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Lighting Technique: On-Camera Lighting

written by: twhatley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/7/2011

On-Camera lighting is just what you’ve been looking for to give that dark shot an added appeal or shot of light. In this article, we will look at this lighting technique and see how it is done.

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    On-Camera light shines in the middle of the subject's face and gives the shot that burst of much needed light. During those times where too much harsh light takes away from the shot but no natural light is available, an on-camera light really shines, literally.

    When are on-camera lights best used? Outside day shots in the middle of winter offers very little sunlight. On-camera light offers a solution to this problem, and the problem of filming indoors where the light isn’t sufficient such as in a church or while filming family memories during holiday events.

    Effective on-camera lighting system is more than turning on the light that is built into the camcorder. It is okay to use that, but on-camera lighting has more to do with a technique and less to do with the light itself. It involves three different, yet basic, elements; the light, how it is mounted, and from where it gets its power.

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    The Light

    The light itself can be very small but harsh. On-camera lights shine an intense light right onto the subject. Like I mentioned before, the light can range from the light that is built into the camcorder to a $1,500 version that you buy extra. Either way, it is a valuable tool to use and must be used the right way.

    If thinking of purchasing an add-on on-camera light, think of your needs and the amount of time you will be putting it to use. Some systems offer options for power, dimming, flood adjustment, color correction and diffusion. Another thing to remember is that if you don’t do a lot of filming that requires on-camera lighting, then you don’t need to shell out the big bucks for an expensive attachment. If all you need it for is filming your kid’s part in the Christmas pageant at church every year, then you are probably fine with the one that comes with the camcorder.

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    The Mount

    There are several options for mounting the on-camera light. While some choose to just mount it on top of the camera, mounting it to a tripod is also very effective. Another option is to buy additional brackets to attach it to a light-stand post.

    When thinking of the mounting system, determine where and how you plan to use the on-camera light. Sitting right on top of the camera is best for when you want to use it as an eye light. But if it is to be a key light you may want to attach it to a light-stand post above, and a little to the side, of the subject’s eye level.

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    The Power

    The power source is imperative when picking out the right on-camera light. You want one that will have its own external power source. If it draws its power from the camera it can drain the battery pretty quickly. The power source should give you portability and options for recharging. There are plenty that have rechargeable batteries; find one of those.

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    Using on-camera lighting takes precision and technique. You don’t want to be too close to the subject so that it doesn’t glare in their eyes. You also don’t want to be so far back to the point where it isn’t effective. There isn’t a precise measurement to where you need to position the light, so pay attention to your shot. Work with the monitor so that you can see the point where your subject is comfortable and you still get your perfect shot. Also, try bouncing the light off the ceiling to remove some of the harshness from the subject. Remember that the on-camera light is a hard and bright light that can really add a glow and sparkle to the subject’s face.