Things You Need to Know to Improve Your Lighting

Studio and lighting

Lighting is a key and often understated element to filming. Creating a look and an emotive response is not always down to the camera or lens but how the subject appears in front of the camera.

Lighting is one of the core elements when filming, and there are various types that enhance and give the finished work the visual impact it needs to be successful.

Dramatic Lighting

Chiaroscuro lighting uses extremes of light and shade to heighten mood and drama in a scene. Using a side light is a simple way of achieving this. The light comes from the side parallel to the subject. It is low-key and high-contrast.

To maximise this effect, go for no fill, or a very low fill light ratio. Sidelights are also great for revealing textures.

Another technique is to make use of practical light. This is lighting that appears as a working light within the scene itself, such as a household lamp.

Practical lamps can work as a major source of illumination in a scene, adding depth to it but normally need to be supplemented by an additional source.

If you haven’t got the option of a dimmer, you can apply some diffusion gel around the bulb.

Hard or Soft Light?

If you use hard light, it will create sharp, harsh shadows. Typically, you will get hard light from a small lighting source or from direct sunlight (a small strong source).

Generally, hard light is seen as undesirable, but it can be extremely useful if you are creating a scene that requires dramatic lighting effects or for specific genres.

Soft lighting comes from a larger light source and is typically more desirable. Soft light will produce soft shadows.

However, if it is soft enough, you can create a scene with no shadows at all. One technique for achieving this is by raising the key light and being generous with your use of fill lights.

This will keep the lighting in your frame bright and balanced between objects, creating virtually no shadow.

Key Light

The key light is the main light you use for the shot. This light should bathe the subjects and the scene in light. The natural outdoor equivalent would be direct sunlight.

You may need to use several key lights in a scene, depending on the location and the situation.

The normal position for key lighting is above the eyes of the subject or subjects you’re shooting. This ensures that features are clearly lit.

How you focus this light will depend on the requirements of your cinematography.

How hard or soft the lighting is can reflect how the scene should feel emotionally. This hardness or softness of key lighting comes from the source of the light, and how it affects the shadows on the subject.

Lighting your subject from below rather than above, has the effect of creating more sinister or atmospheric profiles.

Your choice of key lighting can create a very specific ambience.

High key lighting will cover the scene in harsh light, creating lots of contrast. Low key lighting creates shadows on subjects’ faces, often from one single light source.

Fill Lighting

If you only depended on key lighting to shoot your scene, you would find yourself with lots of dark background spaces.

Fill lighting fills in these dark areas, but uses weaker or dimmer light to do so.

By using fill lighting, you can make a scene more believable. It eliminates some of the harshness you get with key light, rendering a natural scene.

Fill lighting doesn’t have to involve lighting at all. In some circumstances, you can even use white card or a reflector.

The fill light should remain indistinctive and not create shadows of its own. You measure fill light in a fill light ratio, which is the relative light between the key and the fill lighting.

Back Lighting

The back light lifts the subjects from the background and helps to separate them from the background.

Getting the position of back lighting correct is crucial as it needs to remain natural to the scene.

Because the back light hits the subject from behind, it can separate them from a dark background, giving them more shape and depth. This helps prevent them looking two-dimensional.

You can use bright sunlight as a backlight, even if it is too harsh as a key light, because it will make your subject stand out but you will need a strong key light to expose correctly.

Lighting is a valuable means of making what you shoot look distinctive and memorable. These techniques should help you to improve your lighting technique.