How to Light Faces for Livestream? – Quick Tips from ARRI Specialists

September 22nd, 2023 Jump to Comment Section 1
How to Light Faces for Livestream? – Quick Tips from ARRI Specialists

Since COVID-19 kicked in, livestreams have become a normal part of our daily routine. We watch big conferences and announcements with participants and speakers from all over the world. We hop on Zoom calls from the home office more often than not, and we even make video interviews remotely. In most cases, it’s almost always important to have a nice picture. This is why ARRI experts demonstrated a selection of quick techniques designed to assist you in effectively lighting faces for live streaming and other similar purposes. (I mean you, fellow YouTubers, as this information might be useful for your channels as well!) Here we will give you a short recap and describe some of their insights.

As we all know, lighting is often a tricky task. Yet, even in an unflattering setting with only a limited number of lights on hand, there are still ways to make a person look good on camera. In the ARRI Tech Talk, Art Adams – cinema lens specialist at ARRI – demonstrates different techniques with the help of only two ARRI SkyPanels S30-C, a bounce card, and diffusion. For him, the most important thing is to position the sources in the right place to light a face.

How to light faces for livestream - with only 2 SkyPanels
Image source: ARRI/MZed

 You can watch the entire demonstration from this ARRI Tech Talk on for free.

For starters: common mistakes in lighting faces for a live stream

The first setup Art Adams demonstrates is how he would NOT light a person for a livestream. Two LED panels, both at the same 45-degree angle to the camera, are placed on different sides of the lens and set to the same intensity. You might see this technique in some broadcast studios, as it works flawlessly for news, talk shows, or other formats that require multiple cameras placed strategically. The idea behind it is to create a very flat light on the face so that it looks good from any perspective.

How to light faces for livestream - how not to
Image source: ARRI/MZed

However, flat light doesn’t look interesting at all, and the picture loses its three-dimensionality completely.  With just one camera and a single subject, you have the flexibility to improve the image quickly by moving the lights around.

A general tip here is to pull your subject away from the background. In many situations, your background for a livestream will only be a white wall, so make sure your lights fall off so it appears darker. This will provide better separation in the shot and the subject will pop out.

How to light faces for livestream - taking your subject away from the background
Image source: ARRI/MZed

Switching to portrait lighting in one step

So where do we start when we want a more appealing image? Art Adams’s answer: with modeling contrast. The simplest method is to reduce the intensity of one of our previous light sources and repurpose it as a fill light. In the example below, the left SkyPanel is set to 5% output and the right one to 30%.

How to light faces for livestream - creating contrast
Image source: ARRI/MZed

A tiny alteration, but the result changes dramatically, right? This technique is called traditional portrait lighting. This means that the light strikes the face so it creates a shadow at the nose, which falls along what’s commonly referred to as the “smile line.”

How to light faces for livestream - smile line
Image source: ARRI/MZed

Now the face has much more contrast. If you want to play around with the shadow, here are a few tips:

  • Bring your fill light closer to the camera and the shadow will be closer to the nose, reducing its size;
  • Alternatively, move the light further away from the camera to extend the nose shadow and achieve even greater contrast.

Bringing the source closer to the camera

Another good reason to bring your light (the one with less intensity) closer to the camera is that this setup gives your shot the feeling that there is only one strong light source. In such a scenario, the light would fill in the shadows in a way that is soft and diffused without casting an extra shadow. The result you get looks like this:

How to light faces for livestream - putting source closer to the camera
Image source: ARRI/MZed

As you see in the lighting demonstration above, our subject only has a single chin shadow, and as an added bonus, a nice little catchlight in the eye.

Filling from the key side

In Art Adams’s opinion (as well as mine) the previous setup is a nice choice to light faces for livestream. However, the image has only two tonal values, and you can achieve more if desired. The technique is called filling from the key side. Basically, you take the fill light from our previous example and place it on the other side of the camera, side-by-side next to your key source. The result will be the following:

How to light faces for livestream - different tonal values

Do you see the subtle yet powerful difference? It will be even more visible on people with rounder faces. The tonal value on the cheek on the fill side dropped off considerably more than in the previous example. The overall image looks very natural, as though the light comes through a real window. A nice go-to look, which is also easy to set up.

Creating a big source to light faces for livestream

A nose shadow can be a challenge and it will always appear prominent if you are using small lights. The harder this shadow is, the more precisely it has to be placed to create a flattering effect. Remember the “smile line”? This is the spot where we want the nose shadow to fall.

However, there is a trick that makes our life easier, says Art Adams. We take the two SkyPanels, which stand on one side of the camera, and combine them to make a larger source by using diffusion, as shown in the screenshot below.

How to light faces for livestream - larger source
Image source: ARRI/MZed

A large source is going to be softer, and even more so when it’s placed closer to the subject. This way the nose shadow doesn’t disappear, but it’s not as harsh anymore. Additionally, the big diffused light gives the face a soft glow on the cheek and the forehead. This is called a “specular highlight” – a reflection of the light, which you won’t get from a hard source. The result is a very flattering and rich image with a wide range of tonalities.

Beauty light

The last technique Art Adams shows us in his demonstration creates an image that is not very three-dimensional, yet it’s a commercial look that will make almost anyone like themselves on camera. The trick is to take one light source, place it close to your lens, and bounce against a bounce card, as illustrated below:

How to light faces for livestream - beauty light bounced from the bounce card
Image source: ARRI/MZed

It takes away the hard shadows from the face and adds specular highlights in the middle (as if a person glows from within), creating a pleasing image overall. If you want to adjust the chin shadow, you can simply place your source and the bounce card higher.

Image source: ARRI/MZed

It reminds me of the effect of a ring light, yet it’s not exactly the same. Of course, as Art Adams says, it’s not a very interesting image because it lacks contrast. Sometimes though, it’s more important to make the person on camera feel good.

Lighting faces for livestream: conclusion

There are a lot of ways to light faces for livestreams or for other purposes. As you see, you don’t always need complicated gear or a lot of light sources and different accessories to make your image look good. We hope this demonstration by ARRI specialists was useful. If you want to gain more insight from working with ARRI camera systems, lenses, lights, and accessories, head over to and watch all the episodes of “ARRI Tech Talk” for free.

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Which setup from those mentioned above did you like the most? What is your go-to technique to light faces for a livestream? How would you place two similar light sources to create a compelling image? Let’s talk in the comments below!

Feature image source: ARRI Academy / MZed.

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