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How to Set Up Lights In a Recording Studio

Updated on March 29, 2018
. . . "Light . . .  camera . . .  and, . . . action"
. . . "Light . . . camera . . . and, . . . action" | Source

This hub will give you a clear perspective of studio lighting basics that is vital for a recording studio set up.

It will provide the skills required to control the quality of your studio lighting, and will ensure that your recording works turns out a stunning success.

Studio production lights come in all sizes, types and shapes, and generally consist of halogen lamps, fluorescent bulbs, LED and incandescent light fixtures.

Each and every type has their advantages and disadvantages, just as lighting accessories, like soft boxes, reflectors and diffusers do.

When you plan to set up a studio, take for example a news room set, there are a few rules that need be followed. The first rule is "bigger translates to softer", meaning soft lighting is much better

The ability to control the colour and quality of lighting can turn an ordinary looking recording into a masterpiece. That is the reason why some of the best lighting techniques are carried out in a controlled environment like a recording studio.

So to get the best results for your recordings, you will know the factors to consider when placing or installing your studio lighting gear, to ensure you produce recorded scenes that look as good as they do in the movies.

Studio lighting kit
Studio lighting kit | Source

Studio Lamp Types and Features

The first thing to map out is the kind of lights you want to use in your recording studio.

Incandescent Lights

The popular and most affordable lighting types are the incandescent or quartz halogen lamps. They may be the popular choice, but they are not necessarily the best.

The problem with these kinds of lighting is the heat they emit. Quartz halogen lights are the warmest lamps in the market and can easily raise the temperature of a recording studio by several degrees, and that's after being on for only a few minutes.

Additionally, they use up a tremendous amount of electrical power (wattage) for the amount of luminance they provide within the space. They also have a shorter lifespan than most lamps, and because of this, they have to be replaced very often.

Fluorescent Lamps

The disadvantages associated with incandescent/halogen lights have prompted many electrical lighting technicians to use fluorescent type of lighting.

And though a bit more expensive than quartz halogen lamps, they have good qualities in that they stay and maintain a much cooler environment, give out a softer quality of light appropriate for the recording studio, and best of all, consume less power.

The only real disadvantage of fluorescent lights is that they don’t give adequate luminance to distant objects.

But even so, many news stations, commercial, and home studios are beginning to use these lights due to their affordability, and the soft light quality they give.

LED (Light-Emitting Diode) Lights

The last lamps to consider are LED lights. LED lights are by far the most effective and efficient studio light sources and unlike other lighting lamps, they don't generate heat.

They may be more expensive than the other types of lights, but you'll save hundreds of dollars in the long run if you use this genre of lights for your studio.

Having said that, energy conscious establishments like the higher news studios and even places like the White House press room, are using LED fixtures, to save them significant amounts of money on bulb and electrical energy costs.

Types of Fixtures/Housing

Knowing simple studio lighting basics means knowing the roles that light fixtures or housing plays in good studio lighting setups. Choosing the right type will give you ample control, which makes your studio lighting set up great.

It's good to look out for a useful and important feature when choosing the kind of lamp to use. It's called a Fresnel lens.

This glass lens is made from a type of glass that bends light beams. They are usually sold paired off with a movable light mount that allow the flexibility of broadening or narrowing beams of light.

This function gives you control of how you wish the light to affect the recording scene. The narrow light beams cast stronger light over long shot distances, whilst the broader light beam falls off rather quickly.

Another thing to consider is whether you want a feature that has a removable plug-in. This is a good thing to consider if intend to use your studio lights outside of your studio, for example, at a different location.

It's a good way to save money, and you'll be able to dismantle or take down all your lights without having to undo the studio's electrical wiring.

It’s also nice to have the capacity to mount barn doors and coloured gels to light fixtures in the studio, so that you'll be able to control the colour temperature of the light, and where it falls within the frame.

Light size is also another thing to consider. Bigger light sources like multi-bank fluorescent fixtures work very well with green screen backgrounds.

They help to soften shadows, and just as wide lights, soft lights have a shorter throw, so it’s best to use them at much closer distances. This follows the general rule that 'the bigger the light source, the softer the quality of light'.

Fresnel Lens - front view
Fresnel Lens - front view
Fresnel Lens - side view
Fresnel Lens - side view | Source

And if your studio set-up is a fixed one, it’s good to make ensure that your lighting fixtures have DMX (Digital Multiplex) outputs. This will afford you the opportunity to plug a three or five pin cable from your light fixture, to a light board in order to control your light intensity.

But if your fixtures don’t have DMX outputs, you will still be able to control your light intensity by using a DMX relay, or dimmer pack.

These two units will assign a channel address to each plug and allow you to dim your fixtures using a standard lighting board.

With these studio lighting basics, you can save a lot of time and effort in setting up efficient and effective lighting systems in your studio.

DMX output . . .
DMX output . . . | Source

Studio Lighting Setup in the Room

The best way to know the studio lighting set up which best covers your needs is by drawing a lighting plan. You can sketch one yourself using graph paper, or use a simple computer drawing software if you know how to.

Start this procedure by first measuring the room's dimensions, ensuring you cover each part of the studio, and then draw a bird’s eye view of the space. Determine the distance you want the camera to be placed from the back wall, and the distance between the background (backdrop) from the front wall.

Remember to leave enough room for your tripods, monitors, and other occupants of the studio, but don’t place the camera too close to the back wall.

On your graph sketch (or the drawing program), mark the symbols that will represent the backdrops and the cameras. Then calculate the distance between the two symbols (backdrop to the camera), and divide the number by 3. This represents the distance where your subject must be from the backdrop.

This ensures you get the shallowest depth of field when you use a zoom lens.

Your subject must be far enough from the background so that you can separate their lightings from the backgrounds. You can also move your subject a little closer to the camera if you don’t have a far enough distance.

Next, determine where you want to put your background lighting truss by simply dividing the height of your backdrop by 2. This will get your studio lights a far enough distance away from the screen, and cover up the whole backdrop with light. On the other hand, if the backdrop is higher than 10ft (305cm), you can place some lights on stands to cover the bottom portion of the backdrop.

For better a studio lighting setup, you need to install at least an additional truss about 4ft to 8ft (120cm to 240cm) away from where the subject will be positioned. This truss will hold the subjects key and fill light.

And if you want to make your shots look even better, and you are lucky to have a fairly wide studio, you should include a good number of key and fill lights at 3ft to 4ft (90cm to 120cm) intervals. With this, the recorded shots churned out from your studio will look professionally done, no matter where the subject moves.

On a final note, a studio lighting setup is no easy task without knowing the studio lighting basics, but if you can devote just a little time to understand how these factors work, and how they will affect your studio recordings positively, you are well on the way to building a recording studio that saves you time and money, and greatly improves your studio shots as well.

© 2011 viryabo


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    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you G. Your wonderful comments mean a lot to me.

      I'm glad you can relate to the 'studio' topic.

      Would love to see your photos showcase. I'm sure they'll be so beautiful, as can be seen with your profile photographs. They always look so awesome.

      GodBless G.

    • GPAGE profile image


      7 years ago from California

      viryabo.....the best thing I could of learned in photography is to take chances and not always follow rules!!! ha.....One of the best things I ever learned was "how to light a subject and how to create shadows on one's face" wonders for dramatic flair!!!! ha.....One day I will showcase my photo's here.....need to scan a lot of them especially the celebrities.....most were done using film in the 90's.....Thank you for always writing such informative articles.......hope you are well! G

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hello Denise, thank you masses. I'm so happy to know that you find it useful and interesting enough to refer it to your nephew.

      I see the encouragement and support you are giving him, just as you give us too.

      You are blessed.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks so much Ann.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Very useful. Rated up and such. I told my nephew about the studio hub I read by you and he was interested in reading it and seeing the equipment. I don't think that it ever occurred to him about this, but now he is getting his mind wrapped around it.

      Plus, I had an idea to redo his room into a music pad. I'm going to discuss it with him and see if he likes the idea. Thanks for getting me on a different path with him. :)

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      7 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      very interesting


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