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Video Production

VideoProduction: HowDoYouUseLighting

3.3 How Do You Use Lighting?

Take a look at some photos you like, by imitating these when you are filming you can learn new styles. Looking at how films use light is a great source of ideas too. Whole styles of film such as "film noir" use light to give a particular meaning. You can use natural conditions and environments to add atmosphere to your film. Lighting serves best to emphasise your subject, if your background is better lit than your subject it will pull the audience’s attention away. You can direct the audiences eye using shadow details well.


Great for dramatic landscapes, difficult for interviews as the shadows tend to be black leaving out all the detail. Light reflected off a wall will soften harsh shadows.

Cloudy days

Can give a great moody feel to the shot, take a look at films like "Se7en" or "Bladerunner". Also good for illuminating details but can give a very general light that makes everything look flat.

Which direction to shoot in

A good guide will tell you to shoot with the sun to your back, this is true if you don’t want everything in silhouette or with sun flare all over it. On the other hand at times this may be exactly the effect you want! Try it and see!

‘Practical’ or artificial light

Taking light to a location is best done with either lots of experience or lots of planning. It can be a whole department on its own and can slow you down enormously. Lights are difficult to use and can often be very dull and flat or add unwanted colours and shadows to your image, although odd colours might work well. Sometimes a well placed lamp can displace or create effective shadows. Beware of double shadows when using more than one light source.

Reflected light

Begin your lighting education by using reflected light. Take note of where the main light is coming from and what surfaces it is reflecting off. The sun off a white wall will create a different or flattering light in the shadows. A desk lamp may bounce off white paper and light your subject’s face. You can use these natural instances and you can create them with artificial reflectors like white boards and mirrors. You may even want to create shadows using black boards.

Fill light

A light which gently lights the shadows is often called fill light because it is filling in the detail. You can use a desk lamp to do this; move it further or nearer to the subject to change its strength or get a dimmer plug from an electrical store. The Chinese style lanterns are also very good at this as they cast very little shadow of their own.

3 point lighting

The basic system most commonly used. It consists of a main light or key light, which lights your subject, a backlight to help define the subject from the surroundings and a fill for the shadow. Watch a film and you will be surprised how often people in dark or moody surrounding always seem to have at least these three lights on them!

Figure 3.2: The three point lighting system - click for working Flash example.

Mixing lights

All lights have a slightly different colour. Moonlight has a blue tint and street lights are orange, for example. Mixing these can look quite effective, or it can look awful - experiment! Use a TV if you can to preview what you will film as the small LCD screens are very deceptive. (See next chapter on how to connect your camera to a TV.)

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