Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography: A Complete Guide for Beginners

Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography

Don’t get too hung up on lighting in filmmaking. Many people are full of fear that they are doing the wrong thing and look stupid, while others think of lighting as an extra luxury item for a small production group. They believe that this will require a lot of equipment and kilowatts of electricity consumed.

This, of course, happens when lighting large film pavilions and occurs in stadiums. But day-to-day video production is usually not that extensive, and even very modest equipment will nevertheless give you the ability to do some noteworthy lighting manipulation.

As we will see, in many situations, just one lamp or a properly positioned reflector is sufficient to bring the image to the camera dramatically. Even when filming is done in large rooms, the director’s foresight and imagination can often use weak light that travels a long distance.

The whole point is mainly about knowing what purpose is being pursued, what to look out for, and what kind of problems you can face about lighting in filmmaking and videography.

Why is it not easy to shoot so that there is always enough light and all objects are lit correctly? It can be learned. Although you shoot with an attractive image before one day, where realistic colors make the image play.

It will take many days when the image will turn out to be lifeless, gray, or ill-conceived over-contrast; when you fail to show an object clearly. Its texture will be lost, or the viewer’s attention will be drawn to the wrong thing; when everything looks sluggish and uninteresting; when the video signal noise will spoil the image, and the color will be discouraged.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Also, a lot depends on where and how the shooting is done. Whether you are indoors or outdoors, it happens day or night. Are the surrounding objects well lit, or are they shrouded in darkness and darkness?

Whether you are shooting a reasonably limited area or a large spatial and extended frame in time, finally, a lot will depend on the type of atmosphere you intend to convey to the viewer: realistic daily plans or a tense, dramatic situation.

There is no point in using intense lighting in a scene until it enhances the image. There is often no time or opportunity to make changes in any way. Therefore, we will assume that the operator only adds up the surrounding electric light sources in most cases.

In many situations, especially outdoors, where this is not even necessary, consider, just in case, how you can improve the illumination of the subject under the existing lighting.

The Camera can not Compensate Lighting for Anything

One of the most important things to keep in mind when lighting something is the significant difference between the way your eyes and brain perceive a scene and the camera’s limited, literal ability to reproduce it.

The human eyes and brain compensate (sometimes even overcompensate) the perceived image in many subtle cases when the illumination of its environment changes. You feel like you can see shadow detail, and color variations go unnoticed. A person can see a fantastic amount of detail even in low light conditions.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

The Camera cannot compensate the lighting in filmmaking for anything. It transmits only what gets into the lens, with all its inherent limitations. If the surface reflects too much light for the video system, i.e., it is either a specular reflection from a shiny surface or a very bright tone, these fragments will be washed out in the image.

Dark tones in furniture, clothing, foliage, or shadows are often rendered black by the Camera. If you are on set looking at a scene, you don’t have these problems. Therefore, be careful about how the camera reproduces the scene you are watching.

As discussed above, reducing the detail on the fidelity in some parts of the image may not be necessary until you see the features of a white wedding dress or black corduroy suit.

When dealing with a loss of brightness in image details, it may sometimes be necessary to “cure” the layout. So that it looks normal on the screen, for example, highlighting a dark background so that its brightness matches the camera’s working range, or, if this is not possible, deliberately output it from the frame.

Key Factors of Lighting in Filmmaking & Videography

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Do you realize that you already know quite a few lighting principles? Although these daily effects are so simple that you may not even think about them for a second.

You already have a fair amount of knowledge about how light reflects on tons of different surfaces, how shadows fall, how you can change the appearance of an object by lighting it in different ways, etc. You will use all of these observations in your work when creating video production.

“Lighting in filmmaking” means much more than just having enough light when working with a camera. Light affects how objects look, how people perceive images, and what attracts their attention. Therefore, it is worth thinking about where it is more profitable to install lighting fixtures and the type of lighting we get with their help, and how this will affect image quality.

In everyday practice, we perceive lighting as “light,” and so we leave everything. For a correct use of it, the reader should familiarize himself with the following essential characteristics:

  • Light intensity (i.e., brightness) affects exposure.
  • Light quality; can be directional and form hard, sharply defined shadows on objects; or scattered, creating penumbra.
  • Light contrast; the ratio of the brightness of the lightest and darkest areas in the frame.
  • The direction of light with the viewfinder and the effect it has on the appearance of objects.
  • Light source color temperature; the overall color quality of the source.

When we use a colored light sum to create a specific effect, we focus on:

  • It’s color (on its dominant color, i.e., blue, green, yellow);
  • Its saturation (color, purity, intensity), i.e., its brightness or pallor.
  • Its brightness, i.e., how light or dark it is.

If you have an idea of ​​how you can equalize these different characteristics, you can create a dense, high-quality image, even shooting in the available light. If not, then the result can be both beautiful and unpredictable.

1. Light Intensity – Why is Light Intensity Important?

As you already know, a camera requires a certain amount of light to create a high-quality image. The frame will be underexposed if the light is too low (all tones are reproduced too dark). The frame will be overexposed if too much of it is (all tones are reproduced too light).

You can measure the light intensity using an external exposure meter, or the camera’s built-in exposure indicator, or by looking in the viewfinder.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

The camera will not receive enough light if:

  • The light on the object is too dim (low light level).
  • The aperture is too small.
  • The filter used is too dense and matches the tones in the scene or its overall brightness.

It will take less light to get a good image in a room with white walls than dark ones. Remember, robust amplification of the video signal can only partially compensate for underexposure. Although this improves the image quality, the CCD receives too little light from the scene (causing image noise, blurring, and ghosting effects).

What to do if the light isn’t enough for filming?

If the shooting takes place inside a building or outdoors at night, likely, there will not be enough light to obtain a high-quality image. Here are some typical solutions:

  • Move the subject where there is more light.
  • Increase the lens aperture, but this will shorten the depth of field.
  • Increase the sensitivity of the Camera, but this will increase the image noise.
  • Increase local lighting, i.e., turn on more lights in the room.
  • Turn on your light source.

What to do if there is too much light for filming?

If the lighting is too intense, you can adjust it in the following ways:

  • Move the object to where there is less light.
  • Close (decrease) the aperture.
  • Apply a neutral attenuation filter.
  • Turn off one of the available light sources.
  • It is possible to shade the light source (using curtains or dampers).

In another case, when using lighting devices to illuminate the stage, you can:

  • Turn off multiple lamps (in the multi-lamp light source).
  • Turn off several of your existing lights.
  • Use less powerful sources.
  • Use a dimmer (although this will reduce the color temperature of the lamps).
  • Place the diffuser in front of the lamp.
  • Move the lamp away.
  • Expand the light beam.
  • Use bounced light instead of direct lighting.

2. Harsh Light – How Do You Shoot in Harsh Light?

Since the sun is quite far away from us, it behaves like a point light source. Its rays are therefore very straightforward and reach us in straight lines. They create different, harsh shadows that enhance the texture and contour of the subject itself, especially when the light falls at an oblique angle. Because direct sunlight is straightforward, intense light can be easily obstructed to prevent it from reaching any surface.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
  • Partially closing the shutters of the lighting fixture can limit the spread of light.
  • If you attach a small piece of diffusing material to one of the lighting fixture shades, you can attenuate only part of the light beam.
  • If you attach a piece of food-grade aluminum foil to one of the curtains, you can cut off part of the light beam completely.
  • Many artificial light sources, such as a match, candle, or light bulb, behave this way. Due to their minimal size act as point sources and create harsh light no matter how powerful or weak they are.
  • Most lighting fixtures have a unique parabolic reflector that forms a narrow beam of light rays instead of diffusing light in all directions. This concentration of light rays increases the lamp’s efficiency and helps limit the light to the selected area of ​​the plan.
  • By adjusting the position of the reflector or lens to the lamp, it is possible to change the angle of the light beam significantly and, to some extent, its intensity. Restriction curtains can be attached to the light fixture to limit the light beam in different directions.

Hard Light vs Soft Light in Filming & Videography

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Advantages of Hard Light

This kind of light is straightforward, so you can easily limit it to illuminate only the areas you need.

  • It creates sharply defined shadows and enhances texture.
  • Hard light can create energetic, three-dimensional effects.

The intensity of the hard light source decreases slightly with increasing distance. Therefore, you can effectively illuminate an object with a lamp located at some length.

Disadvantages of Hard Light

Distracting or ugly shadows (for example, in the backdrop behind the performer) will often get in the way. As a result, the image can look rough, contrasting, and unattractive.

  • You may not want to emphasize texture (for example, show irregularities on human skin).
  • A hard light source has a limited range, so multiple lamps may be required to illuminate a large area.
  • When using more than one hard light source, multiple shadows will be very distracting.

3. Diffused Lighting – How Does Lighting Affect A Scene?

Diffused light spreads in all directions. It happens naturally when the sun is covered with clouds or when sunlight reflects off light, rough surface.

When a diffused light illuminates objects, there are no harsh shadows, only a slight semblance of the penumbra. Thus, the texture and precise contours of the surface are not emphasized in the image. You may not see them at all.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

There are several different types of scattered light devices. Some are based on diffuse material such as fiberglass, frosted plexiglass, or tracing paper (sometimes on a wireframe). (You can place diffuse material in front of a harsh light source to reduce its intensity and soften it to some extent.) In other cases, light from invisible lamps hits the reflector and diffusers.

Another form of diffused light is the use of a group of available lamps. Their partially intersecting light beams combine to create shadow-free illumination.

As a last resort, a compact diffused light source can be created by placing two or three layers of diffuse material (e.g., glass cloth) in front of a sharply focused light source such as a lensless slot.

The Advantages of Diffused Light

  • Ability to create soft shadows.
  • Diffused light does not create unwanted shadows.
  • Diffused light avoids emphasizing texture.
  • Diffuse light can illuminate shadows created by harsh light sources without further enhancing them, so all the details can be seen.
  • The diffused light source can cover a wide area of ​​the plan.

Disadvantages of Diffused Light

  • It can align all the details of the contour and surface texture.
  • The diffused light spreads around, filling all surfaces with light. It is difficult to restrict it by preventing it from reaching selected areas.
  • Scattered light quickly loses its intensity as the distance from the lamp to the subject increases. Therefore an object close to the source may be overexposed while another subject nearby is not sufficiently illuminated.

4. Light Contrast – Should Contrast Be High or Low?

The “contrast” of an image within a frame is simply the difference in brightness between the lightest and darkest areas. If the range is too extensive for the camera to transmit (approximately 20:1 to 30:1 max), for example, when bright sunlight creates deep shadows, the extreme values ​​of the image brightness range may be lost. Most television receivers can only reproduce a range of up to 15:1.

The light contrast perceived by a video camera depends partly on the tonality of the objects themselves, partly on changes in light intensity, and partly on the shadows cast by the objects.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Excessive light contrast causes an unexpected “whitening and dark” effect, where the highlights of an image are rendered white, and all dark regions are rendered black while simultaneously losing detail. Whether the resulting image is expressive or rough and difficult to read depends on the situation.

When the lighting is contrasting (i.e., a lot of harsh light in one direction and no fill light), the image quality can significantly change the camera position.

When shooting with lighting behind the camera, subjects may appear very bright, flat, and unshaped. If you shoot against the light, only the edges of the objects will be illuminated, while the rest will remain unlit.

At the other extreme, you are lighting the scene with a soft shadow-less light source. In this case, everything becomes finely delineated, perhaps so thin that the image becomes flat and uninteresting as if the image was cut out and pasted on the backdrop.

Even if you move the camera around a wide range, the tonal quality of the image will remain constant due to the soft lighting.

5. Light Direction – How Does the Direction of Light Affect Shadows?

When the order of the light source is changed concerning the camcorder’s shooting point, the subject’s perceptual effect is changed. The choice of lighting direction depends on the features that you want to emphasize or smooth out.

If the light direction is from above, move the light source up and back. In practice, situations with high and low contrast lighting have to be avoided. The best solution is to find the right balance between harsh light (which creates a three-dimensional feel) and ambient lighting to smooth out all shadows.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

The direction of light can have a significant effect on the appearance of an object. To understand this, sit in front of a mirror in a dark room with a light in your hand. You will see how the effect changes when the light comes from different directions and how this affects the formation of the portrait.

First, hold the lamp close to your head, aiming it directly at your face. It will be equivalent to the light behind the camera. Notice how the direct frontal light “evens out” the texture and shape of your face.

If a smooth or shiny surface is behind you, the light will bounce directly into your eyes (i.e., the camera lens) and appear on the backdrop as a flare. Even if the surface is rough, such as stone or concrete, it may appear smooth under direct frontal lighting. On the other hand, it will warn you how unpleasantly dazzling such lighting can affect people.

Raise the light over your head, pointing straight down. See how light enhances every wrinkle. Your crown and nose lit up brightly while your eyes fell into darkness. You instantly added a few years to yourself, and you look terrible. Therefore, always try to avoid overhead lighting, especially when photographing people.

Move the light down, pointing up, and you will see a ghost because we are not used to seeing people lit this way – except in horror movies. The eyes and neck are now strongly illuminated. Again, surface details are enhanced with upward shadows.

6. Three Sided Lighting

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Standard Location. Three lamps are used:

A key light source creates the volume of the subject and is located approximately 5 to 30° to one side of the Camera (vertical and the angle is from 10 to 40°).

The fill light source, smooth shadows and does not create its own (diffuse light), is located at an angle of 5-30° on the other side of the Camera.

The light source is positioned behind the subject to emphasize its contour, up to 20° away from the back dead center facing the Camera; the vertical angle is 25-60°.

7. Lighting Spaces

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

You can also use this principle to illuminate spaces. Start shining from the side, and you will see that only half of the head is illuminated, and the texture of the plane and the contours of your face are unattractively emphasized.

If someone takes a lighting fixture and holds it behind you, shining into the back of your head, you will see only the edges of your head (hair, ears, and shoulders) light up. This type of backlighting is successfully used when illuminating spatial objects.

It helps to make them stand out from the background and create the illusion of a three-dimensional image. If the object is a transparent or translucent material, backlighting against a contrasting backdrop gives a very expressive effect.

In most cases, lighting from three main directions yields the best results.

The leading light source, which draws the light, is positioned slightly higher on one camera side. It is usually the harsh light from a spotlight and shows the contours and surface details of the subject.

The diffuse light from the opposite side of the Camera illuminates shadows and reduces light contrast. The stronger the contrast of the key light, the more critical that soft, fill light is. If the key light is nearly frontal, the fill light may not be needed.

Finally, backlighting at an angle on the subject gives it three-dimensionality.

As much as possible, additional lights can be added to highlight the background. If the shooting pavilion or equipment space is limited, be content with lighting the backdrop with the help of key and diffused light.

Measuring Light Levels – How to measure light levels?

The most convenient method for measuring illumination is to stand in the subject being filmed and direct the exposure meter towards the light source to measure its properties. It is usually better to check and balance the final lighting setting than to turn on and measure the lamps separately.

It is best to find out the appropriate lighting level for your equipment experimentally. Set the lens aperture to f/4, have someone sit in front of the camera, and adjust the intensity of the key light until the person’s face and clothes look authentic and attractive.

When viewed on the control monitor (not in the camera’s viewfinder). Light areas should not be bleached, and the dark regions should not merge into black.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

So, you have determined the intensity of the key light, and you have a typical guide value for future reference. Add enough fill light (set at a 5-30° angle) to soften the shadows, but without lightening them entirely, as far as can be judged from the image in the reference monitor.

Measure the intensity of the fill light (double-check the overall brightness of the spot and fill light). After writing down these values, repeat the operation for the backlight. You now have useful reference data for future work.

The amount of light emitted by a particular lighting fixture depends on its design, the type of lighting created (sharp or diffuse), power, adjustment, lamp age and conditions, distance to the object, etc.

Forget about formulas. Measure how much light your equipment gives at a standard distance in your work environment. I use these as the basic numbers you need to work.

Standard Light Levels for Filming & Photography

If you want to shoot at f/4 lens aperture (to obtain sufficient depth of field), you will need a standard key light level of about 100 fs (1076 lux). It is the primary light source that determines the exposure. Do not underestimate the plan.

Many people use the lowest possible lighting and turn on video amplification circuits to improve video quality, but this degrades the image quality.

Worst of all, humans are unable to judge contrast at low light levels accurately. When recording video, your eye will not notice distracting shadows, which will become very noticeable (for the camera).

The backlight intensity should usually be the same as the spotlight (100 FC (1076 lux)), but it must be selected for a specific subject. Strong backlighting can look attractive when appropriate, but translucent contours around the subject can look artificial and distracting.

Backlighting – What is The Effect of Backlighting?

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

The amount of fill-in stray light depends on the final image contrast you are going to achieve. There is a hard and fast rule of thumb that the fill light intensity should be between one-third and one-half of the key light intensity (i.e., 33-50 FC / 360-530 lux).

The fill light intensity should be as low as possible and should never exceed the key light intensity (except for high key photography). Remember, the purpose of the fill light is to smooth out existing shadows without creating new ones.

Color Temperature Correction – Best Color Temperature for Video Lighting

The color tones of incident light can vary enormously – from yellow-orange for a candle or a small tungsten bulb to bluish for daylight; from warm, color tints at sunrise and sunset to greenish tints of light emitted by fluorescent sources (daylight lamps).

To correctly reproduce color tones under dominant lighting, you must set the color correction mode of your camcorder. Failure to do so will result in either a blue tint or a yellow-orange tint.

Color correction of the incident light in the camera can be done using compensating filters and readjusting the “white balance.”

Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography

Sometimes you may encounter mixed lighting, i.e., high-temperature (5600° K) daylight from windows and low-temperature (3200° K) tungsten lighting in the room. In such cases, you need to choose one of the possible options:

Block the sunlight by drawing the curtains, and if you are sure that the light from the quartz or tungsten lamps has stopped mixing with the sunlight, set the Camera to “artificial lighting” mode.

Install blue filters (dichroic filters) on quartz or tungsten lighting fixtures to increase their color temperature (the camera is set to “daylight” mode).

Install large sheets of yellow-orange filter on the windows to bring the color temperature of sunlight to the color temperature of quartz and tungsten lamps (in this case, the camera is set to the artificial lighting mode).

Shoot a film scene in mixed lighting from natural and artificial light without applying filters and agree with the result.

Natural light looks correct when the camera is set to daylight mode and tungsten light is too warm. When the Camera is set to artificial light mode, natural light looks too blue, and tungsten light seems quite natural.

The color quality of light (its key temperature) is measured in degrees Kelvin (° K). If you want to have accurate color reproduction, or you need to match the images of several cameras, you can use a noteworthy incident light color balance meter and apply suitable compensation filters. But in most cases, it is sufficient to switch the camera to its closest arc correction position (i.e., “daylight,” “artificial light,” or 5600° K, 3200° K) and adjust the “white balance” for these conditions.

Using Colored Lighting in Filming & Videography

Since the video image is in color, it is logical to assume that a lot of colored light is needed for filming. But in practice, the need for colored lighting effects only when creating decorative effects (for example, for exhibitions, in dance and music practice, fire and dull light), or for changing the backdrop (reproducing color on a flat neutral wall or draperies).

When colored lighting is required, you can cut a sheet of the desired color from a transparent material and attach it to a light source.

Ensure that the filter does not restrict ventilation access to the lamp (which will cause overheating and damage the instrument). And do not attach it too close to the lamp; otherwise, the filter will be damaged by heat.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography

Various materials can be used, but never colored glass. Colored gelatin is a reasonably cheap substance, but it fades quickly, wears out quickly and breaks, and fades. Special plastic coatings (made of acetate, polyester, and acrylic) are expensive but durable and can be reused.

If you are shooting under tungsten incandescent lighting and want to create an overall “warm” image, the only thing to do is set the camera to “day mode.” Conversely, you can create tungsten lighting when shooting in daylight to give the image a cold, bluish winter color.

Daylight Shooting – How Do You Shoot in Daylight?

Daylight is convenient and affordable lighting, but it is highly unreliable. Its intensity varies, so does the overall quality, the clouds obscure the sun, and the harsh shadows disappear instantly. And now the shooting is already underway in a weak diffused light.

During the day, the color quality and direction of light change, and the sun, which shone in front in the morning, will radiate from the side by noon. All this makes it quite tricky to edit shots taken at different times of the day when changes in lighting can be seen in one scene.

One thing to keep in mind is that the lighting effect depends on the position of your camera.

1. Reflectors

A reflector’s effectiveness depends on its surface (preferably polished or metal) and its angle concerning the sun or other light sources. Suppose a reflector located directly next to the camera is used, and it reflects light from a source directly in front of the camera.

In that case, the intensity and angle of coverage of the reflected light will be maximized. If the reflector is positioned at an angle to the light source, its recoil and angle of coverage are reduced.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Intense sunlight, far more than sufficient from one point, will illuminate only the subject’s edges, leaving it in shadow.

There are four ways to solve this problem. You can:

  • Move around the subject until the sun is approximately behind the camera (but in this case, the backdrop may not work).
  • Rotate an object to light.
  • Wait until the sun begins to shine at a better angle.
  • Add lighting.

Sometimes you have to accept things as they are. Let’s say you want to rent a beautiful, impressive building. Sunlight falling at just the right angle will give the texture of the walls and various details a sharp relief. The results will be what you are looking for.

There are even tables that provide information about the sun’s location at any time of the day. But don’t rely on them.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

When the sky is covered with clouds, everything looks flat. It might be best to try again when the sun is shining. But it may also turn out that those fine details you want to show will never shine the way you would like.

If a wall faces north, it will never fully light up. So you may have to photograph the subject as it is, just hoping the results will be positive.

2. Using Reflective Screens

The cheapest way to improve your subject’s lighting in daylight is to use a reflective screen. This reflector can be a board, screen, cloth, or wall that differently reflects light onto an object. The quality of the reflected light depends on the surface used.

A specular surface (such as foil or metalized plastic) will reflect a separate beam of light from a harsh light source, creating well-defined shadows. This light moves freely, even if the object is at some distance. (A specular surface will reflect even soft light if placed close enough to the subject.)

Unfortunately, the position of the reflector concerning the bright object and simultaneously the incident light is rather critical. When the light hits the surface, the maximum effect is obtained. But if the surface is at an angle to the light, the reflected light beam, which somehow covers the narrow space, narrows and becomes less effective.

In general shots, this limited area of ​​illumination appears as a localized spot of light.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

If your screen surface is matte white, the reflected light will be soft, diffuse, covering a wide area. But this soft reflected light will be much weaker than the incident light; it will move a relatively short distance, depending on the intensity and distance of the primary light source.

The reflector can be easily made from a board covered with aluminum foil for frying (smooth or crumpled and smoothed) or painted with matt white paint, according to the type of light reflection desired. (A board trimmed differently on both sides can be very useful.)

The larger the reflector, the more light will be reflected, covering a wide area. Reflectors made from a large piece of cloth or twist-off reflectors made of silver-plated or gilded fabric stretched over a steel snap ring and even portable cinema screens can be used. But screens of this size are bulky to transport and sway in the wind.

Reflectors are effective in bright sunlight. In a confined area, bounce light can fill deep shadows or provide frontal key light if the sun is behind the subject. Two or more reflectors can be used simultaneously. The main challenge is to direct the light exactly where needed and keep the screens perfectly still at the correct height.

However, since the only alternative to a screen is to use powerful lighting close to the subject, it is, of course, worth trying to illuminate with a screen if the direction of sunlight is appropriate and the tonal contrast is high.

Indoors, screens can redistribute light from a window to dark corners or reflect sunlight as a fill light. A low screen next to the Camera will provide proper fill light when using backlighting, such as smoothing out shadows under the chin or eyebrows.

And further. When shooting in bright sunlight, pay attention – colored surfaces located in the vicinity of the object being shot. Even a smart green shirt can give the wearer a green complexion.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

A fairly common trick in photography is where the flash is aimed at the ceiling or wall when shooting interiors to give the scene general illumination (fill light). Or diffused reflected light (but you cannot use a colored surface; otherwise, the reflected light will have similar color).

While this idea can be used in video filming and aiming the lamps at nearby surfaces to obtain a soft “main light,” remember that only a fraction of the lamp power is reflected. So this is a rather wasteful, messy method.

Using very powerful lamps to get reflected solid light, ventilation problems in a small room may occur. It is better to use a highly diffuse comprehensive light source instead.

When do I need to Illuminate to Get the Perfect Lighting for the Video?

An exciting thing happens when you look at the set, look at it from head to toe, and completely ignore the random tricky details that seem to not fall into the lens’s field of view.

You lose sight of the glare on the glass of the shop window and concentrate on the objects displayed behind the glass. Without hesitation, you can capture a bright glint of light on a tile surface.

You talk to people, noting the expressions on their faces and, perhaps, how they are dressed, and that’s it.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Reflections of light in the shop window seem to prevent you from seeing anything. The speck of light on the tile turned into an annoying detail. Now you are looking at people on the screen much more critically, impartially than in everyday life.

You are now amazed that the eyes of these people are in the shadows; they look haggard, wild, tense under unnatural lighting. You understand how terrible the shadows on the necks are, how bright the noses or ears are, the shoulders are strongly illuminated, and the shade from the long nose looks like a mustache.

It is why real professionals go all out to expose lighting over and over again in many episodes. It is not enough, for example, to shoot footage of the audience at a concert; you want the episodes to be attractive and aesthetic.

The available lighting is often coming from the wrong side, or it is too flat, or too contrasting, or only part of the plan is illuminated. Supplemental lighting tries to correct these shortcomings.

Additional Lighting Options

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

No matter what kind of video production you work with, you will always have four options to change the lighting:

  • You can shoot under existing lighting, from your chosen shooting point, or by moving to a location where the subject looks better.
  • The light intensity can be increased, i.e., reduce shadows from lighting fixtures or replace bulbs with more powerful ones.
  • You can enhance existing lighting with your lamps. It can be a wide variety of lighting devices: from a reflector or a simple hand-held lamp to many more complex devices.
  • You can entirely rely on your lighting equipment as there may be no lighting in place, or you decide that the existing light is inappropriate and turn it off.

Then you have to choose: whether to shoot the entire space as a whole or to limit lighting for a specific area of ​​the shooting.

1. Economical Lighting

Whether you’re shooting in existing lighting – daylight or artificial, there is always an element of uncertainty about the quality of your video production.

By lighting a plan or improving existing lighting, you can control the situation and have a better chance of achieving high image quality.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Economical lighting is a way of thinking, an opportunity to understand how lighting will benefit you. You start by asking:

  • Can I start shooting from the selected camera position under the existing lighting?
  • Is the detailed and tonal gradation of the subject of interest good?
  • If part of the subject is in shadow, does it matter?
  • Will the diffusing light of a reflector or a hand-held lamp near the camera help show details in the shadows?
  • Is there anything distracting in the frame, such as a bright sky or a sizeable out-of-focus spot of color?

You may find that the overall image will improve if you turn the subject slightly towards the light. Then you don’t need diffused light to fill in the shadows.

Which is better: wait until the sun comes out or come back another day when the lighting is right?

If you shoot the interior and around – daylight, is it possible to somehow use it in the frame, i.e., not turn on the painting light or illuminate the backdrop?

  • Alligator Clip: Attaches to any narrow surface, pipe, door, chair, etc.
  • Wall Plate: Attaches to any hard surface, hangs on a pipe.

And finally, a little secret: when there is no light, or there is no way to shoot the material with a video camera, use a camera (with a flash or using a long time exposure) and shoot the slide. Then project the slide in a dark room and record it on your camcorder.

2. Temporary Devices

If the budget does not allow, there is a natural temptation to improvise. There are times when for a short time, you can screw a powerful lamp into a lamp attached to a table or an overhead light, cut out a piece of foil to soften the wall, and a part of tracing paper to soften the light.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

The installation of these temporary fixtures takes time, the need arises quite spontaneously, and the fixtures themselves are very provisional. And besides, they are not exceptionally safe. Time goes by, and the devices overheat.

3. Fixed Lighting & Fixtures

Alligator Clip: This large spring-loaded or screw-on clip has a mount (5/8″ (16mm) with a center bushing or socket) to attach a small illuminator (using a bulb with a mirror parabolic reflector built into the balloon) or a lens less spot.

The fixture can be used to attach the fixture to any static object – a door, table, chair, railings, rungs, uprights, windows, stairs, and more.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

It can be a suitable compact fixture to safely position the light source in non-standard locations, especially in confined spaces.

Wall Plate: The wall plate can help to position light fixtures in the room easily. It consists of a flat metal plug with an attached ceramic lamp holder and a swivel joint to rotate the fixture in the desired direction.

Its hooked edges can hang the wall plate from any nearby pipe, wall lights, wall fittings, etc. You can even attach the “plate” to a door or wall using wide adhesive tape (plastic-coated cloth tape with contact adhesive), ensuring the surface is sufficiently smooth, clean, and dust-free.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

When you’re lighting up your subjects, it’s easy to get carried away with the effects you create and overlook some of the more common dangers that lie in wait for the unwary. There are several things to keep in mind, just in case.

Lighting Principles about Lighting in Filmmaking & Videography

Lighting in Filmmaking & Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking & Videography

As mentioned above, if you mix the lamp from a position close to the camera to the right, any embossed feature on the object’s surface (for example, someone’s nose) will cast a shadow to the left. With an increase in the angle of incidence of light, such shadows spread across the entire surface, emphasizing their shape and texture.

The larger the angle of illumination, the rougher the effect. At the same time, the very shadow of the object also moves through the backdrop, expanding in width.

The more we move the lamp around the subject, the minor part of the subject will be illuminated, and so on until the lamp is on the side of the subject, illuminating only part of it. Surface details caught in the light will be raised in relief (this is a valuable technique for illuminating low relief objects such as coins).

If you lift the lamp, the shadows lengthen down. Likewise, moving the lamp diagonally upwards will extend the shadows diagonally downwards in the opposite direction. On this basis, we will see some evident principles that we will follow depending on what we want to cover.

Lighting in Filmmaking & Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking & Videography

The lamp should not be too close to the lens. It evens out the formation of the surface and causes glare. The angle of incidence of the light should not be too sharp. Overhead light can create a gloomy, repulsive impression of the subject.

It should not be positioned too far on one side until the object is facing that side. The result is a roughly shaped surface and a bisected “half-lit” object. Choose a direction of the light source that will illuminate both the subject and its surroundings best. And don’t forget about highlights and shadows, which can be very annoying afterward.

The final position of the lamp is often a compromise. It depends on what you are lighting and how you want it to look. As a rule, flat lighting should not be ripened to illuminate a person; it is better to position the lamp at an angle, slightly away from the nose and slightly above the eyes.

Naturally, the best position of the lamp depends on where the faces of the people are facing. If they turn their head midway between the face and profile, you will have to try to keep them in this position.

When illuminating objects, there is much more freedom of choice in light sources because the appearance of things is usually less critical than people’s lighting. If, for example, you are filming a vase inside a glass display case, you may be preoccupied with avoiding the glare of the light and the camera. And how carefully, deliberately, slowly sharpen the angle of illumination. Not because the vase looks better, but to avoid glare. You can also use the overhead reflector to reduce shadows.

Embossed shadow on a light surface behind the subject may appear completely natural or make the image appear roughly balanced. But if you try to fill the shadows with another light fixture, you will most likely overexpose the backdrop and the subject itself.

Instead, move the object away from the backdrop, or raise the lamp slightly to make the shadow go down. As the lamp moves away from the object, its light covers a large area, but its intensity decreases.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

You get more power if you bring the lamp closer to the subject, but the light beam will cover a minor part of the plan. You will most likely find out that the brightness of an object changes quickly as you move it.

Very closely spaced lamps (for maximum depth of field when working at close range and macro photography) are inconveniently bright and quickly overheat adjacent surfaces. A lamp-to-subject distance of about 3-5 meters is suitable for most situations for most everyday purposes.

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Once you start working at a certain lighting angle, you will find that the further the lamp is from the subject, the higher it should be.

How high a lamp can be placed is often decided on the spot; for example, how high can a hand lamp reach (stand on a stand?) Or what is the maximum height of your tripod, or even the ceiling height (not getting too close!).

Avoid fragmentary lighting of the scene, in which people get into and out of the light. Lighting should generally cover the entire plan, plus a safe area if people go outside their intended limits.

Find out in advance, as far as possible, what action will take place. Then install the lighting equipment. If there is an opportunity to watch the rehearsal of the act, use this opportunity to test the effects of lighting with a camera.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

You should not just watch the rehearsal but, if possible, arrange lighting devices and illuminate the scene. Otherwise, you probably won’t have time to get it right; for example, you might miss out on checking for lighting defects.

During rehearsal, take a close look to see if there are glare or dark spots both on people when they turn and on the backdrop. To adjust the lighting, you may have to attach a diffuser somewhere to dim the light or, conversely, remove it somewhere to increase the intensity.

Setting the lamp as high as possible makes it possible to cut off part of its scattered light since part of its light beam illuminates nearby objects rather weakly, while its fill light hits more distant objects.

Natural Light in Filming and Videography – Indoor & Outdoor

After choosing your preferred camera location, consider whether the light intensity is correct for the aperture you are using? Is the subject well lit in a given direction of light? Is the balance between highlights and shadows satisfactory?

  • If all aspects are okay, but the overall light intensity is too low, open the aperture and increase the camera sensitivity.
  • If directional lighting does not show the subject well enough, is it possible to change the angle, move it, catch the light?
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Ask the following questions to yourself before shooting:

  • Is additional lighting available where you are shooting (for example, ceiling lights) that will raise the overall lighting?
  • To enhance the frame, do you have a reflector that can be used as a key light (hard, polished surface) or fill light (matte white surface)? If you’re shooting very close, even a piece of paper, plastic, or a metal tray may work.
  • Will the quality of lighting improve if you rotate the shooting point towards the previous primary light source?
  • Is there enough light to capture the subject if the backdrop is not lit, excluding all or most of the background?
  • Can a temporary backdrop (such as cardboard) be placed behind the item to make it look more straightforward or attractive?
You may also like to read: Filming: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

You can probably move the object to a different place where the light falls; for example, take a figurine standing in a dark corner of the room and put it in daylight.

Will the lighting change for the better? Sometimes you should wait for the clouds to appear and reduce the intense sunlight, rather than rush to shoot in bright light with harsh shadows and high contrast.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

1. Using One Lamp – As Available Light Source

Whichever you are shooting, the order of priority will be as follows: painting light directed at the subject, then filling light to remove shadows, backlight as needed, and, finally, backlight lighting. If you only have one lamp and all the lighting available, you will have to use it relatively frontally.

A single diffused light source, such as a floating window, will provide a more pleasing effect than a harsh light source, especially if you have to use tracing paper, frosted glass, or even wire mesh in front of the lamp. They reduce the light level while improving the visual effect. Since soft light will be diffused throughout, it will prevent the surrounding space from falling into deep shadow.

Use only one source of harsh light. The result can be overly contrasting, and your subject will be disadvantageously isolated in a pool of light, surrounded by darkness, or cast a strong haunting shadow.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Shooting with One Lamp in A Lit Environment

Much depends on how satisfactory the existing lighting is. The only available lamp can be used in several ways:

  • As a painting light, a lamp can create enough light on a subject to improve exposure, render the subject clearer, or create highlights that add sparkle and sparkle.
  • Painting light can be directed towards the backdrop to improve overall visibility. Take care not to illuminate too much a nearby subject. Otherwise, you will have to close the lens aperture and equalize the exposure following the increased local light level. If you do this, then, most likely, the overall brightness of the remaining plan will drop.
  • In sunny conditions, it is easier to achieve a more attractive image if you shoot in the sun’s direction, which will be the backlight. Then for close-up shots, you can use a lamp or reflector to illuminate the shaded side of the subject facing the camera.
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Where objects face the lens, you can use the highlighting light from the side to create the most 3D image possible. This sidelight is not suitable for front-facing objects, but where it can be used, a backlight will not be needed to separate the object from its back.

A separate lamp or reflector can help illuminate the dense shadows created by another lighting as a solid light. It is better to use diffused light, as it does not make additional shadows. But scattered light quickly loses its intensity with increasing distance.

So if you are at a sufficient distance from the subject, you may need to use harsh (or softened light) to illuminate the subject.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

As a backlight, sometimes you may find that the existing light well lights the subject, but the image lacks additional backlighting. Even when shooting outdoors on a gloomy day, a single backlight will dramatically improve image quality.

To do this, you need to install the lamp directly behind and above the object, hanging it or fixing it on a spacer. You can also use the lamp on a tall tripod hidden behind the chair, so it will be utterly unclear if it will appear in the frame.

As lighting for background objects, while the main subject may be well lit, it will often be necessary to enhance the background image with precise additional lighting.

If, for example, you send light at an angle to objects in the background, this will highlight their shadows and texture and give the whole plan a three-dimensional image. Where the backdrop is too dark to reproduce, you can brighten it to make it clearer.

2. Using Two Lamps – As Available Light Source

With two lamps, one of them is used as a spotlight and is positioned at an angle of 5-40° on one side of the Camera, and the other is used as a fill light (at an angle of 0-30°) on the other side of the camera. If the person’s head is turned, the light should be along with the nose.

As you would expect, with two lamps, the possibilities are significantly increased. They can be used separately (that is, as two separate key lights for two people) or combined (as painting and fill for one subject) in various combinations and permutations.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Sometimes one lamp will serve more than one purpose, being at the same time a painting light for a person and at the same time also illuminating the backdrop.

The diffused backlight can be positioned on one side. It illuminates the main subject and other objects in the frame and possibly shines directly towards the wall, which will be seen later in other frames.

3. Use of 3 Lamps – As Available Light Source

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

With three light sources, it is not at all necessary to always use 3-sided lighting. The lamps can be used in sequence according to the situation. You can use two lamps as a combined tracing and backlight, and the third for the backdrop.

4. Lighting Two People with Two Lamps

Multiple luminaire arrangements are effective. The key light sources can be the following pairs:

  • A and B,
  • C and D,
  • A and D,
  • C and B.
Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Lamps can act simultaneously as a source of key light for one person and a backlight for another. The lower part of the light beam can be covered with a diffuser to avoid excessive backlight intensity.

Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

Lighting Situations: When External Light Sources are Required?

There are typical situations where very few light sources are required:

  • When shooting in a well-lit environment (daylight or indoor lighting), you only have to supplement the existing lighting.
  • When shooting, space is limited (e.g., tabletop).
  • When work is being done in a small, brightly lit room.
  • When the camera remains stationary throughout the entire shooting (all action takes place in one frame).
  • When the camera is not required to move around the plan (when zooming or on a camera cart).
  • The more you see in-depth, the more you have to illuminate when the backdrop is no more than 3 meters behind the subject (the more you see in-depth, the more you have to illuminate).
  • When working at maximum lens aperture and high sensitivity.
  • When illuminating each frame in turn, there is no need for the set light to shoot from different angles.

Lighting Situations: When is Multi-Lamp Lighting Required?

Multi-Lamp Lighting
Lighting in Filmmaking and Videography

You will most likely need more lamps to illuminate the plan if:

  • You have to provide complete lighting for the general shot (and there is no other light).
  • Lamps are low wattage or have limited spread.
  • If you need to illuminate a large area uniformly.
  • If the action takes place in a wide space (for example, on a dance floor), the people and the backdrop need to be lit.
  • Several objects are scattered around and cannot be illuminated by one lamp (each will need its lighting).
  • Suppose a large area (such as a circular panorama or a wall) needs to be evenly lit. One lamp will not be enough, and several lamps will need to be combined simultaneously.
  • If the backdrop is at a considerable distance from the subject (shots are shot over a wide area).
  • If there are several plans (arches or corridors one after another) that will probably need individual lighting.
  • When it is necessary to show details or shape with dark background tones.
  • If the camera moves and shows parts of the background.
  • If the subject needs to be photographed from several different directions.
  • If objects need to be illuminated with separate beams of light, for example, each piece of furniture, instead of one light source flooding everything at once.
  • For lighting effects such as spotted beams, light patterns, colored lighting, light changes (morning or night), or a series of lamps, each illuminating a small selected area.
  • In an intricate, whimsical scene where a single lamp cannot reach several areas of action.
  • When you need a significant depth of field (when the lens is heavily apertured).