Why Lighting is Important in Television Advertising

August 23, 2017 Advertising Questions


Although spending on digital advertising has been expanding at the expense of traditional approaches, last year’s research by eMarketer shows that spending on TV advertising is still growing. According to a 2015 Nielsen report, TV reaches 87% of America adults over 18, so it’s no surprise that over a quarter of business owners still consider TV their primary advertising focus.

With that in mind, it might make sense to figure in television advertising into your media mix. However, given that the CPM of television advertising is second-highest only to direct mail, it may be tempting to find opportunities to save money, especially when it comes to production. And while there are a number of different ways to keep your production budget in check, one thing you won’t want to skimp on is lighting. Here’s why.

Indicate quality

You might think consumers don’t notice lighting when they’re watching TV, and consciously they don’t. But the average American consumes  over five hours of TV every day. After spending thousands of hours watching national TV, local TV, movies, and commercials of every budget, they can tell the difference in nanoseconds, even while channel-hopping: and one of the biggest giveaways is the amount of artificial light used. Too much, or too little, and the viewer dismisses your commercial as low-quality. And while consumers may not even be aware that they’ve noticed this, they won’t come away from the commercial with a good view of your brand.

Set the mood

The impact of lighting on mood has been well documented, and used to great effect to change the behavior of everyone from shoppers to office workers.

There are a huge variety of formats you can use for your TV commercial – you could give it a realistic, documentary feel; use a ‘talking head’ technique featuring an actor playing a satisfied customer; even create a TV-show-like series with recurring characters. Each of these styles of commercial will demand different levels of intensity, color, dispersion, and other lighting effects to create the right mood. Even the way the lights are positioned can change the mood of the commercial from drama to nostalgia.

Draw attention to your products – and make them look great

Just like a spotlight on a stage, lighting emphasizes the most important thing on screen – and in most forms of TV advertising that’s the product you’re trying to sell. And what’s more, it makes that product look more appealing. But different products need different types of lighting. Why do fast-food commercials use a ton of filter when they shoot a burger? It’s because you need light in different colors, from different angles, and to be either ‘soft’ or ‘hard’, depending on the object in your viewfinder. If you’re advertising jewelry, you’ll want to use side lighting to create the impression of three-dimensions, giving the product depth. If you are shooting a beer bottle, you’ll want to light behind the bottle to light it up on the inside. With every product, your main goal to focus the viewer’s attention to the product and away from anything else in the shot.

Make your actors look great too

Lighting talent has its own challenges. When considering how to light people, think about the actor’s skin and hair color. In general, warm, soft lighting will have a flattering effect on the appearance of your actors. This is particularly essential if you’re marketing fashion or beauty products. But even if you haven’t cast a Victoria’s Secret model, you still need to cast your actor in a flattering light to avoid drawing attention away from the product or issue you’re advertising – unless you’ve gone for the documentary-style realistic ad, in which case a harsher light will achieve the desired effect.

Ensure continuity

Your commercial might be only 30 or even 15 seconds long, but it likely took hours and hours to film. If you rely too heavily on natural light – even if you’re filming indoors – the angle and intensity of the sunlight could change from one frame to the next; a shadow could jump across the wall behind your talking head while he or she is talking. Again, it’s not something a viewer will consciously notice: but it won’t present a professional impression of your brand. High-quality artificial lighting will keep your advertising looking seamless.

Convey time, place – and credibility

Let’s say you’re filming your commercial in a studio, but it’s set on a city street at night: like a lot of advertising in the automobile industry is, for example. How do you convey that setting? By lighting the scene from above, at intervals, with an orange filter – so that it resembles sodium street lights. Along with the rest of your production values – high quality sound, camera work and so on – lighting helps the viewer really believe in the scene you’re setting for them. Because only if they believe in your scene can they believe in what you’re advertising to them.


Lighting is too often easily overlooked, but it’s worth paying attention to. Done right, lighting is one of the most important factors in making a TV advertising campaign look professional and believable.