How to Get Great Lighting and Audio for Your Online Courses - Part 16 minute read
UPDATE: Take a look at the bottom of this post for some new recommendations we have for 2021.
One of the biggest factors that differentiates the quality of amateur video courses versus video courses that look truly professionals is not how much money was spent on a camera or lens, it is the lighting. Fortunately, getting great lighting isn’t hard to do. In this post we will outline the different types of lighting setups that you might use depending on how your content is recorded. We’ll also share equipment recommendations for an easy budget setup that will get you 95% of the result, as well as a higher end setup for maximum impact. This post assumes that you aren’t already a professional videographer and don’t have much experience with light setups, though for those who are experienced, there is still value to be had through our gear recommendations.
How to Get Great Online Video Course Lighting Easily and Affordably
Pick a brightly lit spot to record (the more light the better), with the light source facing you rather than coming from behind you (ie: Don’t have a window in the background with the sun shining through. Instead position yourself so that the light is hitting you so it won’t overpower the shot). Light will be most flattering when it is a soft light (not direct sun rays which create harsh shadows).
If you are recording in a room with little or no outside light shining in, then you will definitely need some supplementary studio lighting. Even if you do have large bright windows, you shouldn’t rely on them because shifts of the sun and clouds during your recording can create inconsistent lighting and may result in a video that looks great when you start it, but is ruined at parts by the camera adjusting exposure while trying to compensate for the sun being covered by the clouds. The difference between the amount of light you would find outdoors (even on a cloudy day) and the amount of light indoors with all the lights on is often underestimated. To avoid these inconsistencies, you might even want to cover your windows to prevent harsh light from sneaking into the shot over time. Now that we’ve established how a lighting setup is important for recording professional looking video courses, let’s get into what type of lights you should buy.
Easy and Affordable Lighting Gear for Your Video Courses
Studio lights don’t have to cost thousands of dollars or require a professional to setup. In fact, you can get 95% of the result that a $10,000 lighting setup would provide, with a simple $100 light kit from Amazon. Here is a lighting kit we’ve used and been very happy with: https://amzn.to/2NO0x5f This kit includes everything you need - light bulbs, light stands, soft boxes, and a carry case.
The type of lighting setup that you use depends on how you plan to present your content. Below we will describe three common light setups for online video course recording:
If you plan to record yourself while seated at a desk or standing close to the camera in a small space, you may only need a single light for a minimal setup. A great type of light to use in this situation is a ring light. A ring light is a circular light (usually around 20 inches in diameter) which will be attached to a tripod with your camera positioned in the open center space of the light.
This ring light on Amazon is about $100 and includes a stand that also acts as a tripod for your smartphone: https://amzn.to/2NO2y1j
You’ll want to position yourself relatively close to this type of light as it works best for closely framed shots in smaller spaces (ie: framing that captures your face and shoulders close up). If you need to illuminate an entire room and other objects like a whiteboard, then take a look at the setups below this one. Also note that while this can work great as a single light setup, if your room does not have enough ambient light from other sources, then you may want to purchase additional lights to avoid ending up with a recording that has lots of noise caused by your camera struggling to maintain brightness.
If you plan to record yourself in a slightly larger space potentially with a whiteboard next to you, then you’ll want even more light to fill the room. For this kind of setup it is best to have three lights: two softbox lights on stands (one to your left and one to your right, pointed towards you at 10 and 2 o’clock forward from your position to light you evenly and cancel out shadows), and a third light that is either a hair light (a soft box on a stand positioned higher and shining down on you, at around 4 o’clock behind you) or a back light which would be a similar soft box on one side diagonally behind you and facing towards your back.
Here is a lighting kit we’ve used and been very happy with: https://amzn.to/2NO0x5f This kit includes everything you need - light bulbs, light stands, soft boxes, and a carry case. Depending on your space, you may not absolutely need a third light, however since budget light kits with two lights usually cost about the same as their three light counterparts, we feel that it is best to get the three lights so that you always have it should you need it, or when you want to elevate the look of your video lessons further.
- If you plan to record yourself in a space that is in between the above two examples you might want to go with two lights might be enough. A bit more ambient light to fill the room, and not only illuminate your face can really help your videos come out better.
A ring light on the desk has the lowest learning curve as far as setup. A larger room using more lights needs to be setup more carefully to avoid unsightly shadows on yourself or on the background. Once you’ve figured out good positions for your lights, replicating the setup in the future will be much easier and you'll be on track with the perfect space for a home video setup.
Higher End Lighting Options
If you will be creating large amounts of video content and want a higher end setup, we’ve put some options together on our kit profile. Keep in mind that these higher end setups usually require more experience reading into and experience in setup. For instance, if you are buying separate lights, you’ll want to make sure they are all the same color temperature. If you decide to go with a higher end lighting setup then you will likely also want to have a camera that can capture a better video quality than your smartphone. The following options provide great results
Keep your Setup as Simple as Possible to Make Taking Action Easy
As we mentioned at the beginning of our post, for recording video courses and lessons, spending thousands of dollars on high end cameras and lenses won’t make nearly as much of a difference as having great lighting and sound. Today a smartphone captures great quality video and is very easy to setup. If you have a good grasp on photography and videography and know how to properly set things like aperture and exposure, then going the extra step with a great quality DSLR or mirrorless camera might be your choice.
Another recommendation is to avoid green screens. Often the end result of using a green screen won’t be as great as you expected, and it also requires a good amount of post production which will slow down your overall output. For more on
On this related point, don’t spend too much time worrying about having the perfect setup. It is better to start recording lessons for your video course today, than to get frozen and make no progress because you’ve set yourself up with so many requirements to get started that it prevents you from getting you videos finished. If you have a videographer handling all the camera work and lighting for you, then the story might be different. In general though, it is best to make your process as simple as possible to enable you to start recording your video courses faster.
We’ve built collections on our Kit.co profile with some of our above recommendations:
(Note that some product links in this post are affiliate links and we may receive a commission if you purchase them via our links. The products we recommend are those that we have purchased and used ourselves, not random recommendations.)
UPDATE 2019: With some new products recently released at CES 2019, we have some new recommendations
As we mentioned above, it is critical to have a setup that makes taking action easy. Recently Elgato released a new slim lighting setup that mounts directly to your desk and can be controlled from your computer or smartphone. They also released an updated version of their “Cam Link” dongle that supports 4k video and allows you to plug in a high end mirrorless camera and treat it as a webcam. This means for those that record video at their computer desk, it is now possible to start recording from your computer with the click of your mouse and your recordings will be saved directly to your computer’s hard drive, so you don’t even have to import the files afterwards!
Although what we mentioned in the original version of this article can still work great, we now very strongly recommend this type of setup for the ease of use involved both in recording directly to a computer and with not having to deal with bulky lights that take up space. We’ve made an updated kit that lists these new recommended products and the camera that works best with them here: https://kit.co/HeightsPlatform/lighting-camera-for-recording-at-your-computer-desk. The audio setup we recommend for this can be found here: https://kit.co/HeightsPlatform/audio-setup-for-recording-video-courses-at-your-computer-desk
UPDATE 2020: Below are our current recommendations for the best online course recording setup
UPDATE 2021: Our kit.co collection linked above is still what we use and recommend to creators starting today!
Take a look at Part 2 where we go into how to get great audio for your coursesCreate Your Online Course Today