Live streaming can be quite fun and doesn’t take a ton of crazy expensive gear to make it happen. Even with an entry-level live streaming equipment setup you can get some pretty great results with the right light. But chances are that your streams are looking particularly noisy and grainy, and that’s because you don’t have enough light. You might think you do, but you don’t. So let’s take a look at some great live streaming lighting setup ideas!
In another life I was a fairly active photographer, working with a lot of live music photography and band/portrait work. The key there was light. The more the better, and the better the light the better the image.
That holds true even more for video and even live streaming video. Great light can make even inexpensive gear look killer, so be sure to work out a great lighting setup.
- LED lights: They’re thinner, bright, lower on power, don’t get nearly as hot, and easily positioned in your setup.
- Size: The larger the light source in comparison to the subject (you), the more flattering the light quality. It doesn’t need to be gigantic, but bigger lights will be better than the tiny little box lights that go on top of a video camera. Look at getting something with a light surface roughly the size of a sheet of paper or larger.
- Positioning: Bigger lights may be better than smaller lights, but even a big light can act small when placed far away from the subject (you). Get a light that’s a decent size but can still be placed relatively close to you.
- Brightness: You’ll want not just a bright light, but also to be able to control the brightness to get your exposure right. This gives you more flexibility in exposing not just yourself but your set and backdrop as well.
- Color temperature: This dictates how warm or cool the light is. This basically means whether the light is more yellow or more white/blue. Daylight is about 5500K, many new laptops (including Macbooks) calibrate their screens at 6900-7000K to look “really white”, and properly calibrated displays should be around 6500K. The ability to change this will let you match existing lights and ensure that things look natural on your video broadcast.
- Power: While many LED lights can run on batteries, you’ll probably want one with an external power cable to plug into the wall for long stream sessions.
- Diffusion: Diffusion is making a light source softer. If the bulbs/LED elements are exposed bare, you’ll want something over them to make those less harsh. If you can’t see bare LEDs/bulbs through the plastic covering that’s a good start.
Note: this guide’s scope is really to address the best lights for smaller live streamers working from a desk setup, not necessarily from a video broadcast studio type of setup.
There are a lot of great options available these days, so let’s check out a few of our favorite live streaming lights for Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitch, and more.
Update, 3/26/20: Due to the increased demand for live streaming devices, a lot of our top recommendations are sold out or will take much longer to ship. We’ve started a guide to some of the best alternate live streaming devices to this and other equipment that live streamers may need during this crisis and will be attempting to update it as often as possible. These alternatives will be ones that (at the time of updating the guide) will be shipping faster than the normal Amazon delayed notice for most items. If you can’t find this device, please see our list of alternatives.
Elgato is turning its attention toward the streaming market pretty hard these days, and their latest new entrant into the area is the Elgato Key Light. It’s basically tailor-made for streamers, and is growing in popularity very quickly.
The benefits to this light is that it’s a fairly good size light at 13.77″ x 9.84″ (just a bit larger than a normal sheet of paper) that outputs a ton of controllable light. A single Key Light can crank up to 2800 lumens. For reference, that’s over twice as powerful as a Lifx smart LED bulb’s 1100 lumens (Lifx, by the way, is the brightest of the smart LED bulbs out there, with Philips Hues coming in around 800 lumens).
Not only do they get bright, but they do have an adjustable color temperature, ranging from a very warm 2900K to a super white 7000K. The Key Light is definitely one of the more flexible lights out there and lets you dial up exactly what you need for your stream.
The last key benefit (no pun intended, but it’s staying! haha) is the mounting system. Each Key Light comes with a metal telescoping pole on which you mount the light. This pole is actually designed to clamp on to your desk, allowing it to be quite flush against the wall your desk is on and eliminates the need for a traditional light stand. Oh, and the AC power supply is included, so, bonus!
The Key Light can work with Elgato’s Stream Deck along with its own control software, and connects via wifi for setup. You can control your lights without having to get to the physical device, and it makes setting these up and getting ready to stream super easy, barely an inconvenience.
Being able to get such a thin light on a space-saving stand to minimal overall impact to your existing desk setup is a godsend to many live streamers. It’s super flexible, insanely bright for the size, and most importantly it throws out some very quality light. While there are more inexpensive options available, none have the complete package of features that many streamers will need for their setups.
While the Key Light is a complete all-in-one package, it does come at a fairly high price compared to some other options out there. One of my personal favorites (and the one that probably gets the most overall use around here) is the Viltrox L132T and it packs a ton of use into a small, well-priced package.
The L132T is smaller than the Key Light, roughly half the surface area at about 4″ x 10″. It’s also not as bright, capping out at 1065 lumens at a warm blend. It does cover 3300-5600K color temp and dimming down to 20%. Even at around 1000 lumens it’s often much too bright, especially for up close work and food photography (my girlfriend loves this light for her blog photos).
Yes, that means it’s half the size and half the power and half the color temperature range of the Key Light. But it’s less than a quarter of the price. And it takes standard Sony NP-F550/F750/F960 series batteries as well as a 12V adapter (some ship with this, others don’t).
We can’t say enough good things about this light. Yes, there are “better” lights out there, but at this price point you won’t find one at this size that creates such even, smooth, and controllable light at all.
Note: Viltrox lights usually have a B version and a T version. The B version is usually only daylight, 5500 or 5600K. The T versions are the adjustable color temp variants. These sacrifice max brightness for flexibility. Also note that max brightness is referenced at around 4400K temperature, the halfway point in the blend where all LEDs in the light are on.
What if you do need a larger sized light and still keep the affordability? Viltrox has got you covered there too. They have a few larger lights that are quite similar to the Key Light in size, shape, and brightness but share the same creature comforts as the L132T.
The VL-200T is about 10″ x 8″ and maxes out at 2500 lumens at 4400K. Whereas the L132T takes one Sony NP-F battery, the VL-200T and VL-400T have two battery slots because of the larger number of LED elements.
If you want an even larger light, the VL-400T measures around 14″ x 9.5″ and can pump out 2900 lumens at 4400K. These larger lights usually don’t ship with the batteries, but do ship with the AC adapter and even a wireless remote control for adjusting the lights individually or as a group.
All of the Viltrox lights here are CRI 95+, meaning that the color accuracy of the light is pretty outstanding. What they light up will be pretty close to how the subject actually looks in daylight. Yes, you may see some ever so slight color tinging and shifting here and there, but most of the time you’ll never catch it. We haven’t even found CRI measurements for the Key Lights, but I’m assuming they’re also CRI 95+, so these are all most likely on equal footing, accuracy-wise.
I’d put the VL-200T and VL-400T as the best competitors to the Key Light at this point, although they will require picking up a separate mounting solution, which shouldn’t be terribly expensive. You won’t be able to control them from your computer like the Key Lights, but you could get a lot more light for you dollar with the various Viltrox offerings.
If you’re tight on budget or just don’t care about computer control, the Viltrox lights are probably your most affordable bet.
Another popular style of light are what’s referred to as “flapjack” panels for their round, flat profile. Falcon Eyes has been making their SO-28TD and SO-68TD panels (among others) for a while now, and produce great quality light.
They’re not as inexpensive as the Viltrox lights, but are much more sturdy builds with larger surface area and more brightness. The SO-28TD is about a 14″ diameter and outputs around 2460 lux, with the SO-68TD around 26″ and maxing out at 5920 lux. They can be powered by batteries or AC adapter.
These are used by a lot of filmmakers and YouTubers because of their build quality and pleasing light output, but also make excellent lights for live streaming and video broadcasting. They’re a great alternative to the Key Light, especially if you want something you can use on location as well as at your streaming desk.
We’ve previously gushed about the Aputure 120D IIand the Light Dome in our guide on how to start vlogging. Yes, it’s a bit overkill for some vloggers (especially those who don’t always vlog at home or in a studio), but it’s definitely one of the popular choices for many vloggers and YouTubers.
Streamers have also fallen in love with this light, as the Light Dome modifier creates some absolutely gorgeous light and is incredibly easy to work with. As long as you have the physical space available for it, that is.
The 120D II cranks out a whopping 30,000 lux (with
the fresnel reflector) at CRI 96+ and TLCI97+ ratings and is daylight balanced–no color temp adjustments here, just 5500K goodness.
It runs on AC power with an included power/control unit, but if you need portability you can always use a battery pack like the classic Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini battery packs. There is an active cooling fan in the housing, but it’s pretty quiet at around 18 dB.
The Light Dome is pretty large, especially when compared to smaller LED panels like we’ve covered already. Add to that the required C-stand and it makes it a bit of a tight fit if you’re in a small space, or if your desk is right up against a wall.
But that said, it’s still an amazing light at a pretty reasonable price point. If you need the best with no compromises and have the space for it, it’s a great option.
Godox has been making lighting and photography gear for quite a while, and is known for some great budget-friendly equipment. With the growing popularity of the Aputure 120D, the Godox SL-60W has rose to the status of the go-to alternative at a fraction of the price.
The SL-60W is the same type of light as the 120D. There’s no built-in diffusion or reflector, as it accepts light modifiers with a Bowens mount, same as the 120D. The SL-60W is considerably lower price though–you could buy about five SL-60W lights for the cost of a single 120D, making it extremely popular for YouTubers and filmmakers on a budget.
That said, there are some compromises here. You’ll only get 4100 lux brightness, CRI 95+ and TLCI 90+. The fan is definitely not as quiet, but if you’re close mic’ing your subject or using a good directional microphone it shouldn’t be an issue for streamers.
The bigger brother gets a lot closer to the 120D in brightness, reaching 20,000 lumens with CRI 95+. It’s about 2/3rds the output but also about 2/3rds the price. Again, an excellent alternative but not without its tradeoffs.
With the SL series lights, you do have wide compatibility with a huge assortment of light modifiers, wireless control and grouping. It’s not the absolute tank of a unit that the 120D is, but it’s an excellent first light for beginners or a great fill light for larger setups. You sure can’t beat the price, so definitely check this light out as a great alternative to the 120D.
Here’s something a bit different, if the other form factors don’t quite suite your needs. CAME-TV has a rather unique light in a tube light form. Similar in design to the lights found in much more expensive Kino Flo, these CAME-TV lights are pretty powerful and easy to mount and come in various lengths (2FT, 3FT, 4FT, etc).
The 2FT-R is a 20W RGB light that runs on optional batteries or included power adapter, they are adjustable from 0-100% brightness, white balance between 2000K and 10000K, and offer CRI 96+ and TLCI 97+ accuracy.
They come with full-length barn doors for controlling light spill, and can also be purchased in a kit of four with a mounting bar to connect them together. The lights can also be controlled via an app on your phone for easy adjustment if mounted out of reach.
The 3FT version is a daylight-balanced 5600K light that shares the same features and kit options, but is a 60W light for a much stronger output. Either of these models, however, are a much more affordable Kino Flo option, and would be a great pick if you’re looking for something a bit different.
Buy CAME-TV Boltzen Andromeda 2FT-R RGB LED Video Light (single) here
Buy CAME-TV Boltzen Andromeda 2FT-R RGB LED Video Light (4 piece) here
Buy CAME-TV Boltzen 60W Andromeda 3FT-D Daylight LED Video Light (single) here
Buy CAME-TV Boltzen 60W Andromeda 3FT-R RGB LED Video Light (single) here
Like the tube light look, but need something a bit more affordable? Quasar Science has you covered with their 30W 5600K light. It’s a standard 4′ T8 lamp, but does come with the P1Z plug to plug it into the wall.
This one’s pretty no-frills. Brightness is adjustable, and that’s about it. It’s definitely more of a set-and-forget lamp, but makes an excellent accent or fill light for your streaming lighting setup.
The major benefit to the Elgato Key Light is that it does come with everything you need to mount the light to your desk, including an adjustable boom pole and a desk clamp. The lights we’ve looked at do not come with a stand, but do come with tripod or light stand mounting points so we can piece together our own mounting solution similar to the Key Light.
First, we’ll need an adjustable boom pole, such as this Andoer monopod/mic boom pole. It’s not as sleek as the Key Light support, but it’ll get the job done. Next, some sort of clamp like this UTEBIT clamp. Both of these actually come with a ball head mount for a camera, but you won’t necessarily be using these for the lights.
If you pair these with even the larger Viltrox lights you have a very affordable version of the Key Light. I wouldn’t advise mounting the large Falcon Eyes lights, however, and especially not the Aputure/Godox style lights. But for the smaller panels this would work quite well.
We thought about including ring lights in this guide, but after some deliberation, we’ve come to the conclusion that the day of the ring light for most live streaming setups is probably in the past. With the advent of larger, softer LED panels, you can get much better quality of light in a more flexible form factor.
Ring lights are really meant for one specific task–creating a shadow-less lighting source with one single lighting fixture. They’re really meant for beauty lighting to create light from all directions around a camera lens. This is why they’re a ring–you place your camera inside the ring and the light hits the subject from all angles, neutralizing shadows.
Really, this is for showing off makeup or other similar uses, or creating a very distinct stylized high-key light on a subject with minimal depth. You also need to get a ring light fairly close to the subject to achieve this goal. It’s meant to completely bathe the subject in light from “all sides”.
If you really want that look, however, go for it. If you want the weird “cut-out” shadow look, go for it. If you love the “halo eyes” catch lights in your eyes, go for it. But, in our humble opinion, you’re better off picking up a flat solid light that creates more lighting surface instead of the small strip of light on a ring light.
Remember, total size of surface area relative to the subject is what creates softer light on the subject. Ring lights just won’t get this look in our opinion.
Plain and simple: Lighting equals great images. You’re going to need something flexible, powerful, and small enough to fit into your streaming setup. Thankfully we live in the age of great LED lighting options at ridiculously affordable prices. Any of the options above would work excellent for various types of setups.