Lighting fundamentals

Larry Jordan#

Author: Larry Jordan#

Published: 01 September 2015

by Larry Jordan Issue 104 - August 2015

Lighting is like chess. Simple on the surface yet wondrously complex the more you learn about it. Recently, I was asked to do a presentation on the basics of lighting. So, I decided to share that presentation with you here.

It starts with 3-point Lighting, though, um, we actually use four lights (see above):
- Key light
- Fill light
- Back light
- Set light

The Key light is set anywhere from dead in front to 45° over and 45° up from the face of the actor, or talent. The Key creates the dominant shadows on the face. The Fill light is lower and closer, designed to fill in the shadows so the face isnt so dark. The Back light is immediately behind the talent and 70° or so up. This is designed to separate the actor from the background by providing a gentle rounded light on their head and shoulders. The Set light is placed to light the background without any light hitting the talent.

Lets take a look at how these lights interact in lighting an interview:

Fig 1: This is Lisa. Except, shes in silhouette, we can only see her outline. Just the Set light is turned on, which means we can see the background, but Lisa in the foreground is totally dark.

Fig 2: When we add the backlight, we get a much more interesting shot, though we still cant see Lisas face. Fig 3: Now, lets turn off the Set and Back lights, and add a Key light from the front right. We can clearly see what Lisa looks like, but there isnt a lot of depth to the shot. Fig 4: But see how much more interesting this image becomes when we add the Back light. This is a look youll see a lot in dramatic/crime programs. Strong contrast between the left and right sides of the face.
You can accentuate this even more by moving the key light more to the right, creating a rim of light around the actor, leaving the rest of the face in shadow.

Fig 5: Here, the Key, Fill and Back lights are all on. Notice how the face has shape and depth, though the dramatic intensity of the image is significantly reduced. This lighting is typical for interviews, where you dont want to scare the audience, but, instead, want to make the actor pleasant and inviting.

Fig 6: Now we have everything turned on: Key, Fill, Back and Set. This is typical lighting for many interviews and talk shows. It has a light, cheerful, non-threatening feeling.

Fig 7: Heres an example of why you dont want to use ceiling lights for your interviews. Lisa is lit from above with only a Back light to provide separation from the set. Look at the strong, unnatural shadows under her eyes and chin. The forehead is too bright, while the chin is too dark. Its impossible to get your talent to look good when lit from above.

Fig 8: This is under-lighting, where the light is immediately under her chin. Every evil villain in history is lit from below. Now you see why - highlights and shadows are reversed, creating a very unsettled, angry, mysterious feeling.

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