Film Production Lighting

Lighting in film: The top film lighting setups you must know

Lighting in film is underrated. It adds depth, it adds atmosphere, and most importantly, it brings your story to life. It’s incredible what you can do with a lighting setup and how you can draw tension, laughter, warmth, happiness and so many other emotions, by the simple placement of a camera. 

The lighting setup allows you to achieve that cinematic look in your film – and the lighting setup matters. 

In today’s article, we will look into each type of lighting in film, what they are and when you should use them. Then click on each one to see the in-depth breakdown to help you recreate them in detail. 

Let’s check out each type of lighting in film below.

Lighting in film: The top film lighting setups you must know

Here is a breakdown of the different types of lighting in film. The way you light a scene is imperative to capturing the film’s overall feeling, and the setup matters. 

Here is a breakdown of the most important lighting setups and how you can achieve these. Let’s have a look at the most cinematic setups when it comes to lighting in film.

Hard Lighting

Lighting in film is incredibly important, and hard lighting is a lighting setup you have to know. There’s no doubt about it; this lighting setup is crucial. It’s perfect for those dark, tension fuelled scenes – it brings the atmosphere to the forefront and will have your audience wanting more.

What is hard lighting?

Hard lighting is a form of lighting where the shadows are deep and it makes the subject stand out within the scene. Perfect for creating tense, moving scenes that will have your audience is hanging on for dear life. 

The isolated setup allows you to define the subject and create dark, shadowy objects that can appear menacing. 

When should I use hard lighting?

You should use hard lighting to create a scene that needs tension, a scene that needs fear, a scene that needs an edge. 

The hard lighting setup allows you to create depth and dimension to your subject, creating a dramatic element within the scene. Ultimately if you’re looking to create high tension and drama, the hard lighting setup is the one you must consider, along with a low key lighting setup (More on that later). 

These two provide sharp shadows and high contrast – an exhilarating combination. 

You may also be interested in reading more: Hard Lighting vs Soft Lighting, what’s the difference?

Soft Lighting

This is a lighting setup we love here at iFilmThings; it brings warmth, happiness and mostly laughter. Here’s a quick overview and how you, too can achieve such a setup.

What is a soft lighting setup?

Soft lighting is a lighting setup that creates evenly spread light to create a blanched picture with little to no shadows. It’s a low contrast shot, utilising bright light. 

It’s the setup for any coming of age films, romantic comedies and perfectly poised for any heart-warming happy scenes; it adds another dimension to the story. 

Try using the soft lighting setup with the bounce set up to compliment your light. It will help you evenly disperse the light and create an even image. 

When should I use soft lighting?

Soft lighting in film must be used to create a happy, friendly and warm feeling within your scene.

It’s a much more flattering picture; the lights dispersed evenly, creating a balanced shot with little contrast. It’s the perfect lighting setup for your coming of age films, comedies and heartwarming moments you want to capture with a heightened sense of happiness. 

This will build truth with your audience and allow them to feel it and live the characters happiness, leaving them feeling happy and warm inside. 

Remember to check out the three-point lighting setup; this will give you a solid base when creating the soft lighting setup.

Natural lighting

The perfect light source for indie filmmakers – you can create insanely cinematic scenes just using natural light. Use a couple of accessories to disperse the light evenly, but you’ll be left with a cinematic shot to die for, seriously!

Natural lighting in film is an incredible light source, and when used correctly, will do absolute wonders for your scene; it’s cinematic and quite frankly beautiful. 

What is natural lighting? 

Natural lighting in film is a light source that occurs naturally that can be manipulated in multiple ways to help you light up your scene perfectly. It’s a light source that needs to be filmed at the correct hour of the day, and pre-planning to aplomb is greatly appreciated. 

The cinematic footage you achieve using natural light is incredibly impressive. If you’re looking to shoot a heartwarming scene using natural light, then the “Golden Hour” is the time to shoot. This hour provides you with a natural, cinematic setup that will collect the most incredible footage you can imagine. 

Tips when using natural lighting

Here are a few essential tips when filming in natural light. The first is to ensure you have the correct camera and lens. Without this, you’ll find the natural light will look overexposed and will damage your footage. 

Another tip when filming with natural light is to use the sun as your backlight. It avoids the sun directly shining into your camera, alleviating you from any of the aforementioned issues. This will help give your shot a balanced lighting setup.

Finally, prepare and make sure you choose the correct location. Scout the location beforehand to ensure you know where the sun rises and sets. This will allow you to shoot the scene as efficiently as possible, utilising the suns light to the best of your ability.

You will also be able to work out if there are any blockers to your light source (buildings/trees), and this will help you decide whether or not it’s the best place to shoot the scene. 

We can’t state it enough, but planning is key to shooting with natural light!

For more essential tips for shooting with natural light, please read our in-depth breakdown here: Natural Light: How to shoot using Natural Light.

Practical Lighting

Practical lighting in film is intricate, subtle, but bloody brilliant. There’s no better way to give your scene a cinematic punch than using practical lighting. It takes the setup to another level; it’s powerful and modest at the same time. 

You’re probably thinking, Tom, what fuck are you on about – I’ll show you. 

What is practical lighting?

Practical lighting is a form of lighting in film where the scene is lit with the lighting that sits within the frame. A perfect example is a lamp, or maybe a torch, as your villainous assassin searches through the protagonists home. 

Any light form that looks like a prop within the frame of your shot fits into the “practical lighting” bucket. It’s a creative way to light a scene and creates realism to the shot. 

Why should I use practical lighting in my film?

Practical lighting can be used in many ways; one of the main reasons to use practical lighting is to create dimensions. By adding relevant practical lights to your scene, it allows the audience to feel and observe the room in its actual dimensions. It essentially creates realism. 

Here are another couple of reasons for using practical lighting: 

  • Motivated lighting – Create more cinematic light sources 
  • Drive the narrative with practical props

Check out our article below for more guidance on how to use practical lighting to its full potential. We highly recommend it as it’s a creative way to light a scene and will provide you with a cinematic feel that will delight the audience. 

Read more: What is Practical Lighting in Film?

Bounce lighting

Bounce lighting in film is another lighting setup we love here at iFilmThings. Bounce lighting can be used with numerous setups, including high key lighting setups as well natural lighting setups

It helps diffuse the light and creates a balanced lighting setup. 

What is bounce lighting?

Bounce lighting is a technique that allows you to bounce the original light source off of a fabric or material to help light your shot and disperse it evenly. You can even use an actual bounce board or even a wall. 

The bounce lighting allows you to disperse the light and create an evenly spread light source that allows you to light your scene cinematically. 

It’s perfect for pairing with other lighting setups, for example, natural light and soft lighting. You can create the bounce lighting effect with any of these methods below: 

  • Reflector board
  • Light/white bedsheets
  • Ceilings
  • Bounce card
  • Clothing 
  • Fabric
  • Light walls

Why should I use bounce lighting?

There are so many reasons for using bounce lighting; from diffusing light to working on a tight budget; bounce lighting in film has many great use cases.

  • Diffuses light. Using the bounce technique, you can evenly spread your light across your shot and manipulate it to suit your needs. 
  • A great lighting setup on a budget. 
  • Perfect for when you are shooting in a small space and need to add additional light into the shot. 
  • Partners with natural light incredibly well. Manipulating natural light can be difficult, and it can often overexpose a shot. Using a bounce board or material to manipulate the light will allow you to create a natural light source that looks incredible on film.

For a more in-depth overview, click below on the full article!

You may also be interested in: What is Practical Lighting in Film?

Key light

A key lighting setup is one of the most common setups in filmmaking. Filmmakers utilise the key light as their primary light source and manipulate it to fit the feel and look of the scene.

What is a key light?

Key light in film is the primary light source in your scene. The key light is generally placed directly in front of your subject, with the secondary lighting scattered around it to create the full lighting setup. 

The colour, power and angle of the key light are integral to how the lighting design of the scene will look. 

When to use a key light in film? 

A key light in film is used in a lot of lighting setups. It’s used within a three-point lighting setup, a low key setup, a high key setup, a soft and a hard lighting configuration. 

The way the key light can differ from setup to setup is dependent on the supporting lights used with the scene, the colour of the primary light, the angle in which the key light is placed and finally, the power of your key light. 

All these factors allow you to create a different “look” for your scene and tailor it to the individual look and feel of the scene. To read more on key lighting, click the link below for an in-depth breakdown of all things key lighting.

Read more: Key light in film. What is key light in film?

High key lighting

Warm, fun, happy are just a couple of words to discuss high key lighting in film. It’s an important lighting setup within film and has worked wonders for comedies and coming-of-age films to dig into the warmth and happiness these films display.

What is high key lighting?

High key lighting is a lighting setup that uses a key light as its primary light source and disperses the light evenly to create a warm, happy feel to the scene. 

The key light (Main light) will be much stronger than the other “fill lights”. It frees your shot from dark, dull colours and eliminates shadows. This is why it works for comedies and scenes that are used to display happiness. 

It’s a fun concept, and you can partner it with the bounce lighting setup to disperse the light and play around with different cinematic setups.

When should you use high key lighting?

As mentioned earlier, high key lighting is the perfect partner for genres such as comedies, rom-coms, coming of age films, and occasionally a happy scene in an action film. 

The warmth of the shot allows you to display happiness, and the setup is key to achieve it. 

Make sure you have your primary light source dispersed evenly, and limit the number of shadows and contrast you have to keep it bright but not overexposed. 

You can assist this setup with bounce boards and materials to help balance the shot. These setups are used for interviews and documentaries alike. It gives an even setup and perfect for a neutral interview. 

Experiment with natural light too! Natural light can be dispersed through a window with your primary key light, reduce the power of the key light and let the natural light do a bit of the leg work.

Check out our in-depth breakdown below of high key lighting and how best to set this up.

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

Low key lighting

Low key lighting brings a few words to the front of my mind. These are fear, tension and doom. Don’t worry. You won’t feel those when setting it up (it’s relatively easy). These are what you can project onto the audience and utilise for some of your key scenes. 

Is your protagonist looking for a way out of the antagonist’s lair? If so, a low key lighting setup will emphasise the tension of the scene and the high contrast; shadowed shots will portray this in a way words could never. 

Some people relate low key lighting to that of the “Hard Lighting” setup”. They’re both high in contrast, full of shadows and used intense, fearful scenes. Brilliant for capturing the audience’s imagination and wrapping them up within the tension. 

What is low key lighting?

Tension, suspense, fear – what do these three words have in common? They all work incredibly well in a low key lighting setup. 

Low key lighting is a lighting technique in film high in contrast, full of dark colours and shadows. It’s used to portray fear, to emphasise tension and most importantly, it captivates your audience. 

Do you want your audience on the edge of their seats, anxious, nervous awaiting the next twist and turn? 

Well, this is the lighting setup to portray this. It’s incredibly well balanced and will draw the most from your scene. That with brilliant acting and a well-composed shot, you’ll be onto a winner in no time. 

You may also be interested in reading about: Low Key Lighting: How you can create a dramatic atmosphere immediately.

Three-point lighting

Key Light

Three-point lighting comprises three components, the key light, fill light and the sidelight. It’s a mainstay in the filmmaking world for your lighting technique and is one you must master! 

What is three-point lighting?

Three-point lighting in film is a lighting technique that uses three light sources. The key light, fill light and the sidelight. 

Depending on the placement, position, angle, and power of these lights will allow you to control the scene’s contrast, shadowing, and overall look. The three-point setup is usually used within the high key, low key, and soft lighting setups. 

It’s perfect for getting the correct composition and experimenting with different angles and positioning to achieve the setup you desire.

When should I use three-point lighting in film?

Three-point lighting is commonly used in most of the lighting setups listed above. You usually see it in are the high key, low key, and soft lighting setups. 

You should look to use the three-point lighting setup if you’re looking to: 

  • The lighting adds dimensions to your subject/s. 
  • To create a soft, balanced mood.
  • Create sharp shadows and high contrast.

What can we say? It’s a mainstay in the world of filmmaking and one that’s integral to shooting a dynamic, cinematic film. 

Read more on three-point lighting here and how it can help you as a filmmaker. 

We hope this article on “Lighting in film: The top film lighting setups you must know” was helpful to you. Let us know your thoughts down below in the comments.

Scroll down a little further to read more of our latest filmmaking blogs and resources, happy filmmaking!

How to MASTER the Bokeh Effect

The Bokeh Effect is an incredibly popular technique in photography. Used by professionals and amateurs alike which blurs to attract the attention of the viewer to a specific point in the picture. In today’s article, we are going to look at all things Bokeh, what it is? How to create and much, much more. Take […]

What is the blue hour? ALL of your questions ANSWERED.

The blue hour is a lesser-known photography phenomenon. You would have all heard of the golden hour in photography and filmmaking, but for some reason, it slips under the radar.  We don’t know why, as the blue hour is incredible. It brings out deep blues in the sky and allows you to take incredible photographs. […]

Why you MUST use Fresnel Lights!

Lighting in film is complex, important, but most of all experimental. Today we look at why you should use Fresnel lights in your next film.  Funnily enough, Fresnel lights were originally built in the 1800s for lighthouses and were not even considered in theatres, let alone film sets, until much further afield.  However, in the […]

Three-Point Lighting Setup: Lighting in Film

Three-point lighting seems to be overlooked by filmmakers and photographers occasionally, but it mustn’t be scoffed at! Three-point lighting is a stalwart within the lighting scene and must be understood so you can use it to its best potential. It uses three light sources that allow you to light your scene to your preferred setup, […]

What is Practical Lighting in Film?

Practical lighting is one of our favourite sources of light in film. Why is that? Well, it’s simple. We constantly focus on the professional lighting setups, which are essential, but practical lighting within a scene adds additional depth. It drives the narrative of your film, and most importantly, it creates dimensions to your scenes. This […]

Hard Lighting vs Soft Lighting, what’s the difference?

Looking to incorporate a bit of diversity into your scenes, switch up the lighting setup a little? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Hard lighting and soft lighting are essential lighting techniques within filmmaking and enable you to shoot dynamic, enthralling scenes.  But what are these types of lighting? And, how do I create […]

Key light in film. What is key light in film?

Lighting is an integral part of filmmaking; it helps create the scene’s mood and helps add another layer to the atmosphere. Using a key light setup is one of the many types of lighting setups you must understand to the tee – it can help sculpt your film and take it to the next level. […]

Bounce Lighting – Key Tips and Techniques

Overexposure is a killer and a bit of a nuisance for filmmakers. It’s something we as filmmakers experience a lot, and by using “Bounce Lighting,” you can diffuse it. Turn an overexposed shot into an absolute masterpiece.  Bounce lighting is an essential type of lighting and can be used as a standalone setup or a […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: