Besides having an amazing cast and crew and a great script, one of the fundamentals to a successful film production is stylized lighting. The way you light your shots will help convey the story and set the mood. Lighting can make or break the overall impact you are aiming to achieve with your production.
It helps to be familiar with the different ways light is used in filmmaking. There are a wide variety of options, but each has an important role. Here’s a guide to the most common types of lighting in video production.
Wits End offers a selection of diffusion gels, bulbs, and other supplies to aid with your production’s lighting system. Shop Now
The Three-Point Lighting Setup
One of the most basic aspects to film lighting is the traditional three-point setup which involves three lights: a key light, fill light, and backlight. If all three are equally bright, this creates “flat lighting,” which is normally used for news broadcasts. You will likely be using each of these on different brightness settings.
On a film set, the main source of light is the key light. As the most important light, it should be the first that’s set up. It’s very direct and intense, casting light onto the main subject or actor.
The key light really highlights dimension and form. You don’t need a specific type of equipment for your key lighting—it can be anything from an open-faced fixture to a lamp, as long as it’s the central source of light as you conduct your shot.
Your key light will cast a lot of shadows. The purpose of a fill light is to fill in these shadows. It is set up opposite of the key light and won’t be quite as bright. For the least amount of shadows, place your fill light close to the camera.
Another light that gets its name from its primary function, your backlight will be placed behind and higher than your subject or actor. This helps to separate things from the background, enhancing depth and shape. The backlight should be about 1.5 times brighter than your key light.
Other Types of Lighting
Although the three-point setup is one of the most important lighting techniques, there are other types of lighting you should be familiar with for filming as well.
This is the existing light that’s at the location where you’re shooting. Typically, ambient light is sunlight, but it can also come from street lights—and in the evening, moonlight. The intensity of this light won’t stay constant, so make sure to plan for changing weather and sun placement.
This is light that is actually being used within a scene. Its source comes from a prop such as a television set, flashlight, floor lamp, desk lamp, or candle. If it’s being used in the shot, it’s known as practical light. If you need to alter the intensity of practical light, you can change the bulbs or use diffusion gels.
This light is reflected from tools such as silk or foam boards. You can also use bounce light from walls or the ceiling in a scene—anything that light is able to reflect off of. White sheets work as well.
Types of Lighting Intensity
Lighting intensity is the level of how bright a light is and its output. Generally, this is measured in watts. Watts vary depending on the fixture, equipment, and bulb.
Soft light produces soft shadows rather than harsh shadows. It’s typically used for aesthetic purposes, because it creates a very dramatic effect. Soft light relies on a source that’s very large, so using it will determine the size—not the placement—of your light source. A light fixture can typically generate soft light.
If you need sharp or harsh shadows in your shot, use hard light. This requires a small light source such as a desktop lamp or the midday sun. Typically, hard light is not desirable for filming. But if you’d like to draw attention to something or need to create a silhouette, hard light can accomplish this.
High Key Lighting
When used with the fill light, high key lighting creates bright effects and no shadows. While this is commonly used for sitcoms and commercials, it can lead to overexposure. It often works best if all light sources are set at an equal level of intensity.
Low Key Lighting
This type of lighting makes your shot look darker and filled with shadows. It involves a small amount of fill light and achieves a sense of suspense or mystery. Usually, low key lighting is used in horror movies and thrillers.
The Beauty of Film Lighting
Lighting is a great tool that filmmakers can use to influence the mood of their shots. Whether you are an established professional or just getting familiar with the three-point setup, you can establish beautiful lighting in your film. Even one simple adjustment can create the effect you’re looking for.
The more video production projects you take on, the more you’ll get to work with different types of lighting. If you need help transporting your lighting equipment and other film supplies, check out truck and auto rentals from Wits End. These rentals are the perfect solution for transportation so you can have all the types of lighting you need easily at hand. You can also find a full range of other film production equipment and expendables in our inventory. Shop with us today!