The Basics of Lighting
Lighting is an essential tool for enhancing the video image.
The subtle use of light creates atmosphere and mood, dimension, and texture. It can help to convey a plot line, enhance key elements such as set color or skin tone, and signals the difference between comedy and drama, reality and fantasy.
Hard versus Soft
All lighting falls into either “hard” with sharp and distinct shadows, or “soft” with less defined, softer shadows and fewer background images. The intensity and clarity of the bulb, or its diffusion, combines with placement to design a shooting environment.
- Hard light. Aimed directly on its subject, with a brighter single-source illumination. The sun is one example. Other hard light is incandescent, ellipsoidal, and quartz.
- Soft light. Diffused, created with less intense lamps that reflect or bounce light off a reflector, a ceiling, or another part of the set. Soft lighting effects are enhanced with scrims, strips, scoops, and banks.
Three-Point Production lighting involves three major lights and their positions in relation to each other (three-point lighting):
- Key light. Powerful, bright light that best defines a primary, or key , person or object, creating a deep shadow. It is positioned at roughly a 45-degree angle to the subject being shot.
- Fill light(s). Softer light placed at an angle to “fill” any unwanted shadows created by the key light, at about half the key’s intensity. It is usually placed opposite the key light at about a 30-degree angle
- Back light(s). Throwing light on the subject from behind, it’s positioned behind at around a 90-degree angle; it can also be adjusted higher or lower to create other lighting moods. This helps to create an illusion of depth behind the main subject and brings it forward from the background.
High-Key versus Low-Key Lighting
Most TV talk shows, sitcoms, variety shows, musicals, and family entertainment use high-key lighting: a high ratio of key light to fill light. Low-key lighting creates a more dramatic, moody, and textured effect for dramas, documentaries, music videos, and others.
Hot and Cold Lighting
All lights have a color temperature that influences what the camera records:
- Daylight (outdoor). The most powerful and brightest light. Daylight is hot and produces a blue tone on video.
- Artificial (indoor). Considered cold. On video, it creates a reddish-yellow cast.
Interior and Exterior Lighting
Everything you shoot is either indoors or outdoors. Each light has its advantages and limitations.
- Exterior lighting. As you shoot an exterior (outdoor) scene, you may want the spectacular intensity of the sun at high noon. Or, the scene calls for the moody waning light immediately after sunset, known as the magic hour. Each option has its own effect on an exterior scene. However, outdoor shooting can pose real challenges. Along with the sun’s continual movement, its degrees of brightness can fluctuate dramatically through the shooting day. When the sun is your key light, it might need to be partially blocked out or augmented by fill lights or back lights. An exterior set can be shot at night but lit to look like daylight, or vice versa.
- Interior lighting. Shooting interior (indoor) scenes poses fewer challenges as video cameras and shooting formats become more advanced and lightsensitive. A camera’s iris, for example, can play with light and color and go from automatic to manual. This avoids the camera’s normal tendency to focus on the best-lit object in the scene.
Both interior and exterior lighting can be adjusted by using reflectors (also called bounce cards ). These are glossy, white lightweight cards in various sizes that reflect light onto an object or actor. Large silks (squares of translucent material) can be strategically hung and positioned to filter the sunlight and maintain lighting consistency. In some cases, a light-filtering paper gel called neutral density (ND) is placed onto windows to keep outside light from being too harsh; in other situations, thick dark velvet curtain material blocks out sunlight entirely.