iPhone video lighting made easy

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Your iPhone takes some fantastic video with just a little attention to lighting.
Your iPhone takes some fantastic video with just a little attention to lighting.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Lighting is a crucial part of any video shoot, whether you’re filming a scene for an indie movie with an expensive camera or using your iPhone to capture video of your kid’s soccer game.

Chances are, though, you’re not going to have a professional lighting kit along with you when you use your iPhone to shoot video (unless you’re actually an indie film auteur – this tip isn’t for you).

We spoke with Alaskan filmmaker Scott Slone about the best way to get great lighting for your videos without resorting to expensive and complicated equipment.

Use natural light sources

Slone laid it out for us. “You can’t always have lighting with you,” he said, “so the best lighting you’ll ever get is natural light.”

iPhones do a great job adjusting to the light around you on an everyday basis, he said, and you can tap and drag the iPhone screen to change the exposure of the existing light on the scene in low-light situations. You can even lock the exposure you want right on your iPhone’s screen.

Make sure that if you’re shooting an interview, you let the natural light from the window fill in the scene for you.

Avoid backlit scenes, says Slone, referring to shooting your subject against a bright window behind them. If you do, you’ll end up with the familiar silhouette you may have seen in videos of witnesses who don’t want their identity revealed. So avoid that, unless you’re actually filming an anonymous source.

Light from the side

Ideally, you don’t want the light right in your subject’s face, either. That can cause squinting, and no one wants that. Position yourself so you are shooting from an angle that puts the light to the side of your subject.

If the lighting in your particular setting is awful, though, you can also just focus in on tighter shots. Using the iPhone’s zoom function can help you get up closer to your subject (within reason) and therefore avoid some of the tricky lighting contrast options of a much wider shot.

30 fps versus 60 fps

In addition, you can try varying the frames per second (fps) you’re shooting video in. If you’ve got an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, you can film in 60 fps with a simple toggle in the preferences.

“All around, 30 fps on the iPhone 6 is better in low light,” said Slone.

However, if you have a strong light source, like a spotlight, on your subject, you can get a much better contrast between your subject and the background (clean black/low noise) with a 60 fps video. Action videos in low light look better at 30 fps, but a static scene, like, say, a concert, could benefit from a 60 fps video to help isolate the subject.

Ultimately, if you don’t have or don’t want to use external lighting kits, planning out your video shots to take advantage of natural lighting sources is the best.