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Three Lighting Setups To Up Your Cinematography Game (FREE e-book)Sunday, February 19, 2017

Citizen Kane.


2001: A Space Odyssey.

Some of the most beautiful, striking films of all time are well known for one thing--their lighting. Good lighting not only makes a film visually stimulating, but it can also help to tell the story and set the tone of a film in a very subtle, visceral way. These are the kinds of films that affect us on an emotional level and make us feel like we are truly connected to the world of the film.

48HFP filmmakers are known for their 'run and gun' style of guerilla filmmaking that often relies on minimal gear due to the time constraints. Camera technology has come a long way to make this possible, and there are cameras readily available now that make great use of low-light sensors. But just because you CAN shoot without lights doesn't mean that you SHOULD.

Relying on only available light can be very risky to your filmmaking process. Many a filmmaker has shot in available low light and found that when reviewing the footage, most of it was unusable. When blown up to movie theatre screen size, footage shot in low light can look very grainy, not to mention that it often lacks the three-dimensional sculpted look that can come from using lights. While there's definitely a benefit to not having to lug a bunch of lighting gear around, the fact is that the majority of films could benefit from the control that comes from using good lighting setups.

3 Point Lighting

The most basic lighting setup is 3 Point Lighting. This type of setup will give you the most basic 'look' that lights the scene effectively, brings out details and eliminates grainy shadows, and gives your film that three-dimensional look. 3 Point Lighting typically has the camera directly in front of the main subject of the scene, and uses two lights on either side of the camera, about 45 degrees from the subject. The main lighting source used to light most of the scene is called the key light, and the lower-powered lighting source to bring out the shadows is called the fill light . The third lighting source is behind the subject and is called the rim light--this light is usually tightly focused on the back of the subject and is used the separate the subject from the background.

A 3 Point Lighting setup will cover your basic needs and will generally provide you with a nice, evenly lit scene. The disadvantage is using this setup all the time is that...well, it's pretty boring. Sometimes boring is good, but there are other times that you may want to spice up a scene to elicit a certain emotion from the viewer. So here are three additional lighting setups that will help make your next film look like a cinematic masterpiece!

Reverse Key Lighting

Reverse Key Lighting (also called short lighting or narrow lighting) creates more of a subtle, low-key scene that gives the subject a very beautiful, sculpted look. This type of lighting often creates the 'Rembrandt' look on the face of the subject, where the rays of light softly fall onto the cheek on the side of the face closest to the camera.

Reverse Key Lighting uses a setup similar to 3 Point Lighting, except the key light is behind or to the side of the subject. The fill light remains on the side of the camera about 45 degrees from the subject. Depending on the look that you're going for, the fill light could also be replaced with a bounce--any sort of reflective surface that will bounce the light from the key light back onto the subject in place of the fill light. Because of the placement of the key light in the Reverse Key Lighting setup, a rim light becomes optional--it's often unneeded since the key light is now behind the subject, acting as both the main light source and a rim light.

Backlight Plus Bounce

For a much more dramatic silhouette look, try out the Backlight Plus Bounce setup. Here, the key lighting source is placed directly behind the subject, placing them in silhouette. Outdoors, you could use the sun as your key light under the right conditions. A bounce or fill light is placed directly in front of the subject to bring out the shadows. If you don't use a bounce, your subject will usually be completely blacked out due to the overwhelming light from the key. Even in a very dramatic-looking scene you'll still want to see some of the details of the subject, which is why you'll use the bounce or fill light.

Book Light

If you want the softest possible light that wraps around your subject in a very beautiful way, you'll want to try the Book Light setup. This is a newer lighting setup that makes use of double diffusion. The key light is typically off to the side of the camera and aimed towards a bounce, which is used as the main light. But before reaching the subject, the light reflected off of the bounce then travels through a sheer silk fabric placed between the bounce and the subject. The light is diffused first by being reflected via the bounce, and is then diffused again through the silk, resulting in a soft light that makes the skin glow. Check out the video to see an example of what this lighting looks like on camera.

Remember, while having great lighting will definitely enhance the visuals of your film, it's important to use the correct lighting at the correct time--dramatic lighting in a very subtle scene will probably make your viewer feel uneasy or that something about the film isn't quite right. Consider these lighting setups something extra to add to your filmmaking toolbox, but remember to use them wisely!

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