Lighting is one of the the most essential pieces to filmmaking. One might even call it… a “key” piece. (Get it? Thanks, we’ll be here all blog long.) From noir films such as Double Indemnity to classics like The Godfather and Bladerunner, lighting has been creatively bent to the will of filmmakers to draw out distinct emotions within viewers and tell their story in truly unique ways.
Three Point Lighting
First thing’s first; it’s important to understand each of our three lights used in the setup:
Key light: For providing the brightest light on the talent, the main illuminator.
Fill light: For “filling” in the rest of the talent to prevent any dark spots, remove weird shadows, and provide an even lighting.
Back light: For providing contrast between the talent and the background. Also called the “hair light” or “rim light.”
The placement of your lighting is just as important as the lighting itself. Take a look at the below illustration. The fill light is coming in right of frame and is used to “fill” in the shadows created by the key. The key light is providing provide a more intense and focused lighting to balance the mostly dark composition of the shot. Finally, the hair light is placed behind the subject to strike a balance between the subject and the soft background.
Feel free to experiment with the placement and intensity of each light, paying attention to the shadows they create on your subject.
Shifting both the location and intensity of your lights will help you adapt the set up to your location. Keep in mind any lights that are already present in your location, as they will affect the final image. You may want to consider removing this extra lighting, as it can yield creative and visually interesting results.
When in doubt, remember this prevailing wisdom: “Never use more light than you need to!”
Speaking of natural light…natural light is great! The sun is an extremely powerful (not to mention free) light source, so use it when appropriate. It’s great for fill and hair lighting, however, depending on the time of day, the sun can be a little too intense, so be prepared to cut some of that extra light with flags and diffusion.
If you find that there’s too much bright light, don’t be afraid to cut it. There are many tools in the gaffer’s arsenal for cutting and shaping light, but the main ones are:
- Flags: Opaque pieces of cloth or board used to completely block light. Great for managing light spilling around the set and for cutting hard lines of light.
- Diffusion: Varying degrees of translucent paper or cloth help soften and lessen the intensity of light. Great for managing hard shadows.
- Bounce: Reflective board or shiny surface that takes the direct light off the subject and instead, spreads the light off a surface. Great for small lighting set ups and utilizing natural light.
OTHER IMPORTANT SET-UPS
There are a few other simple lighting setups that are very similar to Three-Point lighting and can easily be adapted from the original set up.
High Key: Focuses on removing harsh shadows and dark areas from the frame. Soft, bright lighting is the key.
Low Key: Focusing on having as much contrast as possible. Accomplished by using as few hard light sources as possible to create harsh shadows.
4 Point Lighting: Similar to three-point lighting but a background light is added to provide texture and definition to the background. This can further help differentiate the subject from the environment and provide more visually interesting elements to engage the eye.
Now that you have the basics, don’t be afraid to experiment! Three-point lighting is an easy enough concept to understand, but much like Chess, lighting requires practice and creativity to make a project really stand out. Remember, even the worst attempts can teach you something about playing with light! 🌞 💡 📽