We could spend a lot of time on the subject of lighting. It's a complex and rich craft. However In the spirit of DIY lets see what we can learn in a few hundred words and apply quickly to our arsenal of tools.
The first thing you need to know is that different types of light have different color temperatures. WTF does that means? It means, quite literally, that different kinds of light will show up as different colors. Indoor light, called tungsten, shows up orange in color. Sunlight shows up blue. Fluorescent light shows up green. For most of you who are using an automatic video camera or a camera that is set to automatic, you've probably never noticed this.
Many cameras allow for a variety of settings to deal with color temperature. These settings are: automatic, which detects the color temperature and adjusts to make the light as neutral (white) as possible. The next setting is tungsten (indoor), this will make indoor light appear neutral, but if you shoot outside with this setting things will look very blue. The next setting is outdoor, this will make shots in sunlight appear neutral and shoots indoors appear very orange. The last setting is usually called White Balance. This function works by you aiming your camera at a white object and holding down the white balance button. This basically makes whatever light you are shooting in neutral (white). Check you instruction manual for more info on how to use your white balance.
I know this stuff doesn't seem exciting but it's important to understand. If you are having trouble controlling your color temperature any other lighting you do won't matter much.
Now that we understand color temperature let's move on to types of light. In broad strokes there are basically two types of light, hard and soft. Hard light is usually bright, direct light, that casts hard edge shadows. Think of the sun at noon on a sunny day. Then there is soft light. Soft light is like the light you get on an overcast day, if it casts shadows they are very soft and fuzzy.
Generally speaking soft light is much more flattering. It softens the features and makes people look, well, good. Of course soft light is not perfect for all situations. It is difficult to control with limited tools and it tends to light things very evenly.
Hard light is not particularly flattering. It creates stark contrast and hard edges. But lt does have its uses. Hard light is very effective in creating dark noir like pools of light.
Now that we've covered (again, in very broad strokes) the basic qualities of light let's consider how you might apply different types of light in different situations. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when thinking about lighting your scene... What is the mood of my scene: funny, scary, sad, romantic, etc? Should the lighting in my scene look natural (the way that location would look in real life) or expressionist (dramatic or less realistic)? What time of day is the scene supposed to take place? What time of year?
So for example if I'm shooting a funny scene at the park, I probably want things well lit. This is a bit cliche but generally speaking it works. On the other hand if I'm shooting a scary scene at night I probably want to keep things as dark as I can, with maybe a single hard light source that creates some ominous shadows. This stuff should all be pretty obvious the thing to remember is to take the time to think about the scene before you just pick up the camera and start shooting.
If you're shooting with no lighting gear then your best bet is to find a location that already has the lighting you're looking for, this is literally the best advice I can offer you. In fact even if you have lighting gear, there is nothing better then a perfect sunlit scene. Don't use lights just because you think you're supposed to. If you don't need them you are better off.
If, however, you have a great location but the lighting sucks, there are a few cheap solutions. You can hit up the hardware store for some lights. These come in all types and sizes. It's best to get something that comes on a stand you can raise up or that comes with a clip so you can attach the light to an object. Be sure to get the same kinds of lights, remember what I said about color temperature. If you get fluorescents get all fluorescents. If you get tungsten get all tungsten. Whatever you get, you'll probably need quite a few, you'll find they don't throw off nearly as much light as they appear to.
So you have your cheap hardware store lights. What now?
Well, the easiest way to create hard light is to point the light directly at your subject. You'll learn pretty quickly that this has unpleasant results. You will most likely want to direct the light as much as possible. You can shape the light by blocking off portions of it from hitting areas you do not want lit. If you do this, be sure to use NON-FLAMMABLE materials, especially if you are attaching anything to the light its self. A professional lighting kit will have "barn doors" on the light that help you achieve this task, but your hardware store lights will not.
The easiest way to create soft light (without catching the place on fire) is to point the light toward a reflector like a white wall or a reflective surface then bouncing that reflection onto your subject. The lighter in color your reflective surface the more light it will bounce. Another option is to diffuse the light. This is usually done with a silk, softbox or assorted gels. These are various professional materials that almost look like tissue paper or thin fabric. when placed in front of a light they diffuse the light making it soft. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES put a piece of fabric or paper over a light bulb unless it is specifically designed to do so. YOU WILL START A FIRE. You can search for some of these items online and see if they are in your budget, but if you are short on cash your best bet is to stick to bouncing your light.
More important than anything else PUT YOUR CAMERA IN MANUAL MODE! If you cannot control the iris/exposure you may as well not bother lighting. In automatic mode your camera will auto expose until everything is as neutral as possible. This means that dark scenes will become grainy and so on.
If this post didn't satisfy you and you must have some tricks, I'm personally a sucker for flashlights and night vision. I've seen it a million times but nothing elicits a sense of real terror like a camera shooting hand held night vision or a single flashlight exposing some horror. Two more standard lighting techniques in the low budget horror director's arsenal are down lighting and up lighting. These are exactly what they sound like. For down lighting put a single hard light pointed directly down on your actors head. For up light you do the exact opposite, a hard light at the actors feet point up. These are cliche techniques but they are cliche for a reason... They work! Once you get a feel for using light get creative and see what else you can come up with.
Here are three lighting examples that you can achieve with household items and each one is brilliant.... Yes brilliant.
A great example of up lighting that you can do at home with a couple of lamps.
The Blair Witch Project
Some of you may despise this movie, but for its time this film was groundbreaking. This shot was achieved with a single flashlight. And for the record, this film, shot by actors, has earned more money based on its budget than any film in history. So don't let anyone tell you you can't make a movie.
In my opinion the greatest horror film ever made (Sorry Romero). This shot is epic on many levels. It takes what should be a happy scene (two sisters holding hands in a well lit hallway) and turns it into something absolutely terrifying. It contradicts everything you think horror should be. If you have never seen this movie or haven't watched it recently please do. And notice that there isn't a single scene that takes place in the dark... Any one of you could shoot this.