The Cinematographer's most powerful tool is lighting.  Beyond just getting an acceptable exposure, lighting also effects the mood and overall tone of the film.  It can enhance a film and its emotional impact.


In this section, we will cover:


1.  The Color of Light & White Balancing


2.  Types of Professional Lights & Accessories


3.  Light Modifiers (Hard Light vs. Soft Light)


4.  Controlling Light


5.  Bigger Light Sources vs. Smaller Light Sources


6.  Shooting in Harsh Sunlight


7.  3 Point Lighting (Motivated & Natural)


8.  Background Lighting


9.  Using a Fog Machine


10.  6 Styles of Lighting Actors


11.  Safety Tips


"Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities... much more so than music or language."


-Conrad Hall


Proper White Balance - A big part of capturing natural looking digital footage is to perform a proper white balance every time you shoot a new scene.  This is necessary because different light sources have different color temperatures.  Color temperature is measured in Kelvin.  Basically, the scale runs from very warm (orangish) light to very cool (blueish) light.  For example, candle light is around 2000K and is very warm.  Light that is in dark shade, is very cool and measures around 9000K.  Two very important Kelvin light temperatures to remember are 3200K for professional tungsten lights and 5600K for professional HMI or daylight replicating lights.  Our eyes are great at correcting the color temperature of lights sources naturally, but cameras are not.  A proper white balance corrects this issue.  Simply light your scene and then place a white card or an 18 percent gray card in the shot where your subject will be.  Click the white balance set button (see your users manual for where this function is located) and the colors in your shot should become more accurate (tinted white becomes pure white).


Note:  mixing different colored light sources together in a scene will cause various results.  For example, if you are mixing warm 3200K tungsten light and cool 5600K daylight in the same scene, some of your colors may not look natural.  This is not always a bad thing, but if it is not what you desire, try to make all of your light sources the same color temperature.


This is achieved by:


A.  using gels (like CTO - color temperature orange or CTB - color temperature blue) on lights or windows to match other lighting sources in the scene


B.  changing bulbs in lights to match other lighting sources (for example, Kino Flo lights can use tungsten or daylight bulbs)


C.  using lights like LED lights, that are sometimes adjustable and can be changed to daylight, tungsten or anything in between to match other light sources


D. eliminating offending light sources by turning them off (like Fluorescent overhead lights that can sometimes look green) or by eliminating daylight by blacking out windows with a material called Duvetyne


Sometimes, it is OK if colors are not captured 100 percent accurate because an audience won’t necessarily care if a shirt is a slightly different color, but they will notice if skin tones do not look natural.  Therefore, make sure that your skin tones look natural.




Color Temperature:

They are 3200K, although a Color Temperature Blue/CTB Gel can make them 5600K.



Tungsten Lights are based on similar technology used in everyday incandescent bulbs (used for years in homes and offices).  They are relatively affordable and work well with indoor lights.  They do tend to get hot and have a much warmer color temperature than daylight (unless gels are used).


2.  HMI


Color Temperature:

They are 5600K, although a Color Temperature Orange/CTO Gel can make them 3200K.



HMI Lights

HMI lights match the color of daylight and have a very high light output.  This makes them ideal for using them outdoors (when mixed with sunlight).  Other lights tend to not be able to keep with bright sunlight, but these lights can.  They get hot, require a lot of power and can be expensive.


3.  LED


Color Temperature:

3200K, 5600K or VARIABLE



LED stands for light-emitting diode.  It is a two-lead semiconductor light source.  It is becoming a very popular Light because many of them can change their color temperature (3200K, 5600K or variable).  They often have built in dimmers and can be powered by batteries (making them very portable).  They don't have output as high as an HMI light and they are usually not as affordable as a Tungsten Light (although that is changing).




Color Temperature:  3200K or 5600K changeable bulbs



A fluorescent light is more efficient than an incandescent light.  It can also output  a great deal of light.  It stays cool and is very efficient.  You do need to be careful when storing it (the bulbs are more accessible to damage than other light sources).




Everyday lights that exist in a scene (and are not professional lights like the ones mentioned above) are called practicals.  These lights include:  lamps, overhead lights, flashlights and other interior lighting fixtures.  If they are used in a scene, the cinematographer needs to take note of their color temperature (they are not always as consistent as the pro lights mentioned above).  It is often good for a DP to keep extra light bulbs of various watts in their kit to change out bulbs in Practical Lights if necessary.  These light bulbs can be purchased with a color temperature of 3200K or 5600K.




Reflectors are not lights, but they work well in daylight.  They have very shiny surfaces that work by bouncing light from the sun onto your subject.  They don'tperform well on a cloudy day and they tend to blow around in the wind (unless secured to heavy duty stands).  Popular surfaces include:  white, gold and silver.  White gives the least amount of bounce, but creates a nice soft fill light.  Silver reflect a lot of light.  Gold also reflects a lot of light, but the tint is much warmer than silver.


Hard Light vs. Soft Light



Hard Light

Hard Light produces strong crisp shadows.  You can easily look at a subject lit with hard light and tell what direction it is coming from by the shadows it casts.  Textures and shapes are more exaggerated/detailed.  Hard Light is often used for a more dramatic look, but is not always flattering on an actors face.  Hard Light creates higher contrast than Soft Light.



Soft Light

Soft Light produces weaker shadows that have blurry or soft edges.  Light and dark areas of the subject will blend when using soft light.  Soft Light is generally flattering to an actor because it flattens their facial features (not harsh sadows).   Soft lighting comes in handy when you are trying to create a lighter mood.






HARD LIGHT is created by direct light, like:


1.  Direct Sun Light (hardest at noon time)


2.  Lights without Light Modifiers:

Open Faced Lighting fixtures for example, create very hard light because there is nothing between the bulb and the subject (just a direct beam of light).



SOFT LIGHT is created by a light source that is modified.  We can create Soft Light by:


1.  Diffusing Light through a Material


a)  A softbox

b)  Clipping a piece of opal or frost in front of your light


2.  Bouncing Light off of a Surface


a) a Silver Umbrella

b) a white piece of foamcore

c) a white wall


3.  Shooting on a Cloud Day

Sunlight is naturally diffused by clouds and is very soft.


The closer a softbox or bounce card is to a subject, the softer the shadows will be.  The further back a light is placed, the harder the light becomes.  This is because bigger light sources are soft and smaller light sources are hard (when compared to the subject they are lighting).


When we say BIGGER LIGHT SOURCES, we are not talking about light intensity or the wattage of the bulb in the light.  We are talking about the actual size of the light compared to the subject it is illuminating.




Sunlight can be harsh and is not always flattering to the actors face (noon light creates dark shadows under the eyes for example).  You can shoot outdoors and lessen the impact of harsh shadows by:


1.  Diffusing the sun through large diffusers, like SILKS.  Light diffused through Silks help soften harsh sunlight.  The wider your shot, the bigger the silk you will need.


2.  Place the actors in the shade.  If shade is not available, use a scrim (solid material) to create your own shade (although this doesn't work on very wide shots -- it's hard to block out that much sun).  Shooting under a shaded tree or in the shadow of a building often produces very pleasing images.


3.  Use powerful Lights (like HMI) that are strong enough to use as fill lights (lessens the overall contrast of the scene).  HMI lights require power (not always accesible outdoors).


4.  Use reflectors to bounce sunlight back onto your subject to lower the contrast and fill in dark shadows.


5.  Shoot when the sun is lower in the sky or at magic hour when the sun has just set and the lighting is more flattering and beautiful.


We've discussed color temperature, the different types of lights and how to create soft or hard light.  Next, we need to understand how we control light.  We will focus on 2 areas:  Controlling Light Intensity and Controlling Light Spill.




When we talk about light intensity, we are talking about how bright or strong a light is.  Above, we discussed diffusing a light by bouncing it off of a surface or passing it through a material (like a softbox).  Diffusing a light decreases its intensity.  Here are some other ways to change a lights intensity:


1.  MOVE THE LIGHT AWAY from a subject to decrease its intensity.


2.  MOVE THE LIGHT CLOSER to the subject to increase its intensity.


3.  USE A DIMMER - Leave the light in place and use a dimmer to change the lights intensity.  NOTE:  sometimes dimming a light changes the lights color temperature and makes it warmer (like Tungsten Lights).  Some lights have built in dimmers (like some LED and fluorescent lights).


4.  ADD A SCRIM TO THE LIGHT - Scrims are metal screen mounted in a frame that fits into a light (like an Arri Light).  Scrims decrease a lights intensity.


5.  USE ND GELS - Clip Neutral Density Gels in front of lights.  ND Gels come in different strengths and lower a lights intensity without changing its color temperature.


6.  USE A FABRIC SCRIM - Put a Fabric Scrim on a c-stand in front of a light.  Unlike a metal scrim, this type of scrim is made up of fabric.  It can be raised or lowered so that it cuts down the intensity of the entire light beam or just part of it (helpful when you want to cut down light on just part of the image (for example, full light hits an actors face, while the cut dowm light just hits his white shirt to cut down contrast in the shot).


7.  USE A FRESNEL LIGHT - Fresnel Lighting fixtures have a lens that evens out the light and allows for the beam to be varied from flood to spot.  A Spotted light is intense and more focused.  A Flooded light is less intense and more spread out.





The parts of the scene that you light are important.  Your audience will naturally look at these lit objects and characters, but the parts of the scene that you purposely keep in shadow, are also important.  You will discover that the more lights that you add to the scene, the more unwanted light spillage that you will introduce.  The colntrol light spill, there are several things you can do.



Many lights come with barn doors.  Barndoors can be adjusted to narrow the beam of light.  They can be used to help keep light in a specific area and/or blocking light from hitting other areas.



Black Fabric Flags can be placed on C-Stands and they can also be used to control the areas that light hits and/or areas that you want to block light from hitting.



Just as white or shiny objects can be used to reflect light, dark material or fabric can be used to do the opposite.  If you drape a piece of black fabric on a c-stand and put it next to a subject, the black fabric will absorb light off of the subject and keep it from bouncing around the room.  This is called NEGATIVE FILL.



If you want to get rid of unwaned light sources (like sunlight through a window), black it ou with ark blankets or duvatyne.



Soft Light is hard to control and tends to create a lot of unwanted spill.  Egg Crates and Honeycomb Grids are placed in front of soft light sources (like Softboxes and fluorescent lights) to narrow the beam and control spill.



Blackwrap or Cinefoil can be placed on hot lights to block stray light from leaking onto parts of the scene that you want to keep unlit.


Make your Lighting Look Natural (based on 3 point lighting principles) -  Most the time, we want our lighting to look natural.  Over lighting a scene will not look real and all of a sudden, your movie will look like a bad soap opera.  One way to achieve a realistic look, is to examine the location and see what the natural light is doing.  Start asking yourself some basic questions.  Is sunshine coming in from the windows?  Are there practical lights in the scene?  Practical lights are existing lighting fixtures like lamps, overhead lights and television sets.


If some of the natural light on set is not working, eliminate it (that could mean blacking out windows for example).  If the practical lights in the scene are not working, move them around or move them out of the scene.  If there are not enough practical lights in a scene, bring in more.  Once you create a realistic looking scene with the available natural light, bring in your professional lights to enhance the scene using 3 POINT LIGHTING principles.


3 POINT LIGHTING includes:


A.  a Key Light

B.  a Fill Light

C.  a Back Light

D.  It is also often necessary to use a Background Light


You can use nearly any type of light from any manufacture to perform each one of these jobs.  Your lighting should be motivated.  Remember seeing that sunlight coming in from the window?  That light could be your Key Light and it may or may not need to be enhanced by your professional light (perhaps a HMI Light, Kino Flos with Daylight Bulbs, a Tungsten Arri Fresnel Light with a Color Temperature Blue Gel on it or a variable color temperature LED Light).  If the Key Light is too contrasty for the scene, you will need a Fill Light to fill in the other side of your subject’s face (like an actor).  This Fill Light will often need to be diffused by going through a softbox mounted to the light or by being bounced off of an umbrella or by being bounced off of a piece of white foam core on a c-stand.  Diffused light is less harsh and creates less shadows.  Often, most lights on the set are diffused to be more flattering.


Maybe our Back Light (that helps separate our subject from the background) is motivated by the tall lamp in the back of the room and is enhanced by a variable color temperature LED Light hanging from a boom stand.  The background light could be a HMI light with a Steel Gobo in it (used to create a pattern on the background wall).


If your film calls for a lighter mood (like a comedy), make the brightness of all of the lights closer to the same intensity.   If you are trying to create a more dramatic mood, make the contrast between the lights much higher (keep the Key Light bright and dim the Fill Light).  If that’s not contrasty enough, try switching off the fill light.  Do you want the scene to look even moodier?  If so, just keep the Back Light on.


The point of this scenario is that we were able to take the the natural light in the scene and use the principles of 3 Point Lighting to enhance it.  Realistic lighting is important to make your film more cinematic.


Sometimes it will be necessary (or creative) to add a background light (or multiple lights) to a scene.  Rather than just evenly lighting a background, it is often more interesting to break the light up into pools of light or patterns of light and shadow.


Shining light through a Cucoloris creates a shadowy pattern on walls.  Projection Lights allow for interchangeable steel Gobos.  These Gobos fit into the light and create various patterns that also look great on walls.  One very inexpensive way to create a light pattern, is to attach a tree branch to a C-Stand and shine a light through it.  This cheap method actually works quite well.


Fog occurs naturally in nature and its effect on light is quite interesting (light rays can be seen in the air).  This look can be duplicated with an inexpensive fog machine.  Many Directors like this look, even in interior shots.  This sometimes creates a dream-like mood.  Be careful not to over do it with fog, unless you are going for that kind of look.  For a more subtle look, it is best to run the fog machine, fan it out throughout the room, wait for it to get a little lighter and then roll.  You can see this look in many of Steven Spielberg's films.


Next, we are going to show you 6 Basic Lighting Styles.  Each one can be modified to your liking, by mixing in FILL and BACK LIGHTS.


Rebrandt Lighting is named after the Dutch Painter, Rembrandt, who often painted his subjects in this type of lighting.  It is achieved by placing a KEY LIGHT 45 degrees from your subject and slightly above his or her head.  One side of the face will be lit well.  The other side will only have a small triangle of light below the eye, on the cheek.  This creates a small diamond pattern.  Fill Light is optional (depending on how much contrast and drama you want in the shot).



Short Lighting is where the shadowed side of the face is closest to the camera.  It's called short lighting because the short side of the face is lit.  This can be a very flattering look because it makes faces appear long and slender.  The subjects face is angled so it is not facing the camera head on.



Broad Lighting is where the shadowed side of the face is further away from the camera and the broader or bigger part of he face is lit.  This can be less flattering because it makes the face look more round and heavy.  The subjects face is angled so it is not facing the camera head on.



Split Lighting is where you only light half of an actors face.  It is even more dramatic than Rembrandt Lighting because one half of the face is completely dark (no triangle of light on the other side of the face).  The subjects face is directly in line with the camera.  The KEY LIGHT is placed directly on the side of the actor.



Butterfly Lighting creates a shadow that resembles a butterfly under the subjects nose.  The KEY LIGHT is positioned right in front of the subject just above the camera.  This classic look often makes the subject look beautiful.



Loop Lighting is just like Butterfly Lighting, except the light is moved to the side (not directly in front) of the actor.  The shadow under the subjects nose now moves to under the loop of the nose.  The key light is angled 35 degrees from the camera.



Gaffer Tape is great for taping down extension cords and other cables that can be tripping hazards.



Sand Bags help weigh down light stands and C-Stands.  This keep the set safe from falling lights.



Gloves are great for protecting your hands while handling hot lights.  Never touch hot items like scrims, instead, use needle nose pliers.



When gear is brought on location, it is often a good idea to find a safe location to base your gear.  A perfect place would be a low traffic area that is secure.  You can then pull the gear you need from this secure and safe area.  On set, leave a clear walking area/path.



Barndoors and other items that could potentially fall from an elevated position, should be tethered to more secure equipment.



This is another good safety item to keep with you on shoots.



It is always a good idea to keep a First Aid Kit with your gear.


THE COLOR OF LIGHT:  This chart shows the color temperatures of different light sources.  Our eyes are great at making these different color temperatures appear normal or neutral.  Unfortunately, the camera can not do this without the help of white balancing.  NOTE:  Pro Lights usually have a color temperature of 3200 or 5600 degrees Kelvin.


WHITE BALANCING:  A typical white balance procedure is holding a white or 18 percent gray card in the light that your subject will be standing in and then pressing the auto white balance button on your camera (white balance functions are sometimes placed in camera menus).


TUNGSTEN - This Arri 1K/1000 Watt Fresnel is a Tungsten Light.

HMI - This Joker-Bug 400 by K 5600 Lighting is a HMI Light.


LED - This Astra 1x1 Bi-Color LED light is made by Litepanels.

BI-COLOR - This LED light has variable color temperature and dimmer controls.


FLUORESCENT - This Diva Lite by Kino Flo Lighting Systems is a Fluorescent Light.

PRACTICALS - Practicals are existing lighting fixtures (like this table lamp).


HARD LIGHT - Here are two examples of lighting with Hard Light.  Hard Light creates dramatic shots with contrast and crisp shadows.


SOFT LIGHT - Soft Light creates very soft shadows with blurry edges.  This can be very flattering on an actor.

BOUNCING LIGHT OFF OF A SURFACE - This Arri Light is becoming softer by bouncing light off of a white card.  Bounced Light produces

softer shadows.


DIFFUSING LIGHT THROUGH A MATERIAL - This Lowel DP Light is being diffused by a Softbox made by Chimera.  Softboxes create

softer shadows.

OPAL & FROST GELS can diffuse a light.  A C-47, a fancy name for a clothespin, is useful for clipping these materials to barndoors in front of a light.


BIGGER LIGHT SOURCES PRODUCE SOFTER LIGHT - Even though these 2 lights are the same (both with 1000 Watt Bulbs), the one on the left, with the softbox, produces softer light because it is a bigger light source.  This has nothing to do with light intensity.  The light with the softbox is actually less intense than the light without the softbox.


DIMMERS help control the intensity of a light.

SCRIMS cut down a lights intensity.


FRESNEL LIGHTS (like this one made by Arri) can be spotted or flooded.  Spotted light is more intense and focused.  Flooded light is less intense and more spread out.

FABRIC SCRIMS cut down the intensity of a light.  They can dim the entire light or just part of it by being positioned on a C-Stand.


BARNDOORS can help control light spill.


BLACK FABRIC can be used to block out unwanted light sources or as NEGATIVE FILL to absorb light.


HONEY COMB GRIDS help direct lights and control soft light spill.


3 POINT LIGHTING - is designed to make your 2 dimensional world on screen  look more 3 dimensional.  It consists of:  a KEY LIGHT, a FILL LIGHT and a BACK LIGHT.  It is often necessary to add additional lights to light up the background and objects that you want to bring attention to.


This shows 3 Point Lighting used out on location.

This shows 3 Point Lighting used in a studio.


A BACK LIGHT (sometimes called a Hair Light) is often raised high and falls on the subjects shoulders and the top of their head.


MOTIVATED & NATURAL LIGHTING - in this still, the woman looks like she is being lit by the window at the edge of the frame, but in reality, she is being lit by a KEY LIGHT and a FILL LIGHT out of frame.

MOTIVATED & NATURAL LIGHTING - in this still, it is clear that the KEY LIGHT comes from the window.  It was an overcast day when this was shot.  A light was used outside to resemble natural sunlight coming into the room.


BACKGROUND LIGHTING - Rather than evenly lighting up the entire background, it is usually more interesting to break the light up into patterns of light and shadow.


A FOG MACHINE reveals beams of light.  They create a dream-like look.  Too much fog looks like a rock concert, but just the right amount, can adds a magical look to your film.


REMBRANDT LIGHTING - one side of the face is lit well by the key.  The other side, has only a triangle of light on the cheek.

BROAD VS. SHORT SIDE - the broad side of the face is the bigger part of the face that's closest to the camera when the face is at an angle.  The short side of the face is the smaller side of the face that's farther from the camera.


SHORT LIGHTING - the shadowed part of the face is closer to the camera and the short side of the face is lit by the Key Light.

BROAD LIGHTING - the broad side of the face (the larger part of the face that's closest to the camera is lit by the Key Light.


SPLIT LIGHTING - only half of the face is lit by the Key Light.

BUTTERFLY LIGHTING - the Key Light is in front of the actor above the camera.  A butterfly shaped shadow appears below the nose.


GAFFER TAPE is great for securing cables to the floor (preventing tripping hazards).

SAND BAGS help keep lights from tipping over.

Rick Climenhaga, Gaffer

1.  Rick, please tell us about your position on the crew and the kind of projects that you've worked on.

I am a Gaffer on independent films, feature films, commercials and music videos.  I work with the Director of photography to achieve the look and feel of the project.  I sometimes oversee the entire electrical department.  Some past projects include:  Tomorrowland, where I served as a Rigging Gaffer Electrician and Jeepers Creepers, where I served as a Rigging Grip.

2.  What's a typical day on set like for you?

A typical day consists of arriving early for a catered breakfast (if it is provided).  During which time, we go over the days shot list, the type of lights needed, light placement and other electrical requirements for the set (like power to make up trailers, etc.).  Then, we start our day setting up the first shot, and if the next shot is in another location nearby, the crew will go set it while I remain with the D.P to make any tweaks needed.  The day pretty much runs like that – setting up and striking fixtures, running cables and breaking for lunch and dinner (also generally catered).

3.  How do you help a director and/or a director of photography achieve their vision?

I recommend types of fixtures that we have that will achieve the look that they are going for and what will work best for the situation at hand.  I also come up with creative ways to rig lights whenever stands are not possible (like rigging lights to oak trees for example).

4.  What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?

I don't really have a favorite per say, but I am impressed with the LED technology that is out now and how it can seamlessly match old school fixtures.  They also use less power and give just as much punch as traditional lights.

5.  What kind of advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the industry?

Be persistent, but not a pest.  When you do get on set, remember, chances are no one there knows you and your skill set.  Even if you already know how to do something and someone explains to you how to do it, be courteous.  Smile and thank them.  Keep your opinions to yourself, unless you are asked for them.  No one likes a know it all.  Also, do not recite your resume, because no one cares.  You are only as good as the last project you worked on.  And most important, this industry is a very small community of people.  Be careful about what you say about someone else.


There are several people in this industry who inspire me.  They all possess the same traits:  creative vision, an eye for detail and a good work ethic.