Thursday, February 9, 2012

Simple Lighting can take your project to the next level

Even the simplest of shots needs to be lit properly, or it will look like your average home movie. Basic lighting required four lights – key light, fill light, rim light and a background light.

• Key Light

The key light models the subject and is often the most important light in the scene. It is often the foundation on which all other lights are based. In this case, it is a light placed to the left of the subject, perhaps representing a window light source (in the story of the shot).

• Fill Light

This light is designed to “fill” the harsh shadows created by the “key” light to create a more natural and rounded look. It will pick out detail and texture where otherwise there would be only dark shadows.

• Back Light

To add another dimension, a light source is mounted behind the subject. It hits the back of objects and the subject and gives a nice impression of three dimensionality.

• Background Light

The light has been positioned to illuminate the background of the scene to create a more natural look. Without it, there would be a fully lit subject sitting against a very dark background.


The choice of lighting style is one of the things that can significantly impact the speed at which you shoot. For instance, complicated, glossy lighting can take a great deal of time. Are you aiming for a film noir look or social realism? Or Ridley Scott’s “shafts of light” look or harsh, bright primary colors as used by Pedro Almodóvar or the dark and mood look of Se7en?

The choice of operating style will be the domain of the camera operator. It’s essentially a discussion about framing and camera movement. Are you going to shoot images that are “sat back”, static and symmetrical in a Kubrick-esqe style, or are you going to go for a shoot-from-the-hip wobbly cam style like The Insider, or are there going to be lots of slick track and dolly camera movements like your average American action movie, or will there be super fast track and dolly Scorsese style, or even Steadicam overload, again, Kubrick inspired?

Of course, on a low budget movie, you’re going to struggle to achieve any consistent look of excellence because there simply isn’t time or resources, but as long as everyone is talking the same language, then the on-set short hand between DP, AD and director will speed things up.

Artistic Lighting Touches

Good lighting technique aims to illustrate the subject from three sources: key light, fill, and backlight.

You may also add other light sources for effect.

Eyelight aims a bright light directly into an actor’s eyes. It creates a sparkle in the eye that audiences find appealing and warm. Traditionally, movie star heroes always get eyelight, and their villainous opponents don’t, giving the “bad guy” or soulless look.

Kicker is an extra highlight located above or to the side of a subject to emphasize its contours. A kicker can make an actor’s hair appear lustrous or can emphasize her jaw line to make her seem more forceful or resolute.

Spotlight is a high-intensity beam on a small area, often in marked contrast to a darker area. For example, a light spilling from a doorway into a dark hallway could be created by a spotlight located behind the door.

Rim Light is focused on the subject directly from behind to highlight its edges. It can make an actor literally appear to glow. In effect, it is a more intense type of backlight.

Background Light throws extra illumination on the wall or scenery in back of the subject. Its purpose is usually to bring out details that would otherwise be lost in the shadows. Lighting involves the single most important set of decisions that will affect the quality of the video or film image. It determines what the audience sees, where they focus their attention, and the mood of the scene.

To control lighting on the set:

• Motivate the key light—make the audiences think key light comes from a window or a lamp they can see.
• Keep contrast low—tone down highlights and add fill lighting to shadow areas.
• White balance manually each time you change the lighting source.
• Make adjustments as light changes during the day.
• Consider how highlights could add artistic touches and interests to your video imagery.


Film (because of its makeup) has a specific look – softer, warmer, and richer – it provides a specific aesthetic look. Digital video (all video) normally looks sharper, cooler, and more real than film, especially if you use a standard “positive” lighting technique.

If you use “negative” lighting (using shadow to shape, take light away, and work from the camera lens’ most open position for our DV cameras 1.4), you can use a standard “positive” lighting technique.


Basic light source or sun
Reflectors, including diffuser
Flags (light masking objects)
Light meter or trustable color monitor (the LCD on the VX 2000) meter settings (ISO = 320, FPS = 30, lens 1.4)


The soft look comes from a lower “depth of field” (the amount of area in focus). Therefore, it is necessary to use the open iris setting as much as possible (f – 1.4).

The reduction or elimination of “flat” light. The richness comes, in part, as a result of lighting the subject in such a way as to get modeling of the subject as well as background separation. This is different than normal lighting, which floods or fills the subject while providing background separation. In addition, reduction of the “flat” light effect demands the use of masking or “flagging” part or all of the background or elements that can cause distraction to the subject.

Providing depth and shape to the subject through the use of foreground objects and selected background objects. The lighting of these objects is very subjective and is based on a soft backlit or bounce lit concept.

Possible use of lighting textures – “cookies” or “gobos” used in front of a light source to break up, model, or even give a sense of location to the scene through the light.

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