for filming or you can use a folding car shade or even make your own with aluminum foil.  Then, you can use the reflector to light up your subject’s face with the sun overhead.  The limitation is that your subject must stay in one position, and you must also compose the shot so that the reflector is not visible.

Another solution to outdoor lighting and shadows is to shoot on an overcast day or when the sun is low on the horizon.  For me, an overcast day is the ideal shooting situation, which produces sharp images with little or no shadows.  Filming in the early morning or late afternoon is also good and can result in some beautiful, soft lighting and colors.  The latter may not always be possible, so the scientist videographer must be prepared to shoot under less than ideal lighting conditions.