Lighting a 360 Film Setup

A Filming Guide for VR and 360-Degree Films — Part 4

Joe Camilleri
4 min readMay 3, 2018

What lighting would best aid the creation of the world that is being developed?

Part 4 of 5

Lighting. A horror story in itself, without the complications of not being able to leave any red-heads, or yellow-heads, brollies, or box-lights running around. Even that XLR cable can and will be immediately visible within your sequence. It is a 360 experience, remember!

My first advice is simple. Do not use extra lighting. Refrain from any lighting device. Stay with natural lighting. Photographers would understand this. What is better than natural flowing light!

One of the best options of lighting in 360 filming is definitely natural light. In the 360 project, ‘The Landing’, great use was made of natural lighting and great care was taken to ensure picking a day with minimal wind, and a cloudy sky, which allowed for the perfect amount of light to filter through, which played well in the limited ISO setting on the Samsung Gear 360 camera being used.

But, having said this, is it totally advisable to stay away from lights? Absolutely not. In fact there are multiple ways to bring artificial lighting into your filming sequence, and still manage to hide the source, or not, depending on the setting in your narrative.

Five elements that can be discussed are the following -

i. Practicals

A simple lamp can have its bulb changed to emit powerful light and light up specific areas of the setting.

These are the light fixtures that are already present within the filming setup. You can easily change the existent light bulbs within the fixtures for stronger lights and bathe the area in light, strong enough to light up specific areas of the setup. This can be used to create several types of ambience lighting needed to create a specific mood for your shot. These are considered the closest light source to natural light, i.e. sunlight.

ii. Clean Plating

Clean-plating crowds from a scene
Clean plating a kino-light from a filming setup.

If practicals are proving to be insufficient, go for traditional light setups. Shoot with them in place and then remove them and shoot the scene again without them. This is called clean plating — the resulting two videos are overlaid in post and the clean plate is used to mask out the lights.

iii. Exposure Plates

Wipe on and off exposure plating

In 360 video you are often restricted to small cameras with low dynamic range or to scenes that have a higher dynamic range than you can capture perfectly across the whole 360 degree sphere. If the camera is in a locked position, you can shoot plates of the scene at different brightnesses to allow you to capture each window, light or the sky at it’s perfect exposure. As with the clean plating, these can be overlaid in post to allow the best parts of the scene to be pulled through.

iv. Hiding Lights

Lights can be hidden in a number of places in 360 shots, the simplest being on the tripod or monopod of the camera itself. Strips of LEDs can easily be edited out in post when the floor of the shot (nadir) is replaced. Otherwise, objects in rooms can be used to occlude the lights, hiding them behind furnishings for example (Stuart, 2017).

Adding LED strips and hiding them behind furnishings

v. Carrying the Light

Carrying the light is an expression to explain the boosting of the light from a natural source. For example, if there is a window in the shot but it’s not giving enough light to lift the face of the main character in the shot, then this can be augmented with another light. The light can then be removed in post, unless it’s already occluded by objects in the scene. The importance here is that the light on the scene looks natural, and if the user looks back to the source they don’t see a light but, for example, a light that’s part of the room or a window with the daylight outside (Stuart, 2017).

This scene, shot by Henry Stuart and presented in his blog (Visualise, 2017), is full of hidden lighting, replaced practicals and clean-plated out lights.

In concluding, with regards to lighting up your 360 setting, it is safe to say that the general rules of traditional video lighting no longer apply when you can’t place lighting gear just out of the shot. For 360 video, it’s all about practical lighting and embracing ambient light.



Joe Camilleri

360 film specialist/lecturer, with a flair for visual narrative & storytelling techniques. ”"