Lighting Principles (Week 7 Handouts)

Application of Instruments

Whichever lights one chooses to use, the will each serve one of only four functions:

  1. Key Light: the principle creative light. Creates from, texture, shaping, sculpting.
  2. Fill Light: Serves a purely technical purpose: to control contrast. Usually placed close to and above the lens (on the opposite side of the lens from the Key) so as not to throw its own distinct shadow.
  3. Back Light: Placed at an angel behind the subject so as to help seperate the subject from the background. It is especially useful when motivated by a lamp or window in the background.
  4. Background Light: Usually placed in such a way that it spills light across the surfaces of the background, providing an interplay of light and shadow which defines the surfaces and textures behind the subject.


Lighting and Contrast Ratio (incident measurements) Key Light + Fill Light: Fill Light
Note: Normal is 3:1 ratio See Video Below …You can thank me later 🙂

Formula Lighting Patterns

Side Lighting: Key light at eye level at approximately 90 degrees to head and neck axis of subject. Half the face in light. Half in shadow.

3/4 Front (45 degree) Lighting: Key light placed at 45 degrees to head and neck axis of subject. Half the face in light. Half the face in shadow.

Loop Lighting: Key light placed at approximately 22 degrees to head and neck axis and at approx the same height as the 3/4 Front Lighting. Creates a characteristic loop of shadow at a slight downward angle from the nose. (should not intersect with the upper lip).

Paramount (butterfly) lighting: Key Light placed very high and directly on line with the head and neck axis. The pattern rakes steeply down the front surface of the face, creating shading on the upper eyelids, a catchlight in each eye, accentuation of lashes creating their own shadows, highlights on the upper cheekbones and a gradated shading under the cheekbones, a shadow on the upper lip, a highlight on the lower lip and a shadow under the lower lip. This pattern is typically used as a beauty lighting for women.

Rim Lighting:With the face in profile to the camera, the key light is placed on the opposite side of the subject and at an angle so that it creates a rim of highlight around the features of the face, like a line drawing effect in reverse.

Lighting Pattern Modifications

  • Broad Modification: The camera is placed favoring the key-lit side of the face. This gives roundness and weight to a slender face.
  • Short Modification: The camera is placed favoring the shadow side of the face. This gives a more slender look to a rounder face.
Note: Theses to modifications can be used only with 3/4 Front , and Loop lighting. 

Lighting Principles//

Key Light Angles//

Lighting Patterns With Text b//

Reducing Light

Learn how to reduce the overall light output of a fixture.

There are a number of tools available to reduce either the overall light output from a light source, or to reduce the brightness on a particular part of the object you’re lighting.  Most gaffers will choose a light source that is slightly larger than what is needed, then reduce the brightness using one of the methods listed below.  This gives them flexibility should it become necessary to bright the light source – instead of taking the time to replace the light with a higher-wattage head, they can simple pull the scrims.

Wire Scrims

Wire scrims are circular metal meshes that, when placed in between the light and barndoors, reduce the overall brightness of the light. Every light has its own set of scrims and include:

Single Scrim
Singles reduce light by ½ an f-stop
Half Single Scrim
A single half scrim reduces the light by ½ an f-stop, but the wire mesh only covers half the open frame
Double Scrim
Doubles reduce the light by 1 f-stop
Half Double Scrim
A double half scrim reduces the light by 1 f-stop, but the wire mesh only covers half the open frame


Nets are light-reducing fabric stretched across an open rectangular frame.  Usually held in place with a C-stand, nets can be placed closer or farther from a light source, allowing a grip to isolate particular areas of the subject.  Most nets are open-ended, meaning one edge of the net has no metal support.  This allows the grip to feather the light grade by raising and lowering the open part of the net into the light, without risk of a shadow caused by the frame. Nets are available in several densities.Solids – Solids are metal frames covered with duvatyne, a light-blocking fabric.
The most common sizes for nets and solids are:  12”x18”,  18”x24”,  24”x36”
48”x48” – Also called 4’x’4’, 4×4 are among the most common-size solids, used to block large light sources such as the ambience from a window, or to block the spill onto a wall from a soft light.  4×4 floppies include an additional 4’x4’ piece of duvatyne sewn on one edge and Velcroed to the remaining three, so when opened, the effective area is 4’x8’.



Cutters are long narrow solids intended to block the top and bottom of a light source, allowing a grip to focus the light onto a subject.  For example, when shooting a medium shot of an actor, use a bottom cutter to reduce the key light on the actor’s chest, and a top cutter to reduce the light off the top of the actor’s head to draw the audience’s attention to the actor’s face. Cutters are most commonly used in the following sizes: ·

10”x42” cutter,  18”x48” cutter,  24”x72” cutter


Dimmers are rheostats that, by varying the voltage to a light source, can reduce, by dimming the light. When using dimmers, be aware of the following:·
  • Don’t overload the dimmer – Make sure the dimmer is rated for the wattage of the light you’re using.  Dimmers on set are generally rated for 650 watts, 1000 watts or 2000 watts.
  • Be aware of the color temperature change – The more you dim a tungsten light, the warmer the color temperature becomes.  Although the effect is negligible when dimming up to 25%, further dimming will noticeably change the color of the light.
  • Not every light can be dimmed – Dimmers are generally used on tungsten lights only.  Kino-flos, HMIs, and other light sources requiring ballasts cannot be dimmed with traditional dimmers.
  • ND gels are applied over windows to reduce the brightness of the outside light without tinting it.
  • Once the gel has been measured, use a spray bottle of soap and water to help the ND gel adhere to the glass.  Use a squeegee to eliminate any bubbles.


Let’s look at how these lighting angles come together to light a scene with several actors interacting. The scene shown in Figure 5.6 shows Andy standing opposite Babette and Camile. Babette and Camile are lit with a strong soft key light from the left. The first shot is a master that holds all three actors in a three-shot with camera positioned as illustrated. With Babette looking left to Andy, the key light hits Babette’s face as a nice far-side key. Camile faces more toward the key light. It illuminates most of her face. The key light does not light Andy’s face at all, his back is to it, but we carve out his profile with the three-quarter backlight from the right. This backlight is also creating an edge around the camera-right side of Babette’s and Camile’s heads and clothing.

These three basic lighting angles can create many different looks. The relative strength of the three sources shown here, and also the color of each source, could be played in many different ways.
For example, the big soft light at camera left can be played as the strongest source, warm soft window light, exposed perhaps 1 stop over the aperture setting on the camera, with a warm gel (¼ CTS is a straw-colored color correction gel that is great for this) on the light. The backlight from the right is played as a weaker bluer source, ½ stop under exposure, with a pale blue gel (½ CTB). The fill light is played 2 stops under exposure. The result will be a warm light scene with rich contrast.
On the other hand, imagine what the scene would feel like if the big soft source could be played as a weak light filtering in through shades, exposed a stop under exposure and cool blue (3/4 CTB). Imagine that the backlight from the right plays as direct sunlight through a window, neutral in color and bright (2 stops over exposure), and the fill light is neutral in color and exposed 2½ stops under exposure. The impression now is totally different. The room feels dim, and moody.
Back cross-keys
In a scene with two or three actors facing in various directions, the key light for one actor may well serve as a backlight or edge-light for another actor. Here again it often happens that the primary lights form a triangle.
When two actors are facing one another and the camera is shooting them in profile (a 50/50 shot), or close to it, a common lighting strategy is to use a back cross keys (Figure 5.7). Actor A is keyed from the back right, actor B from the back left. From the camera’s point of view, these two lights are far-side key light for each actor. When shooting a moody, dark scene or night scenes, the key lights often move around to side and back positions. However, the back cross-key strategy is used in any number of situations. Multicamera sitcoms often employ this strategy, because the proscenium-style shooting lends itself to blocking where the actors are facing one another in profile to the audience.
Figure 5.7 shows the camera position for the master shot has both actors in profile. If this were a dark night scene, the fill level would be kept very low, putting very little light on the visible side of either actor’s face, giving a sense of overall darkness. Note that actor B’s key light acts as a kicker, or backlight, for actor A, and actor A’s key light does the same for actor B.

A small amount of fill light is required to keep the side of the faces visible to the camera from going totally black; however, the fill light’s intensity must be very carefully controlled to get detail in the faces without overfilling. The fill light is drawn as a soft light; the fill light for a large night exterior is often made by bouncing light into a 12 x 12-ft white griff or provided by ambient light from an overhead light such as a balloon light. Similarly, the key lights might actually be large lights placed far from the action, often mounted in an aerial lift platform to light a larger area. In any case, the back cross-light is created with more or less the angle of light drawn here.

Once the master shot is completed, individual, over-the-shoulder (OTS) close-ups will be shot. Figure 5.8 shows the camera placements. Note that our key lights are already in good positions to light the faces. We might bring in a backlight to keep a rim on the non-key sides of the faces.
The discussion thus far has dealt with lighting a stationary group of actors and a stationary camera. Very few movies, however, are about people who never move. We apply the same basic mental process that we have been discussing to concoct a strategy for lighting a complex shot. When the actors move to multiple marks and the camera moves to view the scene from different angles the variables increase; however, we can usually break down the scene into a series of key positions. We can choose to light each of these key positions individually, or we can take a more general approach to the lighting, and employ larger key, fill, and backlight sources to illuminate a larger area. If a light that plays in one part of the scene is too much or too little for another part, perhaps it can be adjusted imperceptibly on a dimmer, or using a handheld net during the action. This is where the problem solving abilities of the DP, the gaffer, and the key grip come to bear.
In addition to lighting the acting positions, we want to consider the lighting in the overall composition: the furniture and surfaces, the walls and architecture, the wall art and set dressing, and the exterior visible through windows buildings, trees, or backdrops. In a small set, the key lights may illuminate the set and very little further treatment may be needed. If you are trying to preserve nice contrast in the shot, it is often best to be selective when adding light to the background. Light tends to build up on backgrounds and can start to flatten everything out. The gaffer looks for ways to break up the background or create variation, gradation, or specific highlights. If a scene takes place in a set with lots of windows, it is natural to scrape a slash of sunlight across the far wall, and across the furnishings. Large Fresnels or PARs are commonly placed outside windows for this purpose. Alternatively, the light from the windows might be made to emulate soft skylight, using large diffusion frames or bounces. At night, window light might be amber sodium vapor streetlight, or blue moonlight.Another treatment of the background is to create pools of light throughout a set. The background may be lit with practicals. In a set with lots of desks or a restaurant full of tables, each table might get its own top light (from an ellipsoidal spotlighthung overhead for example). If there is art on the walls, the gaffer might highlight each piece with a “special.” If the walls are painted a dark color, the gaffer might wash light either upward from the bottom or down from above to create pools or scallops of light.Ambience
Ambience is general fill throughout the set (as opposed to the fill specifically for the actors’ faces). All the light aimed into the set bounces around to some extent to create a level of ambient light. But sometimes the setting requires a higher, more even level of ambient light. This is commonly accomplished with overhead soft lights such as coops, space lights, or large fluorescent fixtures hung above set. For a living room set, one overhead fixture is more than enough; for larger sets, it is common to hang rows of spacelights. Any large public space, like a courtroom, corporate office, or a classroom might need to be treated in this way. Exterior portions of sets (that are built on a sound stage) often require a significant amount of ambient light to emulate skylight. Wherever it is used, it is important to be able to adjust the brightness of the ambient light, so these lights are typically controlled remotely either on dimmer, or by having separate control of the circuits each light fixture. On smaller sets, it may be helpful to fit the fixtures with lower wattage lamps (500 W instead of 1000 W, for example) to get an appropriate range of output for the small space. Ambiance for a small set can also be created using china balls or by simply bouncing light into the ceiling, or into a large frame of white griffolyn.Backdrops
A translight is essentially a gigantic photograph. On a sound stage, the scene outside the windows is very often a translight or scenic backing (painted backdrop). Day and night translights are commonly used depicting a backyard, the view from a high-rise office building, or what have you. The backing is usually backlit or frontlit with sky pans on 8-ft. centers. The main objective when lighting backings is to make the light even from one side to another. Backings are often hung from track, so the backing can be moved back and forth depending on the camera angle. The lights have to extend the length of the track. Often the gaffer will set some special lights on the backing to help bring it to life. For example, a night backing often shows buildings with lit windows. These can be made to look like an undulating television glow by isolating the window and hitting it with a blue-gelled light connected to a flicker generator. A translight that shows a body of water can be made to shimmer using rotating gobos or moving lights effects.

Key Light Techniques

The key light is the most important light on set. It’s purpose isn’t just to illuminate the actor, but to help accentuate the emotion of the character in each and every scene. When looking at the key light, there are two major factors to consider: What direction does the key light come from, and how much does it wrap around the face?

  • Direction – The direction of the key light is often guided by the direction of the ambient light on set, although the key light can be placed practically anywhere. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid placing the light close to the axis of the lens. This will fully illuminate the front of the actor, wiping out the natural shadows that contour and shape the face. The result is neither flattering nor glamorous. The general guide is to position the key light roughly 45 degrees to the left or right of the axis of the camera lens… but how far?
  • Wraparound – Sometimes a key light can be the harsh, untreated fixture, or it is heavily diffused. The degree of diffusion and wraparound depends heavily on the type of actor being lit and the overall cinematic look.

Lighting Techniques

  • Women (beauty/glamorous look) – Position a large key light such as a 2,000 watt tungsten, or a 1.2k HMI slightly more frontal than usual about 6-8 feet away from the actor, and raise the key light roughly 12″ above her eye line. Clip light diffusion like opal or 250 and 1/4 CTO (to warm up the light) to the barndoors. Then place a 6×6 heavy diffusion like gridcloth or bleached muslin 3-4 feet from the actor. This lighting tends to accentuate the cheek bones , lips and chin while filling in wrinkles around the eyes. Combined with a light pro-mist filter in front of the lens, this lighting is very flattering to women.
  • Women (Standard look) – Try using a Kino-Flo wrapped with opal, and place 45 degrees from the lens axis. Then, place a 4’x4′ frame of 250 diffusion to further soften the light. This light, while slightly harsher than the beauty lighting tends to bring out more of the texture of the face, and creates a large eyelight.
  • Men – (Standard look) – Use a 1k tungsten light through a 4’x4′ frame of 250 diffusion just off the lens axis as the main key light, then, add another 1k tungsten light through 4×4′ 250 frame focusing on the same side, but closer. This “stacked” key light approach creates a realistic look that both sculpts the face without accentuating wrinkles or skin imperfections.
  • Men and Women (Sculpted) – An outstanding technique, especially when the actor’s eyeline is far from the lens access it to illuminate the far side of the actor’s face with a high, focused key. Assuming the actor is looking frame right, set up a 1,000w tungsten light through a frame of 250 diffusion just to the right of the camera. Then place a 650w tungsten light with 250 clipped to the barndoors focusing on the left side of the actor’s face. Raise the light so it is 2-3 feet above the actor’s eyeline. Notice how the key almost serves as a rim light, bringing out the contours and shape of the actors face. This lighting setup also creates an outstanding eyelight.
  • Bouncing the Key – The key light doesn’t always need to be directly focused onto the subject. Some of the most beautiful light is reflected, and one of the most common ways to do this is by using a piece of 4’x4′ bead board, available at your local hardware store. The soft beaded texture of this styrofoam creates a soft diffused light without a lot of specularity.
  • Low Ambience – For creating a key in low light situations, set-up a 1,000w or 2,000w light on a turtlebase with a 5/8″ baby pin adapter and focus it straight up into a 4×4 beadboard mounted at a 45 degree angle. Control the softness of the light by spotting or flooding the light source, and by walking the bead board closer or farther from the subject.
  • High Ambience – For environments with high ambience, place the light fixture on a baby stand at eye level and aim it across the axis of the camera lens into a beadboard placed at a 45 degree angle. The light can be positioned as close as the outside edge of the frame, although a lenser may be necessary to reduce any reflection of the light source onto the camera lens.
  • UltraBounce – To create an even softer key light, focus a large light source into a 6’x6′ UltraBounce. Although the light output won’t be as great as if the light were directly focused onto the subject, the reflected light will be softly wrapped around the subject, especially if the 6×6 is walked closely to the subject. Combine this tech with an additional key light coming from the side to add a little more edge to the look.