12 Film Lighting Techniques Everyone on Set Should Know – Tips and Tricks

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Lighting is the most important element in cinematography. To capture a perfect scene for a film a perfect lighting is must. Lighting sets the mood of the scene in a film for example: Romantic, sad, drama, etc. Lighting is also used to create sense of meaning for the audience.

Cameras do not respond to light the same way a human eye does. That is why you need to know why is lighting so important in cinematography and film production overall because a perfect lighting is necessary to define a shot for a film.

So, here I have made a list of 12 Film Lighting Techniques Every One Should Know on Set, here, they are as follows:

Note: Read it till the end for few tips and tricks which will do magic and really help you shoot a perfect scene for your movie.


1. Key Lighting

Example: Joker (2019) You can see the head portion is brighter that is key light.

Key lighting is the most important light a cinematographer uses because it focuses on the subject. The key light is the main source of light in a scene. The key light is a determining factor to a cinematographer’s lighting technique (or lighting design). The way a cinematographer uses the key light will determine the mood and atmosphere of the scene.

2. Fill Lighting

Fill lighting is used to exposing the details of the subject that falls in the shadow area of the key light. Fill light determines the shadows, contrasts and brightness of a scene. It creates depth and dimension in your scene. By using less fill, a cinematographer can create harsh shadows and more contrast and by using more fill, they can create soft shadows and a brighter shot.

Credit: Crime light

3. Back Lighting

Back Lighting (also known as the kicker or rim light) is the process of illuminating the subject from the back. Back light (also known as the hair or shoulder light) helps separate the subject and the background. Sometimes, back lighting is used to give a three dimensional effect in a scene. Back light is also used to create depth and dramatic effect.


4. Side Lighting

Example: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) Side lighting

Side lighting is used to define form and dimension of the subject in a scene. Side lighting is exactly what it sounds, one side of the subject will be exposed and the other side will be in shadows. The way a cinematographer uses the side light determines the mood and texture of a scene. Side lighting is also used to exaggerate depth of a scene.

5. Practical Lighting

Example: Eyes Wide Shut (practical lighting)

Practical lighting is the actual lighting appears on the screen in a scene for example: lamps, candle, television, etc. By using practical lighting you can create a cinematic ambience (cinematic look) in a scene. They are not usually strong enough to light a subject. For everyone who asks or want to achieve cinematic look practical lighting will be helpful for you if you use it properly.

6. Hard Lighting

Hard lighting is used draw attention on the subject of a scene. Hard light creates shadows with harder edges with less transition between illuminating and shadow. Hard lighting is also used to create high contrast and a strong sense of drama.

7. Soft Lighting

Soft lighting is used to create soft shadows or little to no shadows. The shadows created by a soft light will have a gradual transition from light to dark. The scene in which soft light is used looks like a cloudy day where the clouds diffuse the direct sunlight.


8. High-Key Lighting

Image credit : No film school

High-key lighting is used to reduce the lighting ratio in the scene, which means there is less contrast between the darker tones and the brighter areas. High-key lighting scene is bright and the key tones are lighter that the mid-tone ideal. High-key lighting is also used to create an upbeat mood and positive message.

9. Low-Key Lighting

Example: Low keylight in There will be blood.

Low-key lighting is a lighting technique which focusses on accentuating shadows by using hard source lighting in a scene. A low-key lighting scene has dark tones and colours than a high-key lighting scene. Low-key lighting is also used to add contrast and add drama in a scene for your film.

10. Natural Lighting

Natural lighting in The Notebook: Image credit- No film school

Natural lighting is a lighting technique in which natural lights (for example: sunlight) is used to light a scene for your movie. Natural lighting technique is used to modify and use the available light at the location of your shoot.

11. Motivated Lighting

Motivated lighting in The Exorcist

Motivated lighting technique is a lighting technique where a light source is used to imitate a natural source of light (for example: moonlight). Motivated lighting when used correctly can captive audience interest and build emotions on the set. If you do not have a perfect sunlight or a moonlight to shoot your scene motivated lighting is the technique which will be really helpful to achieve your desired result.

12. Bounce Lighting

Example: Harry potter bounce light credit: Imdb

Bounce lighting is the lighting technique in which a reflector, white foam core, etc. are used to bounce light from the light source on the subject of your scene. Bounce light is often used as a fill but can also be used as a key light depending on the situation. Bounce lighting softens the shadows and eliminate glare.


So, now that you know the film lighting techniques here are tips and tricks for it with few additional lighting techniques:

Tips And Tricks For Film Lighting Techniques

1. If you remove your key light it can help you create a silhouette effect.

2. Three point lighting: It is a traditional lighting method which is used for illuminating a subject in a scene with light sources from three different points- key light, fill light and back light. It helps shape a subject to bring out best and worst of it.

3. Use back lighting to create silhouette effect if your key light is necessary and can’t remove it.

3. Four point lighting: It is a lighting technique which cinematographers used for drawing attention to the background. In this technique additional background light is needed from a three point lighting technique. You can use this technique if you want to draw audience attention to the background in your scene.

4. Think about your background.

5. Adding bokeh effect to your scene helps you get that perfect cinematic look you wish for.

6. High-key lighting is best for music videos, commercial or a television sitcom.

7. Take time to experiment because lighting a scene perfectly requires trial and error.


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