Light types for video — How to light your production like a pro

One of the best ways to make a production look and feel professional is to use the right lights at the right time — although this is easier said than done. There are many different light types for video production that all come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

It’s imperative that you and your crew know what lights are out there and which ones you should use in your production, ensuring the lights you choose will help elevate your production.

Types of lights


Tungsten lights are the most common type of light. If you ever see an orange-looking light in a scene of the film, it’s likely the result of a Tungsten light. Oftentimes, the light runs with an orange, red and yellow look. The reason for that is because its color temperature runs at 3200 kelvin.

These lights run very hot and produce a lot of heat, so those using them need to be careful when handling them. These lights are able to produce an orangy tone because they’re dimmable. This allows them to run at low temperatures.

How Tungsten lights work

They operate similarly to the light bulbs previously used in household lamps. These lights use a form of incandescent illumination that includes halogen gas. 

What are Tungsten lights used for?

Tungsten lights are used at low temperatures to create orange overtones. So, say you wanted to simulate the effect of candlelight on your subject — tungsten lights have the ability to create that effect. While these lights successfully simulate daylight, they need to be combined with a color-correct gel. Typically, production will opt for using fluorescent lights instead of using that technique.

Types of lights: tungsten
Image courtesy: Expert Photography

One of the primary reasons they’re so widely used is because they allow directors and cinematographers to play with color temperature and white balance. That’s something daylight lights aren’t so flexible with during production, since daylight is much harder to control.


Thought Tungsten lights are highly popular, there are some drawbacks to using them. The first and most obvious is how hot they get. These lights must be handled with great care. They’re also heavy and aren’t the easiest to move around and transport. On top of that, they’re delicate so there’s a greater chance they’ll get damaged during transportation.

Also, they take up a lot of energy to run. This is one of the primary reasons why more productions are opting for LED lights — they’re more efficient with energy consumption. Overall, Tungsten lights have a shorter lifespan than other lights, so they’ll need to be replaced more frequently.


On the other spectrum, we have fluorescent lights. Often, these lights create the effect of daylight. These lights run between 3200k to 5600k, allowing them to achieve a sunlight effect. Each fluorescent tube comes in only one color temperature. So, if you started the shoot using a 3200k bulb and wanted to switch to a higher color temperature, you’d need to use a different bulb.

In standard, these lights come in groups with other fluorescent lights. To increase the brightness of fluorescent lights, you have to layer multiple tubs next to each other, so you’ll usually see fluorescent bulbs being sold together

The benefit of using fluorescent lights is their energy efficiency. On average, these lights use little power. So it won’t take a lot to run them. They run at low brightness, so the energy needed to power them isn’t high. They’re also more affordable than the other light options.

How fluorescent lights work

Inside all fluorescent lights is low-pressure mercury vapor. The mercury bounces inside the light tube, resulting in ultraviolet light.

What are fluorescent lights used for

Most of the time, fluorescent lights light interiors. Depending on the bulbs you use, they cast either warm or cool light. They also light subjects. However, you have to keep the light close to the subject because the lights have a low brightness.

Types of lights: fluorescent
Image courtesy: Walt Disney Studios


Typically, fluorescent lights have a shorter life span. So, just like tungsten lights, they will have to be replaced more frequently. They also need a ballast to dim. Additionally, as mentioned above, if you want to change the color temperature of the light, you will need to change out the bulb, halting production while you do so. It could be a big time waster.


Now let’s talk about LED lights. LEDs is leading the lighting industry with the innovative technology it utilizes. More and more companies are making lights using LED technology every year. The reason for this is they offer a lot of flexibility and can be used for numerous uses. They cast soft, even light in a variety of color temperatures.

LED lights can be bought in a single color temperature, and can be either bi-colored or be RGB, RGBW or RGBWW. When an LED is a single color temperature, it contains a single diode color. Other types of lights contain two or more diodes. Bi-color lights can change the range of two diodes. That means a bi-color light with a color temperature range of 3200k to 5600k, its color temperature can be adjusted to anything that falls within that range. RGB, RGBW and RGBWW lights indicate that the group of diodes are working together to bring a spectrum of light. RGB, RGBW and RGBWW are effects lights. They can also be used as normal lights or be used as special effect lights.

Types of lights: LED
Image courtesy: Savage Universal

LEDs are dimmable and have a low power draw. They also have a long lifespan. The quality of an LED light dips as it ages. You will notice a significant dip in its quality in the later half of its life.

How LED lights work

LED is an abbreviation for light emitting diode. Its bulb produces light by passing the electrical current through the diode. It is then it is able to emit light.

What are LED lights used for

LED lights are available in a wide variety of sizes. You can also use them with batteries so they’re highly portable, making them very useful for outside film sets. They can also be used to light subjects and be used as effect lights. LEDs are becoming the industry standard and continue to become more common on sets because of their flexibility.


When LEDs aren’t defused, they can cast micro shadows. This is because the lights are made of many small light sources.


Types of lights: HMI
Image courtesy: IATSE 728

Last, we have HMI lights. HMI is a kind of light that uses an arc lamp to produce light. They are high-powered lights and are often used to illuminate outdoor sets. These lights are so bright that they can actually compete with the sun’s brightness. Usually, they’re used to mix with the sun’s light. HMI lights’ color temperature runs between 5600K to 6000K. However, there are HMI available at a color temperature of 3200K. HMI lights use a lot of power and need a dedicated circuit to be operated.

How HMI lights work

HMI stands for hydrargyrum medium-arc-length plus iodide. They require an electrical ballast to operate. The ballast ignites the light’s metal-halide gas and mercury vapor inside the bulb. All of this allows the light to cast a blue-hued, ultraviolet light.

What are HMI lights used for?

HMI lights are used to light outdoor settings. So, on high-end movie productions, you can expect to see HMI lights being used when the production is shooting outside. Usually, HMI lights are used on high-end film and television productions because of their price. 

Image courtesy: The Slanted Lens


On top of HMI lights being too expensive for most modest budgeted productions, they also have a very limited lifespan. Its lifespan is determined by how many times it’s been turned on. Each time an HMI light is turned on, it receives a strike. Additionally, when there’s a lot of wear and tear, the lights pose a big shock hazard to production.

Light head types

There are many light heads you can get for each type of light. Tungsten, fluorescent, LED and HMI lights all have different light heads they can be paired with. So, you need to know which light you should use for whatever kind of job you’re doing. Here are all the different light head types that you should know.

Soft light

  • Also referred to as a softbox
  • Casted diffused light, resulting in a soft light that wraps around the subject
  • Used in many standard commercial shootings


  • Powerful lights that create a wide beam of light
  • Used to light big areas (example: football stadium)


Image courtesy: CAME
  • A focusable hard light (example: theater spotlight)
  • Often times, fresnel light heads are used as key lights
  • Stepped lens that is a thinner, lighter, “stepped” version of a Plano-convex


  • Automobile lights
  • They are used for special, non-focusing fixtures


  • These lights are lights found in the surrounding environment
  • Examples of practical lights include a lamp or a neon sign

Pick the right light for the job

All of the lights we talked about here have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation. Learning all the types of lights out there prepares you to choose which ones are best suited for the video you’re shooting.