Filmmaking Lighting

Film lighting techniques EVERY filmmaker must know

Lighting techniques in film, are understated and crucial. These lighting techniques help you achieve that cinematic look to your film – lighting techniques in film are invaluable.

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.

In today’s article, we are going to look into the various lighting techniques in film and how you can implement them in your next film with relative ease. 

Let’s check out the 9 essential film lighting techniques every filmmaker should know below.

9 essential film lighting techniques

Here are the 9 essential film lighting techniques you should learn to help improve your filmmaking ability. Using these different lighting techniques, it will allow you to emphasise certain feelings, and develop an atmosphere that will leave your audience on the edge of their seats. 

Let’s check these film lighting techniques out in more detail.

1. Natural lighting

Natural film lighting
Credit: The Revenant

Natural lighting in film 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.

Preparation is key when using natural light as a lighting technique in film. You must make sure you scout out the area properly beforehand to ensure you know the time of day when the light will work best for your scene.

To help alter the light, try using bounce cards, reflectors and flags to help you achieve the perfect angle. Using natural light as your core lighting technique can produce incredible results, especially if you shoot your defining scene in the “Happy Hour”. 

You may also like to read: Natural Light: How to shoot using Natural Light

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 and shadows.

Low key lighting is usually used to portray mystery and is the perfect setup to create tension within a scene. It’s great to use it as a contrasting method within your film to show the audience the protagonist’s life is taking a turn for the worst. 

Also, If you have a scene packed with danger,  low key lighting hands itself perfectly.

You may also like to read: Low Key Lighting: How to create a dramatic atmosphere immediately

4. High key lighting

film lighting techniques

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 – High key lighting is used quite often in music videos and commercials, but can be seen in series such as “The good place“.

You may also be interested in reading: High Key Lighting: What is it? And How to Master it!

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

film lighting techniques
Credit: IMDB

This method is best utilised with large whiteboard/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 the temperature of the shot.


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