Outdoor Video Lighting

Video Outdoor Lighting

By Blake Barnett

| Video Production


Video Lighting for Outdoor Projects

A common misconception is that just because we’ll be shooting outside, we won’t need any light. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Figuring out your light is always important. An outdoor video shoot can create great looking footage but can often be tricky, especially when you’re dealing with harsh natural lighting. No matter if you’re shooting for a film or TV production, or simply recording footage to post online – getting the right look and texture of your scene requires skill and smart planning. And light.

With a good grasp of the fundamental principles of natural lighting and effective techniques for incorporating it into your video production, you can avoid a headache and save some money. Here are some tips and tricks to make your next outdoor shoot a breeze.

What is natural lighting?

When we talk about natural light we’re referring to the sun (or moon) and the different ways its light can be manipulated to get the look you want. Using the light of the sun instead of artificial video lights can add more warmth and authenticity to your footage.  And it’s a lot cheaper! To maximize natural outdoor lighting, it’s wise to plan your shoot ahead and select the optimal time of day when there’s enough sun light for the amount of time you’ll need to use it. Keep in mind, however, the sun and the weather can be unpredictable, and we recommend having additional lighting options and accessories to help keep your look consistent. If you have lighting kits available, you might keep them nearby just to be completely safe.

Where should you set up outside?

To capture exactly the lighting look you’re going for, make sure to take the time to select the perfect location for your shoot. Ideally, you should opt for a spot that provides diffused light, resulting in soft and flattering effects. Look for a nice shaded tree or a good covered outdoor spot. Direct sun light should be avoided as it can lead to harsh shadows and cause your subject to squint at the light. Scout your location ahead of time to find what gives you the best lighting options.

When is the best time to shoot outdoors?

When shooting outside, the best times are typically during sunrise and sunset, known as the “golden hours.” During these times, the light is warm and gentle, creating a stunning glow. Obviously you can’t always shoot everything you need at these times but fortunately filming at other times of the day can still produce excellent effects. It’s critical to take into account the direction and quality of the light and adjust your camera settings accordingly. There are some great apps you can use to track the sun for your shoot including Sun Tracker AR, Sun Surveyor and Lumos. With more experience you’ll be able to know immediately what’s working for you and giving you the best light for your camera.

Tools for controlling natural video lighting

It’s very possible to plan your outdoor shoot without the use of additional lighting at all. Using some of these helpful tools you won’t have to cart around extra equipment like LED light or other artificial lights . This will not only be more cost efficient but opens you up to the freedom of moving from set up to set up much faster.


You never really want direct sun light on the subject unless it’s very much behind them. Any direct light from the front, top, or side, is problematic unless diffused. This method not only produces more visually appealing footage but also minimizes the need for post-production editing, which can save both time and money. Diffusion can come in many shapes and sizes, but a good option is something that is soft, and not dark or loud. Many types of indoors diffusion filters cannot effectively be used outside because they’ll make noise in the wind. Opal, 250, and 216 are good examples of diffusions that can make a lot of noise when the wind picks up. This is why silks and grid cloth are often used outside with various strengths and weaknesses.

Reflection or Bounce

When your natural light source isn’t in the exact right spot or isn’t hitting your subject the way you intended you can use reflection or bounce to manipulate it. This involves redirecting light using reflective surfaces like mirrors or white boards to balance the light in the scene and fill in any dark areas. It can also add some diffusion to soften the light at the same time, killing two birds with one helpful stone. The one aspect that is always a give and take is not making it so bright for the talent that they have to squint excessively. Positioning the key light far enough to the side can help make it easier for the subject to see, as can an extra black flag near or directly behind the camera.

Negative Fill

Sometimes when shooting video you may need to block out some of the light to add contrast and depth to your scene. Using negative fill is essentially doing the opposite of bouncing light. Instead of using a white board you’ll want to use blacks to add more shadow. Let the light and shadow work together for you.

Additional Tools for Shooting Video Outdoor

All of these pieces can be held manually out of view, but you might consider bringing along some stands for lengthy shots or if you don’t have enough able hands available. Additionally, certain situations may require a powerful HMI to light the subject. This depends on power availability, the amount of light needed and budget.

Here’s an example of what we might have with us for an outdoor shoot:

4×4 overhead diffusion
4×4 shiny board as key into another 4×4 diffusion to soften it
2×3 or 4×4 shiny board as back light
4×4 bead board as fill (optional)
4 combo stands and several c-stands

This may seem like a lot but you can find great deals on new or used video lighting accessories. Check Amazon.

Grab a Camera and Shoot!

Shooting outdoors and using natural lighting is going to make your projects look incredible. With a bit of planning and the proper equipment working outdoors can produce stunning footage for a low cost without much stress. Experiment; find what works best for you and gives the lighting look you’re hoping for. Every time you do it it gets easier.

Email or call BLARE Media here to discuss your next outdoor video production project.