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My Best Video Lighting Tip is Master Eyes and Smiles

3 post lighting eyes lighting smile

One of the best video lighting tips and tricks that I can share with you is to understand the importance of eyes and smiles.

Eyes are windows to the souls and smiles are windows to the heart. 

Eyes and smiles are the main act. ’Pretty light’ is just window dressing.

If you can get eyes, smiles and attractive lighting, all power to you. If you are starting out and want to understand what will benefit you in your business, then in order of importance


  1. Eyes
  2. Smiles
  3. Fancy Lights


When you look at this picture what do you see?


I’m drawn into the warmth and friendliness that this face exudes. My eyes are doing a dance up, down and around the eyes and the smile. I have connected with this person. I even want to get to know this person. I even like this person.

What about you? Do you see this? Do you feel this?

If you do then pause for a moment and make this important connection. We do business with people we know, like and trust. That’s the KLT factor.

When you are making business videos this is critical. You want your audience/customer/client to connect with you.

When you are making factual TV or dramatic cinema there are many moods/intents that you are lighting for. Liking a person is often not the required outcome.


For so much of business video, like-ability is essential. Why?

Because when people watch you they are looking for two things. Credibility and Connect-ability. They want to be sure you know what you are talking about. They want to feel they can trust you.

If you could only choose one it is connect-ability. Can they warm to you? If not they’ll move on to the next video. Connect-ability opens the door to let you show your credibility.

The easiest way to establish warmth is to use a single light to highlight your eyes and smiles.

The fastest way to extinguish this much need warmth is to add layers of technology - that you don’t have mastery over and is adding to your stress - between you and your audience.


Lighting Your Eyes

Most people don’t realise this. 

Eyes are mirrors that reveal your secrets. 

Look at these pictures. I’ve zoomed in close on some high-resolution images that I’ve downloaded. 

If you were a detective and needed to solve the mystery of these identities, what could learn? What leads could you get?

This person may live in a place with large French doors that lead to a sunny balcony with a view past some trees.


This person has been in a room with shallow balconies with glass balustrades. They look out over the water to buildings. One with a dome, one with a stepped tower. There is a table with what looks like yellow/green glass vase or sculpture.


This person was in a room with another person hunched over a camera. Outside is a distinctive glass balustrade with an extra safety layer of glass. The doorway has sheer curtains bunched to one side. Opposite is a bed.


I use this forensic technique on most images I look at. I can clearly tell what lights have been used. This is a fast way to learn how to light without actually setting up any lights.

Look at our warm friend again. What do you see?


Let’s go in closer.  A large soft light has been placed almost directly overhead and to the side is a bounce board. This is a large white panel that reflects light back onto the person.


If we zoom back out I can tell that bounce boards were used on both sides. Black skin acts like a mirror as well. Much more so than pale skin. There’s another pro tip for you. Can you ‘see’ the lighting now? If you do this thousands of times you will ‘see’ light just like I do.


Now you are aware of this, understand that there is one light we can reflect in the eye that makes a big difference to your know, like and trust. It’s called an eye light.

An eye light is one light placed close to the lens, usually just above the camera. It creates a flat light. Flat light can be flattering. One single flat light like this can make you look younger. 

In portraiture, this is known as the glamour light.


In movies and commercials, directors know the power of the eye light. This one-light reflected on your eyes lights you up. There is a spark. There is a connection. These little dots of light are windows to the soul. Watch the close-ups in Hollywood films and you’ll see these ‘glints of light’. They are a trick of the trade. Now we can use them too.


One light, directly above your lens, shining directly into your eyes helps you better connect with your audience/customer/client. This is a much better use of your time than struggling with 3 lights.


Lighting Your Smile

As a documentary cameraman, I spent thousands of hours studying people’s faces while they talked.

I was also seeing something else. I started to realise that the best light, the sexiest, the softest, the most flattering light I had in my lighting kit was empathy. I used to make people look good with technology until I realised that empathy was a much better brush. 

Be it a politician or a plumber, a model or a mathematician, if they looked uncomfortable, I spent a minute or so with them, gave them a few tips, physically touched them, said ‘I get that it feels uncomfortable but I’m working to make you shine.’

If they believed it they would project it. Getting them to start lighting themselves on the inside was far more effective than any light I could throw on them from the outside.

With self-belief, you establish a relationship with your audience much much faster than without it.

A clear-cut case I experienced was with a TV foreign correspondent. She was and still is, top of her game in reporting world events. Professional and polished in front of the camera, there was always something wrong. I knew it was a facial blemish she was self-conscious about.

So I’d put the thumbprint filter on for her. It’s an old Hollywood trick from the glamour days. You wipe your thumb on your forehead to pick up a light film of skin oil then press your thumb on the lens as you look through the viewfinder so the smudge ended neatly over the subject’s face. Then you’d get a hanky and feather the edges. It was a poor man’s soft-focus beauty effect.

BUT … here’s the thing. When I feathered it down with the hanky, bit by bit, all I was doing was wiping the lens clean at the same time reassuring her she was looking great. There was no soft-focus filter but her internal confidence was up and she looked great on camera.



My Top 2 DIY Video Lighting Tips

1. If you are creating videos, maybe using co-workers, work as hard on making them feel relaxed and making them feel that they ‘are doing great’ as much as you do on your technical lighting.

If you are stressed, they will feed off your energy. In turn, the audience feeds off their energy. An opportunity missed.


2. If you are making your own ‘selfie-videos’ where you are presenting to camera, remember to smile. This is far more powerful than looking perfectly lit. It’s hard to smile if you are going through a long pre-record checklist. Don’t make your video making more complex than flying a plane.

There’s a lot of unseen power in one light.

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