Tips on Proper 3 Point Lighting

2 min

Not to be repetitive – and most production people know this, but one of the most important aspect of videography is lighting. Lighting, lighting, lighting. It is important to have a solid understanding of the aspects of proper 3 point lighting. Understanding and utilizing this correct setup will allow for the most professional finished product possible.  Whether you are shooting on video, film, or even photography, the concept works for all three.

Three-Point Lighting: A big challenge for a camera operator is how to make a two-dimensional image appear as three-dimensional as possible when captured on videotape or film.  This is achievable through the techniques of 3-point lighting.  By placing separate light sources in three different positions, the photographer/videographer can illuminate the shot’s subject however desired.  This is accomplished by controlling the amount of shading and shadows produced by direct lighting.  This mastery of the shadows is what provides the three-dimensional depth of any shot.

The 3-point lighting technique uses three separate lights for three purposes. These lights are called the key light, fill light and backlight.

Key Light: This is your main light. It is usually the strongest light and will influence the look of the scene more than the other lights. You place this light at an approximate 45 degree angle away from a line running between your subject and the camera.  The result is that one side of your subject is well lit and the other side has some intense shadows.

Fill Light: This acts as your secondary light and is placed on the opposite side of the key light, again at an approximate 45 degree angle from your subject/camera axis.  The intensity of this light is generally quite a bit less than your key light, often times half as strong as your key.  It is mainly used to fill the shadows created by the key light. The fill light is usually softer than the key light. You can accomplish this by flooding out the beam of the light and/or placing some form of diffusion material in front of light.

Back Light: The backlight is placed behind the subject, thereby lighting them from the rear. This is the only light that does not provide direct lighting. Instead it acts to provide definition around the subject, as well as to highlight them.  The intensity of this fixture is only slightly less than the key lights.  The back light will help separate the subject from the background, giving you more of a three-dimensional look.

You will need all three lights to accomplish the technique fully, however the principles are important no matter how many lights you have available to use.

For example, if you have only one light, then it automatically becomes the key light. If you have two lights, then one is the key light and the other becomes the fill light or backlight.  The missing fixtures can be substituted with the aid of a reflector or bounce board to help illuminate parts of the subject.  This is done by reflecting the key lights intensity to other areas where needed.

Again, proper lighting is the main ingredient to getting that professional look. This technique – if done right, can help you create something very beautiful, even if you are shooting with a low end camcorder.


To download this article as a PDF > Tips on Proper 3 Point Lighting

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Rick Davis


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