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How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup

Nick Utter

Walking into a video production set without a lighting plan can throw your production schedule out the window. Here are some things that can help your shoot run smoothly.

All images via Nick Utter

Even though it might be a bit more work on the front end of your productions, taking the time to diagram and plan what you want in the way of lighting will save your crew both time and stress. Let’s look at few things to take into consideration and then explore the exceptionally helpful process of creating lighting diagrams.

Know the Ins and Outs of Your Location

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Know Your Location

One of the most important things to take into consideration is your location. On your location scout, make sure that you look for possible problems and limiting factors. 

Some locations offer the ability to control the natural light already present in the scene, so be aware of where the sun will be during your shoot. I absolutely love using the Sun Scout app for iPhone. It uses your iPhone’s camera to determine when the sun will be where (as seen below).

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Sun Scout

What’s the Power Situation?

I typically try and balance our production schedule with what type of visuals we would like to accomplish. Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to set up every single scene with an entire grip truck. If we need to get by with using reflectors, nets, and mirrors, I have no problem doing that.

Sometimes you will need to film in places without accessible power. While I don’t think that you need to light up every scene (even if you have the equipment to do so), if the scene calls for more light, you can always have a generator on standby.

How Long Will You Have to Set Up?

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Time Considerations

This is my number one deciding factor on planning my lighting set ups. Sometimes, for reasons out of your control, the production time will require a quick set up. Flexibility is extremely important when working with clients. Last minute schedule changes, weather, traffic, all of these can throw wrenches into your production schedule. Having the ability to be flexible with your lighting setup will earn you points with your crew.

Create Diagrams for Lighting Planning

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Executing the Plan

After taking all of the above factors into consideration, it’s time to start planning the lighting setup. I prefer to create overhead lighting plans in Photoshop, as seen above and below.

The Shot

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Shot Example 1

The Lighting Plan

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Diagram Example 1

Keep in mind what equipment and crew you will have on hand. Plan for something that can actually be set up and taken down in the time scheduled. Even if things need to slightly change on the day of the shoot, you will at least have a great starting place for your crew to work off of. Having a starting point for your crew to visualize will get everyone on the same page immediately. Here’s another example.

The Shot

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Shot Example

The Lighting Plan

How to Plan (and Diagram) Your Video Production Lighting Setup: Example 3

 Key Points to Remember When Designing Your Lighting Plan

  • Plan for the “oh, crap” moments that can (and will) happen on set.
  • It’s better to finish early than throw the production schedule off.
  • Plan, plan, plan.
  • Create the diagram and plan again.
  • Have fun.

Got any tips for creating a perfect lighting plan? Share them in the comments below!