Lighting is one of the critical elements that differentiate amateur and professional videos. In the cinema, it’s a process at the Cinematographer’s disposal. In this article, I will give you the three basic principles of lighting. If you are a beginner, lucky you, this article is for you.
Are you ready? So let’s go!
The role of lighting
Before we get to the heart of the matter, let’s first discuss the role of light in the seventh art. We all already agree that without light, there are no images. That said, not just any light because the reverse is also true. With too much light, especially poorly placed, you won’t be able to film anything.
In films, as in reality, light serves as a guide. Like a flashlight that lights the way in the dark, the lighting directs the gaze and, therefore, the attention of the spectators to essential points in a sequence. By focusing the light on specific points in a frame, the cinematographer can be sure that more than 90% of the viewers’ eyes will be on that scene. But even more, the level of lighting is used to understand the emotions of the characters. Usually, when we’re on a sad sequence, we reduce the brightness, and on more cheerful sequences, we tend to use dazzling lights.
Finally, lighting also helps your audiences understand the overarching theme of your film. You may notice that horror movies are very often dark. But let’s also not forget the role of shadows or scenes that are expressly set aside behind brightly lit scenes. These are often plans dedicated to creating surprise effects. Basically, to make the viewer say, “It was there the whole time, but I didn’t see anything!” This technique is widely used in plot films.
The basics of film lighting
As I mentioned above, we will cover the three basics of cinema lighting. It should also be noted that these bases carry the title of three-point or three-axis lighting. Three axes because the lights are placed in three different directions: forward, backward, and sideways. Here they are;
- Key Light
- Fill Light and
The Key Light
As its name suggests, it is a light that is the key to lighting up your scene. Let’s talk about its location first. The key light is usually placed at a 30-degree angle, slightly above the eye line of the subject or object being filmed. We typically use a giraffe to hang it. Its effect creates short but very dense shadows. This location also has the benefit of erasing facial imperfections and creating eye highlights. It’s often the brightest light to light up a scene and the most used technique in cinema. You will see that later on.
The Fill Light
The Fill light, as its name suggests, fills the light. Its primary function is to fill the shadow of the Keylight. It is positioned laterally to the subject; that is, it comes from the side. Either the source is perpendicular to the subject or somewhat offset (e.g., 45° from the subject).
This simply means that it illuminates the area behind the subject. Its location is then behind the subject. More clearly, the subject must be placed between the source and the camera. That said, it’s usually higher than the other light sources and at a downward angle.
This location has the advantage of creating outlines around the subject. It can be used to create an illusion of depth, to enhance the depth of field of the shot.
As for the type of lights, usually soft lights are used. However, it depends on the desired effect. Outside, the sun often serves as a backlight. But again, it depends on the desired result.
In cinema, light plays a significant role and expresses many things. Before making a film, it is necessary to know at least the basics of lighting in three axes, it is the simplest. You need one in front of the subject, one behind, and another that lights the sides. Many are the lights used on a professional film set, but all stem from these basic principles. So, if you want to become a professional cinematographer, start by mastering these three forms of lighting!