2.4 Lighting

Without light there is no image. Lighting, therefore is crucial to the filming process. We have already discussed how light entering the lens of the camera affects the image. In this section, however, we discuss light in the context of illuminating the scenes we are filming.

The effect of artificial light on colours is different to the effect of natural light because each light source has a different temperature. Therefore a film maker must decide to use one or the other where possible. We can see where the camera is set up for the wrong light temperature when whites have either an orange or a blue tint. If there is a mixture of natural and artificial light sources in a scene professionals will use blue or orange transparent coloured plastic to cover either the artificial lights or the windows  to create temperature continuity.

The pros and cons of artificial light

Artificial light, in its most basic form, comes from the standard lights a room. While these are readily available at the flick of a wall switch, they are, most often, positioned on the ceiling so they create unwanted shadows on the faces of your actors. Florescent lights not only make a noise which plays havoc with your sound but can often cause your image to flicker, ruining the shot. Camera-top lights point directly at your subjects, lighting them up well, but give an unnatural look and cast strong shadows behind the subject. In an ideal situation the use of lighting kits gives you endless creative possibilities and total control. Even the most basic of lighting kits, however, are expensive.

The pros and cons of natural light

Natural light is the cheapest and quickest way to light your scene. Good natural light can result in beautifully lit images. Reflectors or sheets of white card can be used to ‘bounce’ the natural light, allowing the film maker to light parts of the scene which would otherwise be in shadow. There are, however, several disadvantages. Natural light comes from the sun and, therefore, is at the mercy of the weather. A passing cloud can dramatically reduce the light source in the middle of a shot. One is also limited in how much one can manipulate natural light with the use of reflectors.

The basic lighting kit

The most common standard lighting kit has three lights which enable us to achieve one of the most basic lighting set ups – three point lighting. Three point lighting uses three lights and each is given a name – key light, fill light and back light.

Key light

This is the main light illuminating your subject from the front. It is usually positioned to one side of the camera, hitting the subject from an angle and from slightly above.

Fill light

This is usually a softer light, hitting your subject from the opposite side of the camera, thereby making the shadows caused by the key light less intense on the front of your subject. The fill light also ensures that a bright spot of light shines in the eyes of the people in your scene. This is subtle but very important. Without this light in the eyes people can look rather lifeless.

Back light

The back light is directed from behind and slightly above your subject. This lights up the outer edges of the subject and makes the subject stand out from the background.

Whether or not you have an actual three light kit, this principle of three-point lighting can be achieved in a number of ways – using reflectors and natural light sources – and should influence how you light any scene.

Safety on set

Electric lights have cables. Not only are these tripping hazards but the bulbs in lights are very sensitive and will almost certainly blow if the light falls. The bulbs also get extremely hot so you must be careful that nobody burns themself or that no flammable materials are allowed to come close to the bulbs. It’s also important to note that bulbs blow easily if the lights are moved before they have been allowed to cool down.

Practical Assignment

Ensure that the lighting in your project film is of good technical standard.