Dan Hume's Blog

Basic Overview of Lighting
February 17, 2010, 1:32 pm
Filed under: Short Form Video

We looked at lighting techniques in Phil’s lecture today. This is to prepare us for when it comes to filming for our short form videos so we can produce some dramatic scenes using lighting.

Basic light setup

The standard set up for illuminating a character in a scene is called ‘3 point lighting’. This involves a key, a fill and a backlight.

When setting up lighting, start at the back and work forwards, adjusting distances and angles as you go. Switch off the main room lights before you start.


Positioned behind and to the side of the subject, this direct light seperates the subject from the background by creating a rim effect around the subject.


Commonly positioned to one side of the camera, this strong but diffused or reflected light provides the main illumination to the subject. If it was used along, it would cast strong shadows on one side of the face,


Less bright than the key (or diffused or reflected) this light partially fills the shaded side of the subject, balancing the key.

Basic 3 Point Lighting Setup

You can achieve a similar effect with just one light and 2 reflectors, where you use the light as a back key, and reflect light back in from either side of the camera to key and fill. Another alternative is to use a key light and reflectors for back and fill. You have to try out different combinations and see which works best.

Backfill with 2 Reflectors

Using reflectors

You can control light without using additional lamps. Work with reflectors to alter how your video looks.  Reflected light is softer (more diffuse) than direct light, particularly if the reflecting surface is slightly textured. It will reduce harsh shadows from a direct light source.  You can use sheets of polystyrene from a DIY store to make very adaptable and lightweight reflectors. These will create a soft fill light (due to the textured surface which scatters the reflected light in different directions).

Soft light is more flattering as it flattens imperfections in skin, and generally smooths out a surface.

A smooth reflective surface (eg tin foil glued to a sheet of cardboard) creates a harder, more focused reflection.

Reflectors need to be held in position, either by a stand or a pair of hands. Coloured reflectors will add a colour cast to the scene.

Below are some photos I took of our workshop on lighting.


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