Cameras How to Lighting Preparation Shooting

Reveal or conceal: How to set lights

Similar to how a tone of voice can make or break an interview, light can drastically change the mood in any scene.

Light can make a major impact with minimal effort. Positioning and directing is key to making light in an image tell your story right.

Three main forms of lighting define a scene: High-key lighting – typified by a bright quality with few shadows, low-key – darker with deep shadows evoking a sense of drama, and middle-of-the-road graduated lighting – gradual shading from dark to light.

A consolidated practice has been developed to simplify the approach and purpose of each light. Three-point lighting combines three lamps to act as key light, fill light and back light.

Golden triangle

Let us break it down. Each filmed subject needs a defined key light, so if subjects move around, there may be a number of key lights in the scene. Each subject during a static interview would also have his or her own light.

Key lights are typically triangulated at 45-degrees with the camera and subject, and raised up vertically to point down at 45-degrees. This angled setup helps to set the main shadows on the face. As expected, key lights are usually the hard light source to represent the sun – the brightest light in the scene.

If key lights are the sun, fill and back lights shine light where the sun does not hit. Fill lights fill in shadows created by the key light. You will normally find key lights close to the camera to minimize shadows. They are often paired with soft boxes or diffusers to help soften the shadows.

Fill light could be the same type of light as key light, but its intensity dims in comparison due to the use of scrims, diffusion, dimming, or its greater distance away from the subject. Dimmers are less often used as they impact color temperature of the light.

Back lights are placed above and behind subjects and separate subject from background. Due to the tendency for back lights to be pointed at the back of head and shoulders, they are also called hair lights. Use this for interviews.

On the lighter side

Some other lighting options remain. Kicker lights are set opposite and lower than a key light, but still above and behind the subject. Small fill lights mounted close to the camera add twinkle to eyes, and set lights can be practical lights like a standard lamp or fireplace or a street lamp.