Everything You Need to Know to Become a Lighting Master

Proper lighting is one of the primary elements separating poor-quality images from masterpieces. A scene without enough light or with harsh, distracting shadows or highlights is not effective in communicating your message. It’s important to learn early on the best practices for lighting for video. This article is intended to serve as a collection of essential reading as you progress on the path to better lighting.
Before we go any further with our lighting fundamentals, check out 5 Ways Not to Suck at Lighting for a good jumping off point. This will help you steer clear of some of the most common errors new video producers make when it comes to lighting.

Basic Lighting

Now let’s get serious, starting with the most basic and ubiquitous lighting technique of all — three-point lighting. This is the foundation for many more complex lighting styles, so if you’ve never heard of this tried and true technique, it’s time to get studying.

First take a look at Three Point Lighting to understand the basic principle, then check out this video on Basic Three Point Lighting to see the technique in action.
Finally, we can look to Rembrandt, the master of light in painting, to see how the principles employed in his work can be applied to video — with stunning, dramatic results — in A Study of Rembrandt Style Lighting from the Three Point Perspective.

Lighting Theory

Once you have the basics down, your videos should be starting to look pretty good. However, as you gain more experience, some new questions may arise, such as “How do I get softer shadows?” or “Why are my colors all weird?”[image:blog_post:60363]
To get a better understanding of how lighting for video works, read The Four Attributes of Light, which covers the manipulation of color, intensity, quality and direction. For a deeper understanding of color temperature in lighting, read Let There Be White: White Balance and Color Temperature Explained.

Working with What You Have

But how can apply all of this knowledge if you don’t have any lights to begin with? Even though you may not have made the investment in professional lighting, you can still get great results following the basic principles outlined in Oh Crud! I Forgot My Lights!, How to Light a Scene Effectively Using Only Reflectors and Outdoor Lighting at Noon: Reflectors, White Boards and Diffusion.
Or head over to your local hardware store to pick up some affordable lights, as discussed in Pro Lighting Setups with Hardware-store Worklights.
Want to start building your kit, but not ready to buy three separate lights? No problem. We’ll show you how to get great results with just one light in 5 Considerations for One-Light Setups.
And when you’re ready to purchase some pro-quality lighting of your own, make sure you understand what you’re buying by reading Understanding CRI & TLCI: The Importance Of Color Rendition first.

Special Techniques

Sometimes, special situations call for special techniques. For the best lighting in your green screen projects, check out Green Screen Lighting Mistakes and How to Fix Them. If you’re planning a shoot in black and white, the information presented in The Secrets to Successful Lighting for Black and White Video with be invaluable.

Get Lighting!

Learning about lighting is a fantastic way to understand the basic principles, but to become a master gaffer, you need practice and experience. No excuses — get out there and start lighting your next project.

Open image courtesy of dmitro2009 / Shutterstock.com

Nicole LaJeunesse
Nicole LaJeunesse
Nicole LaJeunesse is a professional writer and a curious person who loves to unpack stories on anything from music, to movies, to gaming and beyond.

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