#5 Sure Sign of Amateur Video: Backlighting

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Unless you shoot video for a living, you probably don’t own a professional three-point lighting kit.  Not to worry!  You can still shoot quality video using natural light or existing light fixtures.

One of the most common mistakes we see with amateur video is something called “backlighting.”  This happens when you place your subject in front of a bright light source like a window or computer screen.


As you can see, the subject ends up in silhouette.

Chances are, you were able to see the subject’s face just fine when you were standing there looking at them in person.  That’s because our eyes are masterful at compensating for extremes in contrast.  Cameras, not so much.

Without getting too technical here, the camera’s iris detects the bright source of light and becomes smaller to reduce the amount of light coming in (much like the pupils of your eyes become smaller when you step outside on a sunny day).  This lowers the light levels in the entire scene, and as result – your subject ends up looking too dark.

So how do we prevent this (without messing around with manual controls)?

The easiest way, of course, is to move your subject away from the window.  In fact, use that natural light to your advantage.

Put your back to the window and have the subject facing you, so that the light from the window illuminates your subject.


This girl’s face is well-lit because she’s facing a large wall of glass windows.  You can’t see them, but those windows are behind the cameraperson’s back.

If it’s not possible to move your subject away from the window, or that’s the background you want, you’re going to have to boost the amount of light in the foreground.

Reflector board

Depending on where you’re shooting, you can add that “fill” light with a small reflector board.

If you’re in a house, grab a couple of lamps, remove the shades and set them on the floor in the foreground to help bring up the light levels.

Got a smart phone with a flashlight app? Even that can work in a pinch.  Just shine it towards the subject.

The biggest part of preventing backlighting is being aware of how and why it happens in the first place.

Got any lighting tips you’d like to share?

Next week:  #6 Sure Sign of Amateur Video: Bad Audio

Follow Cindy Burgess:

Pro Video Storyteller

Cindy Burgess is a former broadcast journalist who's been telling stories with video for more than 20 years. She's passionate about spreading video literacy to the world!

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