Film Lighting Techniques

Film Lighting Techniques

You cannot do the high-quality photo or video without good lighting. You will ask why? After all, modern digital cameras allow taking pictures even in a poor light.

However, in the film art lighting is very important and with effects of light and dark, alteration of a bright spot and a mysterious shadow creating a remarkable chiaroscuro effect. A bright, even light makes the face flat.

With the help of lighting, you can narrow it visually, or vice versa, expand.

To make things simple we can say that a well-balanced light distinguishes the filming made by an amateur from the master’s work. Bad lighting immediately implies that the person who is distant from film production created the film and it hardly worth seeing.

An experienced operator always remembers that the quality of light can hide or highlight different things. With the help of light, you can also model a person’s reaction; can convey the feeling of documentary shots.

You can estimate lighting across several indicators:

  • How sharp are the shadows?
  • What is the light angle?
  • How bright is the light?
  • What is the light color?
  • How many light sources and how do they comply with all these parameters?

The hard light that comes from a single source, such as the sun or spotlight, gives a sharp imaging. It also creates sharp shadows on the background or the actor’s face.

Soft light coming from a diffused light source, or even from several sources, will give you a mild, placid, nay, romantic imaging. It tends to be that for such soft diffused lighting could be spent much more energy than for the hard light.

In old good movies, one had to use hard lighting, because the film had a low sensitivity to the light. Now the capabilities of the film lighting equipment have increased significantly.

Usually, in film production several light sources are used.

Key Lighting

Fills all the objects with basic light.

Fill Lighting

Directed at an angle, in order to soften sharp shadows.

The relative brightness of these sources provides a contrast ratio of lighting. Low contrast, when the brightness of two sources is equal, gives soft lighting.

The high contrast, where the side filling thing is dimmer, gives a sharper, hard lighting; it is often used in the genre of “black movie”.


A weak directional light illuminates the back of the actor. It can come from above or from the side. This lighting helps to outline the contours of the object, helps to ensure three axes filming.

He also reflects the shine of the actor’s hair – it is called sometimes “light for hair”. For example, a bright backlight will help outline the dramatic silhouette of the hero.

All together –key, fill and back lightings –give a three-point lighting scheme, which could be considered as the core of filming. However, in fact, there is no uniform scheme of light exposure.

This is art. Different operators differently build the lighting scheme, and in each case, the mood and the sense of the scene will be different.

A huge variety of lighting schemes entails the need for a large number of different equipment capable of providing different types of light, the brightness of the lighting, increasing or lowering the contrast, focusing the light, etc.

You can distinguish the lighting equipment by its color temperature.

For example:

4300 К – the morning sunlight

5400 К – the midday sun

2000 К – the sunset

4000 К – the moonlight

6000 К – the cloudy skylight.

You should always keep in mind the drop of light intensity at a distance. At a distance of 3m, the intensity of illumination will drop in nine times.

Therefore, it is always necessary to calculate the necessary power of lighting equipment taking into account the distance from the subject.

Not the last question the worth of paying attention is safety regulations. We need not forget that lighting lamps and spotlights usually get very hot.

Casual handling can result in burns or even fire. Though turned off they do not cool down right away.

For powerful lighting equipment, it is sometimes safer to take an electricity generator than to use existing electrical networks.

In the lighting equipment different types of lamps are used:

Conventional incandescent lamps

They are cheap, but they have a specific temperature of 2900 K, which, however, could be corrected by filters.


Consume up to 500 W, but they have a short service life, they often have to be changed. Most often, they occur in domed projectors and reflectors.

Tungsten-halide or halogen lamps

Can consume up to 20 000 kW. Do not fade over time. Balanced due to the daylight. High threshold of sensitivity to voltage.

HMI (halogen-metal-iodide) lamps

Are balanced due to the daylight, less energy-intensive, they have a high flickering frequency, which is compared with the frequency of filming with an analog or digital camera. This will be the best choice for the film, but they are quite expensive.

Fluorescent lamps for cinema and video

They are balanced for different light temperatures, have special stabilizers for leveling out flickers.


The lighting to provide the fill light when there is a key source.

Lens spotlights

To maintain the intensity of lighting at a distance. They emit a bright, focusing light beam of parallel rays. These projectors are often used in the production of films for the building of lighting schemes.

However, this is an expensive pleasure. Instead, you can use open-top projectors. These devices do not use expensive Fresnel lenses.

They can focus the light beam due to the unique shape of the reflector and the positioning of the lamp. They are not such expensive as lenses, bright, but the ray of light is not so clear.

Non-focusing lamps

These are inexpensive lighting devices, with which you can significantly diversify and enrich lighting schemes. These lamps look like car headlights. They have built-in reflectors; you can vary viewing angles and coverage.

To fix and adjust the direction of light, use racks and stands. You should also take care of the strengthening of the racks and supports, the places of fastening lamps and spotlights.

Thus, you would exclude the possibility of their falling from the wind or careless moves of personnel.

Bags and cases for studio lighting set are indispensable during the equipment transportation. It allows you to quickly organize the light for a studio in a new location.

Where to start, how to select out of numerous offers and brands of lighting equipment? What model is right for you? The reviews of those who already experienced using a particular model can answer your questions.

You will be able to know about those features that were not listed in the standard instructions.

Read, analyze, select due to your budget and needs.