Why You Need a Key Light For Streaming in 2021

As a streamer, you want to make sure you look your best, especially on camera. It’s why streamers spend thousands of dollars on equipment to achieve just that. While you have your green screens, webcams, and stream controllers, a lot of creators overlook the value of quality lighting, specifically key lights.

But what is a key light and why should you upgrade this piece of equipment before getting a DSLR camera or buying a pricey stream controller? Luckily for you, we have all of those answers and more! Take a look!

What is a Key Light?

A key light is the primary light source in your streaming setup. This can be a lamp, ring light, or even an LED panel that is pointing light directly at the streamer.

Woman at a desk with a Webaround backdrop, key light, and laptop during a virtual meeting.
Key lights help brighten up and bring attention to the subject.

The key light’s main job is to provide a direct light source to you and separate you from the background. High-end key lights usually allow you to change color temperature ranges, brightness, and more for additional scene adjustments. If you are using an Elgato Key Light (or ones with webhooks that work with IFTTT), you can even integrate them directly with stream controllers for even more control.

How Can a Key Light Improve Your Stream?

Having good lighting doesn’t just help brighten you up on camera, it has a lot of huge uses and ways that it helps current and new equipment work even better.

Key Lights make a good camera, great.

A key light is a critical piece in creating a high quality stream, even before a good camera. That seems weird, but there’s a reason behind it.

Along with crop factors, zooming, and more, a camera relies on lighting to help sharpen an image. A traditional camera takes in all of the available light in an area, bends it, and redirects it to the subject. The more light that can be placed on someone by the camera, the sharper the image you get overall.

With this in mind, even good webcams won’t work well without light. It’s one of the reasons why your camera usually looks grainy without any light.

Photo Credit: BVC Co.

Adding a key light into your setup will immediately allow your current camera or webcam to perform better. You’ll show up clearer, it distinguishes you from the background, and draws attention to you as the streamer.

Upgrading this before buying a new camera or webcam will not only help your current camera, but allow for further upgrades in the future.

You Need a Key Light for Green Screens

Green screens allow you add so much quality to your stream. You can make the gameplay more visible or even place yourself in scenes for added immersion.

Using a green screen is great for stream quality, but requires a lot of lighting to work correctly.

If you use, or plan to use, a green screen, key lights are especially important in chroma keying. Without light, a green screen will be very difficult to chroma key, leading to splotching, artifacts, and more. Most individuals use a two or three point lighting system to ensure a clean chroma key.

Best Key Light Setup for Streaming

Getting the right setup with your key light is critical to looking great on camera. There are many ways that you can light up a subject on stream. Some creators opt for a single key light in their setup, while others want two or three for added effect.

While you can get away with one quality key light, we recommend a two or three point lighting system.

The two point light system utilizes a key light and a fill light. The key light provides the main light source directly on the individual, while the fill light helps reduce any further shadows and distributes the light in a better way. If you utilize a green screen, a two point lighting setup is perfect for eliminating shadows that can alter a chroma key.

Diagram of two point light system.
Photo Credit: No Film School

A three point light system adds one additional light, usually pointing down on the hair or behind an individual to add extra dimensions and sharpness to the hair.

Photo Credit: No Film School

If you decide you want to use only a single key light in your live streaming setup, check out Sam Woodhall’s guide that goes over five different ways to use a single key light to light up a subject.

Our Recommended Key Light

There are so many options for key lights available nowadays. Many companies have created key lights specifically for content creators that offer a lot of adjustments to get the perfect look on camera.

One of our favorite, feature packed, and affordable key lights is definitely the Lume Cube Edge Desk Light. For the price of one Elgato Key Light, you can get two Lume Cube Edge Lights for a key and fill light setup. The Lume Cube Edge Light provides brightness and color temperature adjustment and USB charging ports for added benefits at your desk.

Desktop setup with two Lume Cube Edge Lights and a monitor showing a video conference.
Photo Credit: Lume Cube

If features aren’t a major concern for you, the VILTROX Key Light is also a great pick. While lacking some of the functionality as the Edge Light and the Elgato Key Light, the VILTROX key light does provide all the benefits you’d need to start upgrading your setup. Saving 2x the money compared to the Edge Light and 5x as the Elgato Key Light, you can’t go wrong with this option either.

With the holidays right around the corner, it is a great time to add a key light to your stream setup. Not only do key lights assist in brightening you up on camera, but it can actually make your chroma key with a green screen or the sharpness of your camera even better.

Do you use a key light in your stream? If not, why haven’t you added one yet? If you do, how many are you using and why? We would love to know in the comments below!

And as always, keep on creating and GLHF!


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