10. Location, lights, props


There should be good contrast between the signer's hands and face and clothing, and between the all of these and the background. 

Scenery, lights, costumes, make-up, props: all of these can be used to enhance a video. However, they should never be allowed to interfere with the visibility of the signer (hands, face) or the sign language (orientation, use of space). 

If a neutral background is needed, light colours are preferred over dark colours, and light blues and greys over more pronounced colours. For clothing, darker colours are not a problem - for light-skinned signers.

A well-lit signer, good contrast and the avoidance of visual clutter and glare are especially important for low-vision viewers.

Visual interest

Costumes, make-up, lights, props, and scenery can be used to support the video and to add visual interest and variety.

In the studio 

If a signer is to be superimposed on a mainstream film, the filming is best done in a studio against a ChromaKey background. If the signer is to be added to a mainstream production in a 'bubble' or 'box', the colour of the background should contrast well with the skin colour and clothing of the signer, and should be appropriate for the content of the main production. When users have a choice, they prefer a light blue or grey background. 

On location

If a signer is in the main screen of a production, the background can be varied. However, the contrast with the signer (skin colour and clothing) should still be good. A signer can be filmed at a real location, in the studio against a still picture or video of background scenery, or against 'virtual scenery' (simulated scenery that is added during the editing of the video). 


Coloured lights can be used to support the atmosphere and mood of a video-production; changes in lighting can be used for narrative as well as for dramatic purposes. In all cases, lighting conditions should not interfere with the visibility of the signer. 
When signers are filmed on location, lighting conditions should not be too variable, and should allow for good visibility of the signer.
The signer should not be blinded by the lights: if lights are too strong, the signer's pupils will contract and/or the signer will squeeze his eyes shut. Both will result in a less attractive image for the viewer.
Reflections (from background, scenery, props, jewels, glasses) and glare should be avoided. 


The shadow of the signer against a background may be distracting and may reduce the visibility of the signer. Dark shadows on the face of the signer are unattractive for the viewers. 


Facial expression is important in all sign languages. In many sign languages, the oral component (mouth movement) is an integral part of the signs. Make-up, beards, moustaches or masks should not be allowed to interfere with the visibility of the signer's face: the facial expression, and the oral component of signs.


Costumes and props should not hinder the signer, and the face and hands of the signer should be clearly visible at all times. 

Scenery and props

Scenery should not distract from the signer or the visibility of the signer (shadows, blocking the view, etc.). In children's videos, props and costumes can be used to indicate various personalities. Props can also be used as a memory aid for name signs. 

Low-vision viewers!

For low-vision viewers, it is important that:
  • the signer is well-lit - including the face; 
  • the signer (face, hands, and clothing) contrasts well with the background; 
  • the signer's clothing doesn't interfere with the visibility of the signs: e.g. no bright stripes or polka dots; 
  • glare is avoided in the clothing of the signer and in the scenery: no white or very bright cuffs or frills in the clothing, no very bright or shining props. 



Neutral backgrounds, clothing  

Preferred colour combinations 
(Signing Books prototypes, Hamburg University)

Rejected colour combinations 
(Signing Books prototypes, Hamburg University)

Varied backgrounds, neutral clothing

On location. Kuurojen Video, FI

Picture in the background. Alle Hens aan Dek, Vi-Taal, NL

Virtual scenery. Onno het varkentje, Guyot, NL

Costumes, make-up  

In many of the videos for children by Chase (UK), costumes and locations are used to support the setting (time, atmosphere) of a story.
Little Red Hen, Chase Video, GB
Adolf Hitler, Chase Video, GB
   Het Zakmes, OV-Amsterdam, NL
In the Dutch video Griezelen (horror stories for Deaf teenagers) lights, make-up and props are used to make the signers more scary, and the video visually more attractive and appropriate for the target group.
Griezelen, OV-Amsterdam (NL)


Poor contrast, low visibility  

In some videos, the visibility of the signer is poor, especially for low vision viewers, because of interference with the background or insufficient light.
Poor contrast. Sprookjes voor Dove Kinderen 2, FODOK, NL

Poor contrast: too light. Signing Books prototype, City University
Poor contrast: too dark. Hänsel und Gretel, Signum, DE 

Poor contrast: too dark.  The Whales’ Song, Chase Video, GB