Skip to main content

When it comes to shooting a film, most people would say that the camera is the most important asset. However, lighting is just as important (if not more) for your production.

Underexposed? Overexposed? Native ISO? Noise and grain, lens flare, mood, shadows, house/production design… there are dozens of things to consider when lighting a set and hundreds of lighting setups you can use.

Lighting is trickery, from setting a scene to building an emotion; lighting allows for all sorts of fun.
You can take a boring scene and light it up (excuse the pun); a flat interview and inject some moody contrast; or, you can make a beautiful bisexual* scene that is hugely popular at the moment.

*Bisexual lighting is a term in film when simultaneously using pink and blue light. Often used in nightclub scenes and most recently used a lot in the remake of the Bladerunner movie.

Now, scenes and locations are very varied, and we can’t cover every single lighting setup, but for this blog, we’ll cover the basics.

If you’re new to film, then this is a good place to start, and if you’re a veteran, then it’s always good to be reminded of the basics.


The basic interview setup

We used a 300D Aperture with soft box, a 120D with soft box, stick light and an LED panel, and we also had some GELS and some stands. This might seem like a lot, but it’s standard stuff.

If you are tight on budget, look to purchase 3 light sources. Low cost options vary from LED panels, to 3 household desk lamps!

“But, can’t I just use natural light?”

Well… you can. And honestly, natural light can be a blessing, especially for outdoor shooting.
But if you’re indoors and trying to create a stylistic video, or just want a really nice interview…
then just having natural lighting won’t cut it. Lighting options are nice to have, even if you just have a ring light for those beautiful eye halos!

Basic setup

The key light is the big source of power.

Your Aperture 300D (power percentage optional) bathing the subject in the most light, setting the style you’re going for (And if you’re wondering where to place the key light, we’ll cover that in the next video).

The fill light balances out the key light, lightening up the other half of the scene while still maintaining contrast. This could be anything, from another light, using natural light source, i.e a window, or bouncing light back in with a reflector.

We used the 120D for this video.

The back light is usually used to separate the subject from the background. In the video, we used a stick light to add some back fill, but by moving it directly behind the head, you can have a nice ‘Halo’ of light around the subject.

The backdrop light – Surprise! A fourth light. We added an LED panel, angling it from the floor to brighten the backdrop and adding a bit of a colour vignette around our subject. There are always options and ways to play with lighting, so feel free to break the rules.

So there we have it, a basic three-point lighting setup, with our extra fourth back light!

Key light positions

The key light; the all-important, big ol’ power source that sets the scene. But, where do you put it?

There are a few different options, and this video covers the most common ones.

So, watch, learn, get yourself an aperture 300D with soft box, and move it to where you want it.

Flat light is straight on and well lit.

Facing the subject and bathing them in bold, safe, and inoffensive glorious light. Bit boring though, it’s a wet lit position, so it’s used a lot on commercials and infomercials, etc.

Horror is where the light is placed low down, but facing up.

Giving huge shadows and contrast on the face – I’m sure you’ll recognise it as ‘Horror’. So, this isn’t the BEST for interviews, unless you want a really distinct style!

Butterfly Lighting (or Paramount Lighting) – The light is placed high up, but facing down.

It was used on glamour shots, many years ago. It creates shadows that come below the subject’s facial features (namely, a butterfly shape underneath the nose!) Pretty, but more for glamour.

Loop Lighting is where the light is about the same height as the face, but slightly angled to the side (about 30 degrees). This casts a shadow on the features, which is softer than glamour and adds a little contrast, creating a ‘loop’ of shadow to the side of your subject’s nose. This is probably the most common interview lighting.

Called loop as the nose of your subject casts a little ‘loop’ shadow to the side.

Rembrandt Lighting is the same setup as Loop, but even more to the side (about 45 – 60 degrees) creating a triangle of light on your subject’s cheek. It displays quite the contrast, and named after Rembrandt’s style of painting. Personally, this is my favourite… I love contrast.

Split lighting is where the light is placed all the way to the side – 90(ish) degrees.

This creates extreme contrast; one half in light, one half in dark. This is more of a stylistic choice than a decent interview setup, but allows for some playing options, which we’ll touch upon in the next video.

And there we have it.

The great thing about film lighting, is there’s no right or wrong, but a balance of what is right for the project and in our case the client. Just have some fun and see what works.

Split light


Split light is more of a fun one, because you have some options to create mood and style in quite a drastic / simplistic way.

Earlier in this blog, I placed a link for bisexual lighting, and this is a good example of how you can do it, because your key light or fill light don’t have to be natural daylight colours.

By mixing in some pink, or blue, or green, or yellow… you get some really cool colour styles.
And I’m only really using split lighting as an example to show this, it can be done in whatever setup you like.

What we really want to do, is to encourage you to play and not be afraid to try new things; add a backlight, put some fill onto your split light, have a bright red key light when it’s in Loop position.

At the end of the day, you are the filmmaker, so providing you have creative freedom, then go for it and experiment – don’t be afraid to try new things.

Go forth, and let there be light.