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How to Light For IMAG – 5 Ways to Improve Your Lighting Rig for the Camera

Celine Dion concert

In an article from a special guest author, David Henry looks at lighting for camera in a world where IMAG is commonplace in a range of performance and event genres.

If you’ve recently gone visited a large church, attended at child’s graduation or flown to a national sales meeting, chances are that you experienced what we know as IMAG, or Image Magnification. IMAG uses video cameras and projection systems to make far-away people and objects much more visible via large screens, making the experience at big events intimate for a large number of people.

With the cost-effectiveness of cameras coming down every day, IMAG is more and more popular than ever. Every day, lighting designers like you and I see examples of bad lighting for IMAG video. You can’t just turn on the lights and hope for the best!

Designing lighting for IMAG is a whole new ball game, and by paying attention to these 5 simple things, you can drastically improve your lighting rig for the camera!

Celine Dion concert

1 – Improve Your Angles

Take a look at the angles which your lights are illuminating from and check how they appear right up close on the presenters faces. Basic stage lighting theory tells us that a 45 degree angle from 2 points is best for lighting the face, but for many of us an exact 45 isn’t possible for one reason or another. Use fill lighting to kill any large shadows that you see from your key stage lights, because the camera will give the audience the perspective of someone standing right in front of the presenter on stage! A little shadow under the neck looks natural, but any shadows under the eyes or beside the nose needs to be filled out for the camera.

The other angle that you need to be careful of comes into play early in the designing phase of your show as it directly involves the camera. You must provide flattering light from every camera position, no matter where it is.

If you get a terribly artistic video director, then you may have a camera off to one extreme side or the other, and you’ll need to make sure that you are lighting for that angle too! Yes, this means more lights, but it is totally worth it when you see the result on screen. You want the presenter to be able to face every camera and have their body lit fully from every angle in a flattering way, so that they can best communicate their message.

2 – Diffuse and Meter Your Light

We’ve already killed most of the shadows improving our angles, but some are still going to exist, especially as presenters turn and move around. Tiny, dark shadows cast by noses, hands, ears and wrinkles will show up like the plague on video, and our chief weapon to fight this is soft lighting. Whether you are using lekos, pars or LED’s, you can get a nice diffuse light out of them using diffusion gel. Though not necessary on fresnels, a nice diffusion gel such as Rosco 119 will almost magically smooth out wrinkles and do an even better job at transitioning between light sources on stage. Use it in every par, leko and LED you own when lighting for IMAG!

The next step is to break out the light meter, or the poor man’s light meter(your hand), and measure how even your wash is. You want to optimize your lighting to be 70-90 foot candles across the stage. Most importantly, it needs to be even – the camera’s iris can be changed to match exactly how bright your lights are, but you’ll drive the video guys bananas and have less than stellar results if the lighting is not even.

The camera is much more sensitive than our eyes to changes in lighting intensity, having an even wash is crucial in great IMAG lighting. You can do a small amount of evening out by bringing down individual intensities on your console, but don’t rely on it for much as you will start to see shifts in color temperature from the dimming, which is also frustrating on video. You also can go brighter than 90 foot candles, but be aware that you will start blinding people, and that’s just not necessary!

3 – Match Color Temperature

Color temperature is the measurement of how “blue” or “orange” your “white” is.


If this is a new concept to you, just think about the difference in white out of a conventional par or leko to a discharge-lamp moving light. Or a florescent light to a conventional light. Color temperature is measured by degrees kelvin, and is specified for every light source you buy in the theatrical or even home market.

On camera, and especially on flesh, the difference in color temperature will drive you batty! This is another area where the camera is incredibly sensitive, but our eyes adjust for automatically. This is also an area where the camera can be adjusted. As the lighting designer, all you need to do is make sure all of your color temperatures match, so that the video guys can white balance the camera and everything looks excellent on the camera!

Moving lights with discharge lamps will not match conventional sources, so you can either use a CTB gel in the conventionals to make their light more “blue” or use the CTO filter in the movers if it’s available to bring their color temperature down to where the conventionals sit. It’s important to note that you don’t have to do this 100% of the time, as having a different color temperature as an accent to the main color can look really cool. Be careful with how you use this, as when a different color temperature hits flesh, it will get really ugly, really fast!

4 – Separate Power Services and Use 100% Flicker Free LEDs

You probably already separate power services between lighting and audio, and be sure to also keep video over with audio, or on it’s own power source and panel whenever possible!

Hums and buzzes in video render themselves as weird scrolling and sometimes flickering and lines on the video screens, which no one wants! If you are lighting internationally or have generators, make sure all power services and fixtures are set up for the same frequency of power for all departments, whether that is 50hz or 60hz.

The other flickering that you want to avoid comes from LED fixtures that are not flicker free. All LED fixtures strobe very quickly in order to dim, and the more they are dimmed, the more they are strobing. The strobing happens so quickly that the human eye can’t see it, but, sometimes the camera can. That is why it is important to only use fixtures that are specified by their manufacturer to be flicker free on camera, otherwise you will see the flickering, and it will be distracting! Most pro and semi-professional LED fixtures these days are indeed flicker free.

5 – Backlight, Audience and Set Lighting

The last “angle” that you can use to improve your lighting rig is to make sure you have these 3 angles – backlight, audience and set lighting! When you are lighting for video, anything that you don’t light to a full wash will either be dark or disappear in the eye of the camera.

Backlighting helps the camera to separate the presenter and any other objects that are downstage from the set or curtains that are upstage. You will find that without backlight, your presenters will blend into the backdrop, especially if they are wearing a similar color or shade of clothing as the backdrop. Regardless, having that nice, even glow of backlight on the shoulders and head will take a presenter from looking flat to being dimensional on your IMAG screens!

Audience and set lighting are highly important if you desire to see either the audience or the set as the camera pans across them. For audience lighting, you’ll want to use the softest light possible, either from pars with diffusion or fresnels on your front lighting position. Set lighting can be done with pretty much any lighting instrument you have – that’s really up to you, the designer, and depends on what the set exists of and how you want to light it.

Gently washing the audience or set, you’ll still want to aim for the same 70-90 foot candles you get out of your main wash. You can also use colored LED fixtures for your set or audience lighting, just be aware that you still need to hit your 70-90 foot candles, or else your video guys will complain about having to always iris out and it may not look great on the screens as they do that. Work with your video team when using highly saturated colors to make sure that the colors are not too intense for the camera’s sensors – this depends on the camera, but over-saturated colors look blotchy and bad on IMAG.

Experiment and Work with Your Lighting Rig

Now that you’ve read this guide to improving your IMAG lighting, go and work on whatever lighting rig you have the ability to improve. Note how every little change you make improves the quality of your video, even if you are just taping or doing IMAG with a consumer or prosumer video camera. Know that you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on new fixtures just to get great IMAG video.

Have fun, be safe, and as always, come back here to OSL to find out even more ways to improve your stage lighting!

David Henry is a American professional in the stage lighting industry and writes at learnstagelighting.com , a place designed for churches and other beginners to learn more about stage lighting!  Visit LearnStageLighting.com for the easiest place to learn how to use your lighting system.

Image by Anirudh Koul on Flickr.

  1. Richard Cadena

    Great article Rob and David! Everything is spot on, and I would add that working with diffusion might be trickier than it seems. The first time I used it on camera, I was aiming for very soft shadows and no matter how much diffusion gel I stuck in the gate of the ellipsoidal, I couldn’t get those pesky shadows to soften up. So I took a rig into the shop and started playing with it. What I found is that the close the diffusion is to the subject compared to the light source, the softer the shadows. Suddenly I understood why motion picture gaffers used so many grip stands. Now when I’m lighting a subject, if I have the ability to put a big sheet of diffusion on a grip stand, that’s what I do. Sometimes you don’t have that option because it blocks sight lines. The next best option is to use a soft box, which creates a bigger source with softer light. If that’s not an option then Fresnels are probably the next best option – the bigger the better. And I’m not talking about a tungsten Fresnel b/c those are energy hogs. I’m referring to the new generation of LED Fresnels, but that’s a different subject. Keep up the great work guys!

  2. Thomas Pendergrass

    Great article!
    I think that light level is not that important as long as the light is even. Light leven can depend on a lot of things including brightness of the room, brightness of the set, instruments available, etc.

    At my church the entire service is lit at 25foot candles. When spot metered against my set they come out about equal. With our hitachi z4k cameras we can still run at 0db gain but with the iris close to its widest setting. While this might not be ideal for television, it gives us a very nice shallow depth of wild look. Running a lower light level also makes the beamage from my floor lights much more vibrant on video.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on using a single keylight for each position vs an even stage wash as described above.

    Great post!

  3. David Henry


    You are exactly right! However, I wrote this post as a 30,000 ft. flyover, and wrote it assuming a “typical” stage wash.

    I love the artistic idea of using a spot for each position, and it can really look great if all the spots are at the same intensity, of course.

    Same with the lower light level – it works great with 4k camera’s, but a lot of people don’t have access to that technology on a day to day basis, so I wanted to make sure that this guide would work for someone on an old SD camera rig as well as a new rig!

    I see that I could have clarified the necessity of evenness better- thanks for the comment, Thomas!


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