When it comes to making professional-looking YouTube videos, lighting is everything. That’s why I’ve put together this ultimate guide on cheap lighting for YouTube videos.
In this guide, I’m going to be proving that you don’t need a Hollywood budget to get Hollywood-style lighting quality— you just need to be smart about the lighting equipment you buy. I’ll be showing you how to get the lighting you need without breaking the bank.
I’ll be talking about why lighting’s important, how to set up a good (and cheap) lighting rig, and how to determine what type of lighting is best for your YouTube videos. I’ll also be suggesting my top picks for the best lighting for YouTube under $500 – most of which are under $100. Let’s get started!
Why Lighting Is Important
The number one reason why lighting is so important for YouTube videos is because it has a huge impact on the quality of the footage you record – and nothing bounces a viewer faster than poor quality footage. Your camera is only as good as your lighting. Even if you’ve spent thousands on a professional-grade camera, your footage will look rubbish if the scene isn’t well-lit. Why?
Well, that’s because cameras see light and only light. They create an image based on the light that passes into their lens. If there isn’t enough light, the image comes out looking grainy, hazy, washed out, and generally poor quality.
Plus, despite all our technological advancements, cameras still need a lot more light than we do. Camera lenses can’t yet fully replicate the human eye and pick up on the same level of finite detail and contrast. To make up for the difference, we need to give them more light. As such, even if a scene looks well-lit enough for you, it might not be enough for your camera.
Getting the lighting right will also save you time on the editing process, as you won’t need to spend too much time on colour correction trying to fix the bad contrast.
Another reason lighting is important is because it sets the right mood. If you’re making YouTube videos, you’ll want to evoke the right emotions in your audience and project the right image. Lighting can help with this.
The Basics of Good Lighting
To help you to create the best possible cheap lighting setup, it helps to know some of the basics. Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty simple. There are basically 3 components to a good lighting setup. These are:
- Key light— this is the main light that lights up your subject (that’s you if you’re a vlogger)
- Backlights— this is a light that sits behind your subject and lights up their head and shoulders; it adds depth to the scene.
- Fill lights— this is an extra light or two lights that sit on either side of the subject to mirror the key light and fill in the shadows it casts.
If you do the math, that’s 3 to 4 separate lights you’ll need for the best possible lighting setup.
However, we are working on a budget here so that might not always be possible. The most important aspect is the key light, so we’ll focus on getting that right first and foremost. We’ll try to nail the fill lights and backlights if possible too.
Different Types of Cheap Lighting For YouTube Videos
Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about the different type of lighting sources you can choose from. Here are your main 5 options.
1. Natural Light
Natural light means light from the sun. The good thing about natural light is it certainly is cheap— the sun generously gives us light for free. The bad thing is that you don’t really have a lot of control over this light source.
You can’t control the lighting angle and, depending on the time of day and where your windows are, sunlight alone probably isn’t going to be enough light to provide sharpness and clarity for your subject.
That being said, there is some equipment we can use to help give us a little more control over natural light, such as disc light reflectors. These are a lot cheaper than light sources, so they can be a good option for YouTube lighting if you’re on a really tight budget.
A softbox is a box that’s been built around a light source (like a bulb). It has reflective internal material and an external panel that diffuses the light to make it softer.
The soft light emulates natural light pretty well and makes it a good choice for making indoor YouTube videos when you want a natural look. You can use one as a front light, and add others on either side as fill lights if you want to spend a little more.
3. Umbrella Lighting
Who said umbrellas were just for blocking the rain?
Umbrella lights pair a light source with an actual umbrella. The umbrella is used to reflect or refract light (depending on whether you’re using a shoot-through or reflective umbrella light) onto your subject.
Umbrella lighting is known to be an affordable and portable light source that produces soft lighting for any subject. Compared to softboxes, umbrellas create more controlled and directional lighting for your subject.
The curved shape of the umbrella gives more direction to the light and makes the edges of the shadows ‘pop’. It also gives a broader coverage as the light isn’t boxed in like it is with softboxes. Umbrella lights produce more dramatic lighting so they’re good for cinematic indoor YouTube videos where you want a more polished look.
4. Ring Lights
Ring lighting is a super-popular budget lighting option amongst YouTubers. As the name suggests, it’s a light source in a ring shape. This is the easiest option to set up as you usually just need to plug it in and point it directly at your subject.
The shape of the light and the fact that it provides even and straight lighting means it’s very flattering and completely avoids shadows. This makes it great for beauty vlogs.
5. On-camera Lights
On-camera lights are usually LED lights that sit on top of your camera to act as a fill light. They’re usually square or rectangular, and they’re more affordable than other options. The fact that they attach to your camera makes them a good option for on-the-go YouTube videos and travel vlogs.
What Type Of YouTube Lighting Should You Use?
With all of the above in mind, here’s a quick recap that summarizes what lighting you should use based on what kind of videos you plan on making
- Cinematic/dramatic indoor videos – umbrella lighting
- Natural-looking indoor videos – softbox lighting
- Beauty vlogs/make-up tutorials – ring lighting
- On-the-go YouTube videos – on-camera lighting
Or, if your budget is really, really tight, go for natural lighting with a light reflector.
Keep all that in mind while you’re choosing your light source from the list below. Now let’s dive into my list of the top 7 best lighting for YouTube under $500.
Best for: Beauty vloggers
This Diva ring light is my number one recommendation if you’re a beauty vlogger as it’s perfect for maximizing clarity and sharpness with no shadows. It’s also a great option for anyone else who just wants something easy to set up that will make them look good on their YouTubes videos.
It’s a powerful, 500W light that comes with a 5500k daylight bulb, camera mount, mounting bracket, and light stand. You can mount it on your existing tripod or stick it on the light stand to control the angle.
I should note that this is the priciest YouTube lighting source on this list, but it’s also the best. Plus, it’s still under $200, which really isn’t all that expensive. You can probably only afford one to use as a key light, but seeing as ring lights don’t cast any harsh shadows, you don’t really need any fill lights anyway.
Best for: iPhone recordings
In case the Diva is a little expensive for you, here’s something much cheaper: the Qiaya rechargeable selfie ring light.
The thing that makes the Qiaya unique is that it’s marketed as a ‘selfie ring light’ and can be mounted to your smartphone. I know that a lot of amateurs YouTubers record their videos using their smartphone’s, so I had to include this one in the list.
It’s really cheap and extremely compact. You can fit it in your pocket and have flexible lighting on the go.
Best for: Indoor vlogging setups
If you want something a little more permanent, and plan on making indoor YouTube videos, I’d recommend this LimoStudio softbox kit. The great thing about the kit is that it doesn’t just give you one light source – it gives you two. You also get an 86-inch tall light stand and a carry bag.
This means you can create a set up with both a key light and fill lights or a backlight for a more complete lighting studio. It takes a little longer to set up than a ring light, but the results are worth it.
The bulbs are huge and incredibly bright, and the overall effect of the lights is to brighten your complexion and soften any imperfections you don’t want to stand out. If you’re worried about energy consumption, don’t be. These softbox lights use energy-saving fluorescent spiral bulbs, so you’ll use up to 80% less energy.
They’re a great option if you want to make professional, natural-looking indoor YouTube videos. Plus, they’re cheap!
Best for: Indoor vlogging setups
The Fomito Godox Top Octogan Softbox is another great example of affordable softbox lighting for YouTube videos. Thanks to the octagon shape, this softbox creates a great broad coverage and produces natural-looking catchlights in your subject’s eyes.
It’s great for indoor YouTube videos when you want to be a little more precise about the shape of your light and will really bring your skin tone to life. The only downside to this softbox is that it’s not very easy to set up. That being said, it doesn’t take a genius either, just put aside 10-15 minutes and that will be plenty of time.
Best for: Cinematic indoor YouTube videos
The CowboyStudio is my favourite cheap umbrella lighting kit for YouTube. As I said earlier, the advantage of umbrella lighting is that the curved shape provides broad coverage and dramatic soft shadows, which makes it a good option if you’re looking for a more dramatic look.
I’m still amazed at how affordable this is. Considering the price, it’s crazy what you get for your money. The product includes 3 powerful, 45W 5500k bulbs, 2 white umbrellas, 2 7-foot stands, 1 mini stand, and a carrying case. That’s pretty much everything you need for a full lighting rig.
Overall, it’s a great entry-level lighting kit for YouTubers that want to get that cinematic look and make their indoor videos look that little bit more well-produced.
Best for: On-the-go/travel vloggers
If you’re making YouTube videos on the go, you need something portable that travels with you. In that case, look no further than the Aputure H198 Amaran On-Camera Light. This is my top pick for on-camera lights for YouTube. It’s cheap (under $50), powerful, and versatile.
The 198 individual LEDs all work together to create a powerful stream of light that brightens the subject and produces near-perfect colour accuracy. It also lets you be more precise as a creator by adjusting the colour temperature to fit the mood of your YouTube video. It’s universally riggable and comes with a metal ball-head swivel mount.
Best for: Outdoor YouTube videos
Last but not least we have the Neewer collapsible multi-disc light reflector. This product had to make the list simply because it’s super cheap.
It’s not a light source as such, it just reflects the light that’s already there. You place it at an angle where it can reflect the light from the sun (or any other light source) back onto your subject.
This means that if you can’t afford an artificial light source, it still allows you to control the direction of your natural lighting and change bad angles to good ones, which makes it a great alternative.
It’s also a great add-on to other lighting sources. For example, if you were to purchase the Fomito Godox Top Octagon Softbox that we mentioned earlier, you’d only get a single key light. However, you could pair it with some of these reflector discs to act as fill lights or a backlight and get a broader, more even coverage that minimizes shadows.
This set comes with 5 reflector discs in different colors, so you can have full control over the color of the lighting and the mood of your video. It’s easy to set up, just pop it in a reflector holder and go!