Movie Lighting Techniques

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For those of you looking for Movie Lighting Techniques, you should know there are multiple ways to light a scene and there is no really wrong or right way to light a scene… just as long as it fits the story.

The first piece of advice is watch a bunch of movies and TV shows and see how the pros do it. See how the lighting setup is creating a certain style and what kind of mood they are trying to convey.

This even works for the news – watch this type of setup and you will find it has flat lighting. They have no shadows and they want to keep everything neutral.

Another thing to look for is looking into the talent’s eyes. There you will find where the key light is. For sit down interviews that will normally be around 10 and 2 o’clock in the pupil.

So the main question when it comes to lighting a scene in the narrative world is – where do I want the shadows.

For comedies, they have a flat lighting setup. There’s not that many shadows involved.

Just remember your story and what kind of emotion you want to convey. Translate that into your lighting design.

What kind of lights to use?

Tungsten is a pretty harsh light when it’s left by itself. This look like create harsh shadows and could work very well for a noir or a horror film. The one downside about tungsten is that they do get hot and if you’re shooting indoors in a small room the temperature will go up.

A thing with DSLR cameras is that they don’t really require that much lighting but you still need to light. An option would be LED lights. They are always cool to touch and they also don’t require a lot of wattage. So if you’re filming in an old house and worried about blowing fuses, this could be a good option. They can create shadows but they won’t be as harsh as using a tungsten light.This is sort of an in between light.

What if you just want to create a simple, ambient light? You’re on a budget but you need to light the talent’s face with something. The cheapest and best solution would be with China balls. You can add a dimmer and you can really control the amount of throw these lights have.

Some key tools to have in your lighting package:

Gels. CTO 1/4, 1/2 and full. CTB 1/4, 1/2 and full. These will help balance your lights if you’re shooting with a mixture of different types of lighting. Usually tungsten is 3200K and LEDs are around 5600K. So if you want your LED to match your tungsten light, you are going to have to add some CTO in order for it to match.

Diffusion material. Cuts down on the amount of light that is being thrown. A cheap… very cheap way of doing this is using wax paper. If you have a budget, there’s a variety of different diffusion out there. 250 is a good start.

Dimmers. Work the same as diffusion, but this works well if you don’t need to have a 1K light full blast.

Black wrap. This is a foil you can wrap around your light and it controls the amount of spill your light produces. If you want to light a counter top, but you don’t want the light to spill onto the wall, you can just makeshift your own setup by wrapping this around the light. This also works well if you want to create some kind of pattern on the wall and it helps you avoid flat lighting.

That’s the basic rundown of materials needed to light a scene. Just remember, it always starts from the script and try your best to enhance the story with your lighting.

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Joseph Ort is an independent filmmaker who has spent the last decade working on his own independent film projects. He is also co-owner of a small based Los Angeles Production company – Shadowmind Productions. More articles can be found at:


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