Tips for Using Existing Lights for Your GoPro Movie

By John Carucci

If you don’t want to create your own lighting for your GoPro movie, you can try to work with existing light. Here are some tips for using available light in your movie.

Working with incandescent bulbs

It’s possible to use an array of incandescent bulbs to light your movie, but their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors, including wattage, placement, and positioning. Some tips on working with incandescent bulbs follow.

  • Move it from the subject. It’s hard to get more basic than simply moving the light away, especially if it’s a lamp.

  • Reduce its brightness. If it has a dimmer, turn it down. Other options include using a neutral density gel filter over your GoPro or trying a lower-wattage bulb.

  • Remember that fall-off happens quickly: When the subject is relatively close (but not too close) to the light source, you can capture adequate exposure. But the range of light doesn’t go very far.

  • Watch for hot spots. Because the camera covers such a wide angle, it’s nearly impossible to keep the actual light out of the frame. Monitor it from the GoPro App to compose the scene so the light is either out of the picture or doesn’t ruin the scene.

Coping with CFLs

Here’s what you need to know about which CFLs can work to your advantage and which ones to avoid:

  • Hot it’s not: Fluorescent illumination is considered a cool light form because it doesn’t create excess heat. Not only does this means you can touch the bulbs (if you were so inclined), but also because they keep the room from getting unbearably hot. That makes illumination the subject from a nearby CFL far more bearable.

  • Be careful of the color: While many CFL bulbs provide the characteristics of a traditional household bulb, some behave more like economical fluorescent tubes. That means a dim greenish cast that looks terrible when recorded. Use your eyes to help judge the quality of light.

  • Hot spots need not apply: While lighting found around the home is not incredibly bright, it can still produce spectral hot spots (bright light reflections) either because the light source is in the scene, reflecting on a bright surface, or flaring into the lens. It’s imperative to use your smartphone to monitor the scene when using GoPro indoors.

Making the best of fluorescence

Old school fluorescents produce a sickly green light, but when combined on the scene with light sources of other color temperature, it suddenly becomes just another part of the scene. Look at any office building and notice the variations in color cast. Consider the following:

  • Try to work with daylight-balanced: While far less bright that an incandescent light bulb, illumination from a mass array of fluorescent tubes produces adequate lighting by using a wider, more collective approach.

  • Take advantage of mixed light: Lighting your movie with tungsten and allowing the variations of fluorescent light in the background produces a complementary cast that works to your advantage.

  • Take a white balance: Or at least see how your GoPro treats it on the automatic setting. Fluorescent lighting differs with color output; even when the lighting looks good to the eye, it may not reproduce as naturally as you may like.

Capturing candlelight

Take the following pointers into consideration when you work with candlelight:

  • Be careful. It’s worth repeating that a candle is a fire, and fire can burn.

  • The subject is light. A candle is one of the few light sources that you can keep in a scene without hoping that people think you’re just being “ironic.” Candles make great props as well as lighting the scene. For a table scene, measure the exposure from the candle, and don’t worry too much if the subject is a bit underexposed.

  • There’s strength in numbers. A single candle usually isn’t enough to light a scene, but a group of them becomes a force to reckon with. Use a candelabra or multiple candle holders to create soft, warm illumination.

Loving the way that neon glows

Here are a few ways to work with neon:

  • Use a wide range of exposures. Neon light is quite flexible when it comes to exposure. Underexpose it to get rich, saturated color. Overexpose it to open the ambient portions of the scene without losing much color from the lamp.

  • Establish the location. Think about neon as a scene-setter. Just about any neon light can establish a scene, including a sign for a restaurant, hotel, or bowling alley.

  • Take advantage of reflections. These colorful lights aren’t overly bright, but they reflect their rich colors on nearby surfaces. The effect is exponentially powerful when a neon sign is reflected on a rainy sidewalk.

Handling HID lights

HID light is great for finding your car keys in a parking lot or looking at city landmarks at night, but it’s terrible for making movies — terrible, not impossible, because there are ways to take advantage of HIDs. Here are some ways to make this type of light work for you:

  • A little goes a long way. Instead of trying to fully correct the color, just reduce it slightly. You’re still going to have a color cast, but it won’t be overwhelming anymore. The footage can pass for a street scene, especially when you have supplemental light coming from stores, neon signs, or the taillights of passing cars.

  • Shoot at twilight. Twilight still has ambient light and a purplish sky that looks great when you position your subject against it.

    Because a sodium-vapor lamp’s illumination is created by excited gas, there’s nothing left to do after you correct the color. So if you take a white balance of the scene, use a blue filter to neutralize the yellow cast, or attempt to correct it in postproduction, all that would remain is a monochromatic rendering of the subject.

    Unlike an incandescent light source that can be color corrected thanks to its full spectrum of color, these light forms only produce a single color. It you had to place a color temperature on this type of lamp, it would be comparable to tungsten, making it around 3000K.

It’s a good idea to take a white balance under metal-halide light. Depending on the specific type of lamp, color temperature can range from 3000K to 6000K or higher. Check and reset the white balance often.