4 super easy practical lighting effects for video or stills

4 super easy practical lighting effects for video or stills

Effects lighting is an extremely fun area of lighting to explore. In this context, they’re about recreating the light that we see in our daily lives with studio lights. While aimed more at video, the techniques and setups can apply equally as well to stills photography, too.

In this 4 Minute Film School video from Aputure, Ted Sim talks to DP Julia Swain about recreating several practical lighting effects. A TV screen, a projector, city lights and police lights. And they’re all done very simply with the minimum of kit.

Although they use the upcoming Aputure Mini 20 in the video, the effects can be done with pretty much any light. You may find that you need to flag off some styles of light, yourself. But, making some DIY barn doors with foamcore and gaffer tape is easy enough.

TV Screen

Creating the glow from a TV screen is fairly straightforward. It’s an effect we see in a lot of movies whenever somebody is watching a TV in the dark. The light was next to the subjects, with the light flagged from hitting them directly. It was then bounced back towards the subjects off a 2ft “pizza box” reflector. Basically, a 2’x2′ silver reflective square.

The secret to selling the effect, at least for video, is to adjust the power of the light while you’re filming. This simulates the changing shots & scenes that would appear on the screen they’re watching. For stills, you don’t really need the flicker. Just a level of light that looks pleasing to you.


The projector is really just an extension of the TV. Even though the main light source in the real world (the projector itself) would be behind them, there’s still light reflecting off the screen and coming back toward the subjects.

Here, all that’s been done is to add a second light behind the actors working as a backlight. Here, though, things get a little more tricky. The two lights are quite far from each other. So, you’ll need two operators working in sync with each other to ensure that the power goes up and down on each light together. If your projector light goes up while your screen’s glow goes down, it just doesn’t sell the effect.

If you’re short on bodies to work the set, you could always go with remote control lights. The Aputure Mini 20, HR672s, and several others allow you to control multiple lights simultaneously at the single push of a button. So, you’ll always be sure that your “projector” and your “screen” are going up and down together.

Again, for stills, the ability to simulate flicker doesn’t matter. You just need to balance the lights in a way you like.

City Lights

Simulating the outside world through a window is fairly simple during the day. But at night, it can be difficult to simulate, especially with a shallower depth of field.

The trick here is to use Christmas lights. But, you want to buy ones with actual bulbs, not LED strips. With LED strips you’ll often find they flicker or produce weird colour. Although, there are some that can counter this effect. This is true even if you’re shooting stills, if you want consistency and reliability between shots.

You’ll want to make sure to get the lights on the other side of the window, and back as far as possible. This helps to sell the effect of parallax as the camera moves in the scene. It also means the lights will become obscured or visible as they move past the window frame.

Police Lights

This one probably isn’t as common a scene for most of us. But it’s a relatively easy effect to achieve,

There’s a couple of different ways to achieve this effect, as mentioned in the video.

The first is to mount mirrors onto light stands. A pair of red & blue gelled lights bouncing into them as you spin the lights around will create this type of effect. That’s pretty much how police lights work in the real world, too.

But another way to do it, if your lights are small enough is to simply mount two lights together pointing in opposite directions. Then gel one red, and one blue and spin the whole thing.

So, four practical lighting effects that are very simple and straightforward to achieve. And while you don’t really get the full effect in a still that you do with video, they setup is very similar. You just don’t have to worry so much about flickering and movement of lights.

[via No Film School]

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

A magnifying glass is a handy little tool, popular with intrepid detectives and bug collectors. As the name suggests, the convex lens produces a magnified image of an object, but it can also be used to make some unusual and eye-catching imagery. Pairing a photographic lens with a magnifying glass will probably not create a flawless alternative to a macro lens, but the unique properties of a handheld convex lens mean that there are endless combinations of optical effects to exploit.

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

What you will need:

  • DSLR camera
  • Magnifying glass
  • Subject to photograph
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Tripod

Getting Started

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

The first thing to remember when using this technique is that the glass in your average, run-of-the-mill magnifying glass will be of far lesser quality than that of the glass inside your camera. The nature of the cheaper quality glass lends a softening effect to an image so sharpening in post-production (using software like Photoshop or Camera Raw) will help to add a bit more definition to the photographs. But don’t worry if you aren’t getting pin-sharp precision, the softness can actually add to the image overall.

Using a tripod to photograph subjects through the lens of a magnifying glass is a good idea too. Without a tripod, camera shake will add another layer of difficulty to a process that can be slightly tricky at times. For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve chosen flowers as my subject. They make good subjects for this technique because they are colorful, interesting and they don’t move around. Getting the hang of this technique on a static subject will save you a bit of frustration when moving onto more animate subject matter later

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

This leaf was photographed against a window with the afternoon sun pouring through from behind. The light illuminated the veins in the leaf and the magnifying glass helped capture the detail in its intricate fibers.

Magnification depends upon a magnifying glass’s distance relative to the subject or camera, so there are endless angles and distances to experiment with to create imagery with soft light and diffused bokeh-like effects.


First, clean the glass of the magnifying glass with a tissue or cleaning cloth to avoid dust spots. Maneuver your camera up close to the subject. If you are using a zoom lens, zoom in as far as possible. Your autofocus will most likely get confused by the additional glass between the lens and the subject, so set your lens to manual focus instead.

Hold the magnifying glass over the front of the lens with your hand.  Notice that it will either make the subject appear bigger or just extremely out of focus. With one hand you will need to either adjust the camera focus manually or move the magnifying glass forward and backward between the camera and subject. Trying to find a sweet spot where part or all of the image looks focused can be tricky – but be open to how the magnifying glass alters the photograph. The results can often surprise you.

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

Keep in mind that the extra layer of glass will cut down the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor so you may have to adjust the exposure compensation, depending on the available light of your setup. Don’t forget to experiment with depth of field by adjusting the aperture as well. Taking control of the aperture will guide the viewer’s eye around the photograph. That can be crucial in more abstract images like these floral landscapes.


The best bit about this technique is that it rewards experimentation. Once you have a feel for photographing your subject through a magnifying glass, why not use two taped together for greater magnification? Or take a chance at photographing a friend or pet? Or why not try including the loop of the magnifying glass to create a framing effect? With even the slightest adjustment in angle or distance a magnifying glass can render some unique results. Take the time to experiment and have fun.

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

Experiment with black and white images to highlight shape and form.

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

Tape two magnifying glasses together for greater magnification.

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

Create unusual framing effects by incorporating the loop of the magnifying glass in your photograph.

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

How to Create Artistic Photos with a Magnifying Glass

After you get the hang of photographing still objects, why not move onto something more animated.