With all due respect to Kodak, the slogan “you push the button, we’ll do the rest” is a massive understatement. We all know that there’s so much more that makes up a great shot, and while it can get complicated fast, there are simple tricks you can use to achieve cinematic looks for your film. That’s why we’re here to teach you four lighting techniques to make your shots more dynamic!
But first, let’s get basic with three-point lighting…
Three-point lighting is the most basic setup there is, and a building block for cinematic lighting. It uses three lights in three different positions:
Key: This will be your most powerful light and main source. It’s the most important light and is placed above and to the side of the subject. In a three-point setup you’ll notice one side of the subject’s face is brighter than the other side. The brighter side is the side that the key is hitting.
Fill: This light is placed at the same height and angle opposite the key to fill in the other side of the subject. If you want to kill those shadows, use a lot of fill. If you want a lot of shadows, use less fill. Instead of a light you can use bounce board, a reflector, or negative fill.
Backlight: Also called the hair light or kicker, this light is placed behind your subject to make them pop from the background.
But wait! There’s a fourth light!
Background light: This light is used to light up the background behind your subject. It is best used to establish the space without overpowering the subject.
Typically in three-point lighting, your setup will look like this:
When we move the key, play with using more or less fill, or eliminate fill all together, we get different types of lighting techniques that are named for the shapes they create in shadows. Here are four techniques traditionally used in portrait lighting to help you on the way.
Used in portrait lighting, the key light will be directly in front of and above the subject. It is named for the shadow under the nose that looks like a butterfly. This set up will bring out the cheekbones of your actor. Because this lighting technique was typically used in films in the 1940s by Paramount, it is commonly referred to as Paramount lighting as well. With the key in front and above the subject, you’ll likely get a harsh shadow under the chin. To fix this, you can use bounce board as fill under the chin.
Check out this helpful video:
Named after the Dutch painter, this setup creates a triangle in shadows on the cheek of the subject. It is a common technique used in blockbusters and indie films alike. The shadows here will give you a cinematic feel, while still looking natural. Place your key light above eyeline at about a 45 degree angle. Look for the triangle on the cheek and make adjustments as necessary. Use less fill for a more moody aesthetic.
Recommended gear: Any light will do for your key, but if you’re going for that high contrast, moody aesthetic, then try using a reflector instead of a fill light.
One of the most popular setups for portrait photography, loop lighting is named for the shadow created when you position the key light so that it the subject’s nose casts a shadow on their cheek. You can choose to do a long loop for a more dramatic shot or a shoot loop if you want to keep it simple. It will also contour your subjects face and create a flattering profile.
Split lighting is a great way to make your character look sinister, two-faced, or just downright intimidating. You can achieve this look with just one light if you want ultimate contrast. You can place the light to side of the subject’s face use barn doors, black wrap, or flags to shape the light so that it’s only hitting one side.
Try this lighting setup with the Source 4 Leko. Source 4s are affordable and useful when shaping light. With four blades built into the light itself, you can cut light easily and effectively so that it only hits one side of your subject’s face.
Ultimately, the trick to good lighting is to play around with different techniques until you find one that tells your visual story. If you want to know more about lighting techniques, there are awesome youtube channels like Film Riot to help you out and gear experts on hand at Kitsplit to find the perfect gear to achieve the look you want.
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