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Filmmaking Lighting

9 essential film lighting techniques every filmmaker should know

Film lighting techniques are crucial in filmmaking. These techniques help you achieve that cinematic look to your film, lighting techniques are invaluable to all levels of a filmmaker.

Having your film lighting set correctly helps bring the words of your screenwriter to life. It also allows the director to tell the story in the right way. It sets the mood, and most importantly gives your film an edge.

1. Natural lighting

Natural film lighting
Credit: The Revenant

Natural film lighting is perfect for the indie filmmaker. It’s utilising daylight to help light your set correctly. It’s a great way to save some money – especially if you are shooting on a tight budget, and save yourself a bit of time. Ensure you, scout out the area properly beforehand to ensure you know the time of day when the light will work for the scene best. Also to help alter the light, try using bounce cards to get the perfect angle.

2. Key lighting

Key Lighting

Key lighting is the main source of lighting during a scene. This is the primary source and helps define the mood of the scene. This will light the key aspect of the scene or the subject. Try to avoid placing your key lighting near to your camera or you will find it will fall flat and leave your scene one dimensional.

3. Low key lighting

Low key lighting technique for film is a type of hard source lighting technique that uses blackness and a lot of contrast. This is usually used to portray a shadow effect. If there is a dangerous scene or there is a bit of tension/warning low key lighting is perfect to portray this.

4. High key lighting

the-good-place-one-hour-special (1)
Credit: Slash Film

High key lighting is usually used to deal with high contrast, however, it’s now used to set the mood in the scene. Usually, one of a light hearted and happy scene – but can also, for example, be used for an “out of body experience” scene. It’s primarily white tones from bright lights and lacks darkness – used quite often in music videos and commercials, but can be seen in series such as “The good place“.

5. Side lighting

Side lighting is perfect for highlighting the person or the subject of the shot. The lights face each other from one side to the other and are there to provide drama to your scene, prominent in film noir, helping contour your main subject.

READ MORE: How to become a resourceful and innovative filmmaker

6. Bounce lighting

Bounce lighting
Credit: IMDB

This method is best utilised with large white board/cardboard. You can bounce the direct light off and onto your subject – this helps highlight the subject without shining light directly at them. The bounce lighting is an indirect lighting technique but gives you a larger area of lighting evenly spread across the shot.

7. Hard lighting

Hard lighting creates really harsh lighting and a lot of shadows. It’s usually made with a direct light shone straight at the subject – it can also be shone elsewhere and modified with diffusers to show attention towards something else important for the audience in the shot. Brilliant for creating a silhouette in your shot as well.

8. Soft lighting

Soft lighting doesn’t have one main definition but is the main source of light that cinematographers use to eliminate shadows from their shots. Creates subtle shades of light to cast on your subject, perfect for accentuating the subject of the shot.

READ MORE: Essential tips for an indie filmmaker

9. Practical lighting

This is anything practical. A TV Set, a lamp, a sidelight, wall lights, a candle – anything that can add to the current light setup. These are always added on top of the current light setup. These are additional pieces to the set to help with the ambience – but make sure the practical lighting object matches with the temperature of the shot.


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