Learning how to light your subject might be the thing that makes the biggest difference to your image.
Sure, 4k looks beautiful and golden hour makes you happy on your insides, but it’s more than likely that you’ll have to work with less than ideal conditions at some point in your career. That’s where your new-found lighting skills, courtesy of this blog, will come in handy. Your first introduction to lighting was probably near-side 3-point lighting, which seems to be the standard textbook set-up, and also one that the pros almost never use. In this blog we’ll quickly run through the basics, then show why using a similar set-up but having your key light on the far-side looks so much more cinematic. What’s a key light you ask? Well…
Types of light
- Key Light – This is your main light source, and is off camera.
- Fill light – A supplementary light that lifts the shadows a little. This doesn’t change the charactersitcs of your key light.
- Hair light – Does what it says on the tin. Lights the hair, usually from behind and usually from above.
- Practical – A light source that appears on the screen. Usually not bright or well positioned enough to be a source.
These are the very basics of lighting. During your research you’ll likely come across many more terms, and to help you we’ve put together a more comprehensive lighting glossary.
Near Sided Key
Let’s start with a refresher on near side key lighting.
- Key Light – Positioned in the same angle as the camera; the main source of light for the scene.
- Fill Light – Angled within 180º of the Key, diffused and used at lower power than the Key.
- Hair/Back – Usually positioned at either a low or high angle to keep it out of frame, this separates the subject from the background and highlights the hair.
Though this is usually the first thing taught to a student of lighting, it is rarely used in the professional world. Having the Key on the near-side gives a relatively flat and uninteresting effect compared to the other lighting options available.
The far-sided Key is a much more prevalent, and interesting, technique. Also known as Rembrandt lighting after the masterful Dutch painter who lived in the 17th Century, far-sided Key lighting adds a bit of intrigue to the face of the subject.
We can tell the face is lit by a far-sided key because of the triangle of light underneath the right eye. This helps to define and highlight the contour of the face, giving a more interesting and dynamic look to the subject.
This effect is also very useful for real life situations. For instance, when positioning your actors or interviewees next to a window, or in front of a practical light providing motivation. Sunglight can also be used as a far-sided Key, with a white reflector acting as the fill.
- Key Light – Shown here as a big tungsten box, off camera left. Aimed at the far side of our actor’s face, this Key will cast shados from the nose onto the near-side of the face. Experimenting with the position of this Key can give effects from Rembrandt lighting mentioned above, to almost a silhouetted effect.
- Fill Light – Since a far-sided Key gives no illumination on the near side of the actor’s face, a soft fill is needed to brighten these highlights. The more fill used, the more ‘daytime’ looking the subject will become. The strength of the fill can also be changed depending on the genre or tone of the piece, drama tending to use less and comedy to use more.
- Hair/Back – Used to separate the subject from the background and highlight the hair.
As with anything in filmmaking, you’ll learn the most by trying it yourself. Basic lighting kits can be pretty cheap on Amazon, and failing that any light source can work in some capacity. Though, you may want to invest if you’re going to be shooting professionally.
Below we’ve included some further reading from blogs that we follow, as well as some links to lighting kits to start you off.