How to Light For IMAG – 5 Ways to Improve Your Lighting Rig for the Camera

May 09, 2023

If you’ve recently gone visited a large church, attended at child’s graduation or flown to a national sales meeting, chances are that you experienced what we know as IMAG, or Image Magnification.

IMAG is when video cameras and projection systems combine make far-away people and objects much more visible via large screens, making the experience at big events intimate for a large number of people.

With the cost-effectiveness of cameras coming down every day, IMAG is more and more popular than ever.

Every day, bad lighting finds it’s way on screens, rendering people in dark spots, with harsh shadows and sometimes worse.

Designing lighting for IMAG is a whole new ball game, and by paying attention to these 5 simple things, you can drastically improve your lighting rig for the camera!

5 Ways to Improve Your Lighting for IMAG

1 – Improve Your Angles

Take a look at the angles which your lights are illuminating from and check how they appear right up close on the presenters faces.

Basic stage lighting theory tells us that a 45 degree angle from 2 points is best for lighting the face, but for many of us an exact 45 isn’t possible for one reason or another.  And honestly, going a little lower than 45 is better for video- try shooting for 35-40 degrees and you’ll be great! 

Use fill lighting to kill any large shadows that you see from your key stage lights, because the camera will give the audience the perspective of someone standing right in front of the presenter on stage!

A little shadow under the neck looks natural, but any shadows under the eyes or beside the nose needs to be filled out for the camera.

The other angle that you need to be careful of comes into play early in the designing phase of your show as it directly involves the camera.  You must provide flattering light from every camera position, no matter where it is.

If you get a terribly artistic video director, then you may have a camera off to one extreme side or the other, and you’ll need to make sure that you are lighting for that angle too!

Yes, this means more lights, but it is totally worth it when you see the result on screen.  You want the presenter to be able to face every camera and have their body lit fully from every angle in a flattering way, so that they can best communicate their message.

2 – Diffuse and Meter Your Light

We’ve already killed most of the shadows improving our angles, but some are still going to exist, especially as presenters turn and move around.  Tiny, dark shadows cast by noses, hands, ears and wrinkles will show up like the plague on video, and our chief weapon to fight this is soft lighting.

Whether you are using lekos, pars or LED’s, you can get a nice diffuse light out of them using diffusion gel.  Though not necessary on fresnels, a nice diffusion gel such as Rosco 119 will almost magically smooth out wrinkles and do an even better job at transitioning between light sources on stage.  Use it in every par, leko and LED you own when lighting for IMAG!

The next step is to break out the light meter, or the poor man’s light meter(your hand), and measure how even your wash is.

Your first priority is to get a very even wash of light- the camera’s iris can be changed to match exactly how bright your lights are, but you’ll drive the video guys bananas and have less than stellar results if the lighting is not even.

On the brightness side of life, you’ll probably want at least 50-60 or more foot candles, it really just depends on the presenter and cameras.  For live performances, I like to see 70-80 foot candles, but that’s just preferential for the human eye.

The camera is much more sensitive than our eyes to changes in lighting intensity, having an even wash is crucial in great IMAG lighting.  You can do a small amount of evening out by bringing down individual intensities on your console, but don’t rely on it for much as you will start to see shifts in color temperature from the dimming, which is also frustrating on video.

The bottom line: You can go as dim as your camera’s will let you, and as low as it is comfortable to view from the back of the room. If the camera starts to get noisy or too dark, or you have to strain your eyes from the back of the room to see, you probably need more light!

3 – Match Color Temperature

Color temperature is the measurement of how “blue” or “orange” your “white” is.


If this is a new concept to you, just think about the difference in white out of a conventional par or leko to a discharge-lamp moving light.  Or a florescent light to a conventional light.  Color temperature is measured by degrees kelvin, and is specified for every light source you buy in the theatrical or even home market.

On camera, and especially on flesh, the difference in color temperature will drive you batty!  This is another area where the camera is incredibly sensitive, but our eyes adjust for automatically.

This is also an area where the camera can be adjusted.  As the lighting designer, all you need to do is make sure all of your color temperatures match, so that the video guys can white balance the camera and everything looks excellent on the camera!

Moving lights with discharge lamps will not match conventional sources, so you can either use a CTB gel in the conventionals to make their light more “blue” or use the CTO filter in the movers if it’s available to bring their color temperature down to where the conventionals sit.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to do this 100% of the time, as having a different color temperature as an accent to the main color can look really cool.  Be careful with how you use this, as when a different color temperature hits flesh, it will get really ugly, really fast!

4 – Separate Power Services and Use 100% Flicker Free LED’s

You probably already separate power services between lighting and audio, and be sure to also keep video over with audio, or on it’s own power source and panel whenever possible!Hums and buzzes in video render themselves as weird scrolling and sometimes flickering and lines on the video screens, which no one wants!

If you are lighting internationally or have generators, make sure all power services and fixtures are set up for the same frequency of power for all departments, whether that is 50hz or 60hz.

The other flickering that you want to avoid comes from LED fixtures that are not flicker free.  All LED fixtures strobe very quickly in order to dim, and the more they are dimmed, the more they are strobing.

The strobing happens so quickly that the human eye can’t see it, but, sometimes the camera can.  That is why it is important to only use fixtures that are specified by their manufacturer to be flicker free on camera, otherwise you will see the flickering, and it will be distracting!

Thankfully, today *most* brands will only put out fixtures that are flicker free.

5 – Backlight, Audience and Set Lighting

The last “angle” that you can use to improve your lighting rig is to make sure you have these 3 angles – backlight, audience and set lighting!  When you are lighting for video, anything that you don’t light to a full wash will either be dark or disappear in the eye of the camera.

Backlighting helps the camera to separate the presenter and any other objects that are downstage from the set or curtains that are upstage.

You will find that without backlight, your presenters will blend into the backdrop, especially if they are wearing a similar color or shade of clothing as the backdrop.  Regardless, having that nice, even glow of backlight on the shoulders and head will take a presenter from looking flat to being dimensional on your IMAG screens!

Audience and set lighting are highly important if you desire to see either the audience or the set as the camera pans across them.  For audience lighting, you’ll want to use the softest light possible, either from pars with diffusion or fresnels on your front lighting position.

Set lighting can be done with pretty much any lighting instrument you have – that’s really up to you, the designer, and depends on what the set exists of and how you want to light it.

Gently washing the audience or set, you’ll still want to aim for the same brightness you get out of your main wash for it to look correct on camera.

Work with your video team when using highly saturated colors to make sure that the colors are not too intense for the camera’s sensors – this depends on the camera, but over-saturated colors look blotchy and bad on IMAG.

Experiment and Work with Your Lighting Rig

Now that you’ve read this guide to improving your IMAG lighting, go and work on whatever lighting rig you have the ability to improve.

Note how every little change you make improves the quality of your video, even if you are just taping or doing IMAG with a consumer or prosumer video camera.  Know that you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on new fixtures just to get great IMAG video.


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