Being able to livestream directly from the comfort of your own home has opened up all new channels of expression, communication, and even monetization among both creators and hobbyists. But even top-notch camera equipment and otherwise engaging videos can fall flat without good lighting for streaming. The good news is that this means taking the time to craft a deliberate, visually pleasing lighting setup can quickly set your streams apart from the competition.
Why does setting up lighting for streaming matter?
Lighting the scene is about making sure your audience can see everything on screen with ease, providing a polished, professional quality to your videos, and creating an atmosphere that conveys an aesthetic and tone fans will come to associate with you as a streamer.
And whether you go for a clear, bright look, or take a moodier, more striking approach, lighting doesn’t necessarily have to be as challenging, or as costly, as you might think—especially with some of the tips and tricks we have to offer to get you on the right path towards great-looking streams.
What to consider when lighting for streaming:
Before you go out and start purchasing lighting to enhance your videos, it may help to take stock of what’s going on in your current space and visualize what it is you hope to achieve with your new lighting setup. Here are a few things to consider before you do anything else:
Existing light sources
Does your streaming space already have natural or ambient lighting? This could be sunlight coming in from a window, an overhead light shining down, or something else entirely. Sometimes, the light you already have might work well in tandem with your desired lighting setup, or it could be something you need to block out entirely so as to have better control over the look of your space.
If you decide to work with and add to the existing light, pay attention to the direction, the color, any shadows it might cast, and, if it’s streaming in from outside, how it shifts over the course of the day. More often than not, you’ll probably be better off blocking this light out and simply creating your own setup—especially if you plan on streaming for hours and hours on end.
The size of your streaming space
It’s important to actually be able to fit the lights you purchase into your space. Do they have stands? Will they be towering up above? Even if the lights technically fit, you want to make sure there’s adequate space for them to cast light in the way you want them to. Certain lights may need to be positioned further away from their target (which, in this case, is presumably you) in order to avoid looking too hot or casting harsh shadows. We’ll touch more on this—and how to adjust for related issues—in a later section.
Different color temperatures cast a different hue of light. Lower values (such as 2200-2700K) tend to skew warmer, whereas higher values (eg 5000-6500K) will give you a cooler, blue-ish tone. There’s no wrong choice here, but you may want to take into consideration any existing lights you’re working with, the aesthetics of the room that will be visible on camera, and even your own skin tone before making a choice. Some lights do offer the ability to shift between warm and cool tones, if that’s what you prefer.
The last thing you want as a streamer is the unbearable glare of a light directly in your eyes as you’re trying to talk to your audience. If you’re playing games, or doing anything on the computer, you also want to make sure you avoid glare on your monitor that could throw you off. Fortunately, your lights will be adjustable, but this also goes back to making sure you understand the limitations of your space.
This one probably seems like a no-brainer, but hopefully mentioning blocking out natural light from a window—which might require full blackout curtains to achieve the desired effect—has clued you into the possibility of expenses you may not have considered. It’s no use having the fanciest light for recording if it’s being compromised by different color sunlight streaming in and casting awkward shadows throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to start out with floor lamps and whatever else you can get your hands on so you can estimate the setup that will work for you, and swap out the DIY options for better quality gear piece-by-piece as you can afford it.
What lighting should I use for streaming?
As great as it would be to point to a single type of lighting and say, “This is what streamers use,” there are pros and cons of all of the popular options, and what works best for one person’s space may not be the ideal choice for yours. You should also feel free to mix and match, especially if you already have certain lighting options on hand—just pay attention to the color temperature of your bulbs and/or LEDs for consistency.
In addition to costing no money and requiring no setup time, natural light can often just downright look good on camera. The major drawback here is that we can’t control natural light. It will shift based on the time of day, weather conditions, and other routine occurrences, causing you to either have to change your setup as it happens or live with inconsistent lighting. Natural light can be an okay option for someone just starting out, but it’s likely not going to cut it for the seasoned streamer.
Softbox lights can take up a fair amount of space, and have to be placed with intention for the best results. But their soft, diffused light means that they work great as either key or fill lights, and can be a versatile addition to your streaming setup.
Light panels are generally made from LED lights, and many are customizable—meaning they may allow you to shift color temperature, intensity, and other qualities. They are also often on the smaller side, simple, and easy to mount, making them ideal for a setup that’s on-the-go or trying to maintain a small footprint. The downsides include that they may not cast enough light for a larger space, aren’t as versatile as softbox lights, and can cause glare.
Video bloggers are often drawn to ring lights for a number of good reasons, including how easy it is to set up a camera in the middle of the ring and receive evenly distributed light in return. But streaming has some differences from vlogging, including that you may not want to create such a direct setup with the camera dead center, and that you may be lighting for a larger space than an unmoving vlogger who can start and stop the camera at will. If you’ve already got a ring light, try it out for this, but there are likely better options.
Creating both an aesthetically pleasing look for your videos and being able to set the mood with lighting as you go can set your videos apart from the crowd. RGB lights come in a variety of options and colors, and are often able to be controlled remotely while you stream. These most likely aren’t going to be your primary lights though, so if you’re set on these, consider getting your regular lights set up first and then coming back to the RGB options.
Tips for lighting for streaming
Regardless of what lights you choose for your setup, there are tips and tricks that should help you get the best look with what you have.
1. Consider three-point lighting.
If you are able to have multiple lights, three-point lighting is a trusted method of illuminating a subject and space while also creating visual interest. This setup consists of three lights, labeled for how they are positioned:
- Key light: The primary and brightest source of light, used to illuminate the subject and sometimes the surrounding space, while defining the overall lighting aesthetic.
- Fill light: A softer, secondary light that mostly serves to reduce shadows and create balance.
- Backlight: A light source placed behind the subject to separate them from the background and create depth in the frame.
Three-point lighting takes more effort than just setting up a ring light, but it will also make your videos look professional and dynamic. Even if you’re just approximating this setup the best you can with whatever you have on hand, start by positioning your key light to either side of the camera, pointing towards you at roughly a 45-degree angle, and also aimed at a 45-degree angle from above, so that the light tilts down. The fill light will go on the opposite side of the camera at your eye line, maintaining a 45-degree angle. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but rather a jumping-off point—from there, you can finesse the angles and positions to suit your needs.
You can also dive deeper into three-point lighting with us here.
2. Prioritize lighting your face.
Unless you’re purposely hiding what you look like, viewers are likely going to be most interested in watching your face, and specifically, your eyes. It’s how we connect with other people, read emotions, and invest. Keeping your face well-lit and free of awkward shadows is key.
3. Don’t fade into the background.
Capturing people’s attention with your video, and especially with a thumbnail, can be easier if you make sure to differentiate yourself from the background. Setting up a backlight is one of the most straightforward ways to do this, and if you don’t have a proper lighting setup, you could also simply add visible accent lamps to a table in the background. Definitely be aware of everything the camera will pick up in the space behind you—keep it interesting, rearrange furniture to provide depth if necessary, cut the space by placing things at an angle between you and your background, and be sure to wear colors that neither blend in nor clash against the primary colors of that space.
4. Bounce harsh lights to get a softer look.
If you don’t have a ton of space to work with, or your lights are just turning out to be overall harsher than you’d imagined, you can always try bouncing the light to soften it up. This involves pointing the light at a reflective surface—not necessarily reflective as in a mirror, but even something like a white wall or panel should do the trick—and directing the angle so that the light bounces off the reflector and back onto your subject, diffusing the intensity in the process. If you keep adding lights and still end up with a lot of shadows, this can often provide a relatively simple solution.
5. Pay attention to reflective surfaces.
On that note, it’s also important to be aware of reflective surfaces in your streaming space that you aren’t purposely putting there in order to bounce light. This could be an extra monitor in view of the camera, a large piece of framed artwork, or even your own glasses. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but they can disrupt your intentions for your lighting if you aren’t careful, and some might even reflect information from your computer screen or something else off-camera that you didn’t intend for viewers to see.
6. Match your lighting to your content.
You may already know that you want to do different types of streaming videos, or you may start to branch out beyond just gaming or just chatting or whatever it is that you prefer to do as you grow as a streamer. It doesn’t hurt to think ahead about how to differentiate the type of lighting you use to clue your audience in from a quick look as to which type of video they’re about to watch (eg RGB lighting on full display while gaming and a brighter, warmer light palette while doing a Q&A stream), while still maintaining an overall cohesive and identifiable look for your channel.
7. Test your setup before you go live.
If you stream for hours on end, you may have to stop to adjust your lights eventually, but minimizing this will save both you and your audience a ton of frustration. Even if your setup stays the same when you aren’t filming, something may have gotten bumped, a bulb could have burned out, or a new shiny object could be messing with your vibe. Another reason to test your lighting setup before you go live is to check for any gear that’s creating a buzzing sound or something else that you may naturally tune out, but that turns out to be a serious annoyance for your viewers. Taking a few minutes just to ensure everything is in proper working order is never a waste of time.
If you get overwhelmed by all the lighting options choosing gear and trying to craft a personalized aesthetic, don’t be afraid to just keep things simple and focus on making sure your space—and your face—get a good, even illumination. Everything else can be adjusted or added in overtime as you go.