I’ve shared recently on social media that one of my goals this year is to do more video. With that comes figuring out the best ways to get crisp, clear, videos without forking over a bunch of cash on studio lights. The trick for capturing great video on the cheap is all about natural light!
Recording video in natural light gets you the most flattering light for cheap, but as the weather gets chilly it doesn’t make sense to set up outside everytime you need good lighting. When it’s 35 degrees out here in Reno you can bet your buns I won’t be sitting outside filming!
If you have windows in your house, you can still harness the natural light to your advantage.
My favorite tool for amazing natural light is under $40
The best thing I have found for making the most of outdoor light at a window is my Wescott 40″ 5-in-1 reflector. I use the reflective parts when I need to fill shadows in a portrait shoot, but it’s the internal diffuser that makes all the difference for harnessing natural light for indoor shooting.
I prop the diffuser up in the window, and voila! Warm, diffuse, even light.
The diffuser does just as its name suggests, it diffuses the light so instead of streaky, harsh light, the light is bounced around evenly.
The images below are unedited and straight out of the camera. They were taken with the same settings just moments apart. The only difference? I propped the diffuser up into my West-facing window. It was late afternoon so the light was coming in nicely, but very streaky.
You can see after adding the diffuser the light is warmer and even. Imagine what a positive difference that can have on your face to go from shadows to smooth! It’s definitely worth it.
Even if the light isn’t directly hitting the diffuser, if it’s bright outside the diffuser helps bring in and distribute the existing light nicely. I even find it helps me get a bit more shooting time as the light dips in the evening by smoothing out and boosting the light as the sun sets.
I have seen similar 5-in-1 diffusers for only $15 on Amazon as well, although I can’t vouch for how well their zippers work (that’s generally the point of failure on a 5-in-1). Either way, it’s still an affordable, easy way to get the most out of the natural light.
Face the window as much as possible
Just sitting near the window isn’t enough, you really want to face the window as much as possible. If you sit by it and face to the side (such as if I sat normally at my desk) you can even make it much worse. To do this, I pull our printer forward to the edge of the desk (which sits right by a nice, West-facing window) and place my laptop on top of that.
I can almost get perpendicular to the window this way! Check out the image below to see my setup.
Wondering why I prop the computer on the printer when I could just set it on the desk?
The most natural-looking & flattering angle is when your eyes match with up with the level of the camera lens. (Contrary to that overused & abused selfie angle where you hold the camera above yourself to distort your facial features into a doe-eyed look) This eye-level position also makes it easier to hold a natural gaze with the camera. You can look sleepy if you have to keep gazing down at the camera!
I also use a Blue Snowball Mic for clear, professional sounding audio (the white ball on a stand in front). It’s a great mic for the price and plugs into a USB port with no additional software needed. I went back and forth for ages on choosing a mic for this. While the Blue Yeti is amazing for home audio, it was a bit rich for my taste for just live streaming and zoom/Facetime calls, which made the Snowball a perfect fit at around $70.
You don’t need a mic to live-stream, although it does make a difference in the clarity of your voice.
Does the window need to be West-facing?
Not necessarily. I’m fortunate to have a window in my office that faces West, which allows for great afternoon light streaming in. You can get a similar effect with an East facing window in the mornings. I’m not exactly a morning person so I am glad I have a good West facing window!
South facing windows can also work, the ones in our house get great morning light and some diffuse afternoon light as well. Keep an eye on the windows on a day while you’re home to see which ones get good light, and when. Even if the light doesn’t directly stream in, a diffuser can help capture and distribute what’s there.
What are the results like for a live-stream?
Below, you can see a screenshot from a recent Facebook live I did with Mark Highlove for Highlove Vitality. The setup was the same, we just scooched in a bit (and slightly off perpendicular to the window) to fit two people. Even though the resolution is a little low, mostly because it is a screenshot from a live stream, the lighting is on point with the diffuser.
You can see that even as busy as the office seems in the setup photo above, our background looks clean and simple on camera (aside from our props on my left) and the lighting is even and bright.
Using This Setup With a Digital Camera
You can also use a digital camera with a similar lighting setup. When recording tutorial videos, Youtube Videos, sales videos, or videos to accompany an online course, having the option for higher resolution video can be nice.
I use an almost identical setup for this, with only slightly different equipment. Most of it, DSLR Camera excluded, is quite affordable too. I’m a boss babe on a budget, what can I say!
Use a Tripod to Face the Light
I set up my tripod flush to the wall, right in front of the window. This lets me get the best face on light I can manage, and the diffuser helps keep it even and well-toned. My lovely assistant Mark demonstrates this in the image below!
A Wide Angle Lens For Better Sun + Sound
I try to get myself as close to the window and camera as possible, as shown below. The closer I am to the window, the better the light. I use an on-camera mic, so the same rules apply there for sound.
You can see below how much light my face and the front of my body is getting from this position and the diffuser evens out the afternoon light beautifully.
The wide-angle 10-18mm lens helps me get super close to the window and light, while still fitting a good amount of the scenery in. I don’t mind up close “talking head” videos, however, I talk with my hands A LOT. It’s more natural for me to back up a bit and fit that all in. I am only sitting about arms reach from the lens, it’s just under 2ft away.
The mic? It’s the Takstar SGC-598, a total steal for the quality of sound, ringing in at under $30. It took me a minute to figure out how to use it, but now that I have I love the sound I can achieve. I had shopped around for lavalier mics too, and while I may still invest in one someday so I don’t need to sit so close, this mic is perfect for what it is. It picks up great sound at the distance I use it.
If you’re curious, my camera is a Canon EOS Digital Rebel T5i. The rebels are a great range of cameras and if you ever see one, even an early model, used + affordable, it’s a great buy. I love mine.
[Those of you who are camera savvy may notice that the camera pictured is not a rebel. It’s actually my Canon AE-1, an early film model I inherited from my dad that would not be very good for vlogging….lol. I needed a placeholder so I could shoot this with my rebel!]
What are the results like with a Digital Camera?
While it looks like the camera is right up in your face, the results tell a different story. Unless you kick the tripod, which I have definitely done, no one will ever know just how close you are. Check it out in the screenshot below from a video I created using my rebel with Mark Highlove for Highlove Vitality.
*Note: This screenshot was taken after uploading it to Facebook & Youtube, so the resolution here will not look as high as the actual file does.
Ready to try it for yourself?
If you have been recording live and aren’t loving your light, give a diffuser a try. With $40 and the right window you can have bright, smooth, natural light with minimal effort and no hot lights!
**Note, I am not sponsored or compensated to talk about any of these products, although I wouldn’t mind it! haha. These are just products I have picked up over the years that have served me well 🙂
That info is really helpful thank you.
Do you have a second please to answer a question I have? I’m shopping for a new DSLR and my buddy was telling me not to consider anything but a Nikon or Canon. Do you have a preference there? Or maybe there is another brand that’s better? I’m looking for the best bang for my buck really. Thanks in advance for your answer!
Nikon & Canon are the industry favorites and will give you the most flexibility when looking for 2nd hand lenses and gear, so for me that’s a win. I personally chose Canon because I had a vintage Canon already with a ton of lenses, just expect to pick a brand and stick to it. I’ve heard great things about sony and other brands, it’s just a matter of picking what’s best for your needs, use case, and budget. What works for a nature photographer is different from a tiktok influencer. So work backwards if anything, what are you trying to do, ask that question first and go from there. 🙂 happy hunting.