CINEMATIC LIGHTING: Lighting with purpose and story in mind

CINEMATIC LIGHTING: Lighting with purpose and story in mind


Hey What’s up guys, Kris Truini here for Kriscoart Productions Last week we took a look at how to light a subject with a basic 3 point light setup. Today I want to go a bit beyond the basics and build upon the lighting knowledge we explored. In some of the examples we’ll see today we’ll learn that that doesn’t necessarily mean adding lights and complex rigs but often times simplifying the shot and taking away lights. This video will be less about set up and more about execution with story in mind. Let’s briefly talk about lighting different subjects: Usually you can get away with some pretty harsh lights on a guy but you want to diffuse your key on a female subject. This is just a guide to start but as mentioned before, the story really will be the deciding factor in that. Personally, I use this suggestion as a starting point and design my lights to the character while keeping that tip in mind. In this other example I moved the fill light more to the side of our character creating much more detail in her face and giving it a slightly more dramatic look. I also colored the fill light with a gel but that will be covered in the next video, for now we are just focusing on positioning A few moments ago I said that you add a lot to the scene by taking away. If I turn my Key light off and have my Fill Light become my key we see that we get a very interesting look that could possibly work for a night scene. Everything is just a matter of personal taste and seeing what works best for your environment, character in that environment and the story that is taking place in your scene. There is no other better way of understanding this type of stuff than by looking at some of the greatest and personal favorite cinematographers. So for now we’ll say bye to our model and we’ll take a look at some beautifully shot films. Here we are looking at a scene from the opening sequence from Sicario. The Director of Photography for this is one of the more famous dps: Roger Deakins. I wanted to use this scene as the one of the better examples of how environment and story can directly affect lighting. The armored vehicle of this swat team bursting through the wall caused a bunch of dust to spread and scatter throughout the house giving the scene a cinematic atmosphere and giving the direct light coming through the windows a nice diffused quality. Instead of letting light get carried by the dust and spreading everywhere on our characters, he faces the camera on the opposite side of the light source, letting the shadows fall towards the camera. This is called upstage lighting. So you see that just by using a strong key and probably bouncing a little bit of that light back onto the subject you can create some pretty dramatic high contrast lighting without using a ton of lights. Now they probably had some pretty expensive HMIs blasting light thought the windows from the outside but on a low budget shoot you can just as effectively take advantage of sunlight coming into your scene. This brings me to practical lights and using them to motivate your lighting. A good example of this is this scene from the movie Seven, directed by David Fincher and dpd by Darius Khondji. The lighting style is clearly reminiscent of film noir which used very harsh and dramatic lighting. Most of this film but particularly in this scene we can see that the lights hit our subject from side angle. Beauty lighting, similarly to what we did last week with our subject, typically has two lights at a 45 degree angle in order to create a pleasing image. Here however we not only see a strong key and very low amount of fill, but we also see that they are placed in a way that creates shadows on the majority of the subject’s faces. Another thing that I find worth mentioning in this scene is the use of a kicker which is a sort of a back light but used to accent the edges of our subject. Here we see how even a slight kicker gives more definition and detail to the side of Morgan Freeman’s head. Without it he would start to blend into the background. Same thing can be noticed with Brad Pitt here. Finally, I wanted to talk about motivating your lights with practical lights which are lights that you can actually see on camera such as these different lamps. This scene does this masterfully. We begin with a wide shot which not only gives the audience an understanding of where the characters are in relation to each other, it also shows where the light is coming from. So this lamp is understood to be the key hitting Brad Pitt and this other lamp reads as the logical source for Morgan Freeman’s key. Let’s move on to another David Fincher film which adopts lighting that evokes a similar feel. We are taking a look at Fight Club. This is lit in a similar way since we are dealing with dark tones. Different Dp however, Jeff Cronenweth who has made some interesting choices as far as hard light vs diffused and softer light. The lighting always remains pretty much high contrast throughout the film but one thing noticeably changes from the beginning when the main character is living undisturbed in his ordinary world, to when his life catapults itself into a much more violent and gritty world. Thats as much as I’m going to say about the movie because I don’t want to spoil anything in case you haven’t seen it. Which if you haven’t… go watch it! “What the hell are you doing?” Anyways, we go from ordinary life – soft lights but then as the story progresses and we move to gritty basement fights and we can see very direct pools of light that create some very sharp and dark shadows. This is a great way to maintain the very high contrast lighting style that the film has while differentiating scenes with the quality of light. There are so many other Dps that I could ramble on about for hours but for the sake of time I’ll mention one last Dp that has demonstrated one of the best uses of lighting to not only portray a character’s emotion but the audience’s emotion towards that character. I’m talking about Gordon Willis lighting choices in the Godfather. His lighting was simple, to the point but extremely accurate in carrying over the connection the audience felt with each character or lack thereof. We aren’t seeing any fancy lighting set ups, kickers, back lights, and even not much fill. What we are seeing is a light placed at an extreme height causing Marlon Brando’s facial bone structure to cast some pretty harsh shadows. Particularly on his eyes. Most of the times we almost can’t even see his eyes. Humans are drawn to eyes and that is often times how they can establish an emotional connection with someone. Here there is nothing. No room for empathy, predictability, or almost any kind of connection. We are shut out. Assuming you know some plot about this movie you can start to see just how great this lighting is. It transcends the movie screen and deliberately distances this character from the audience. THIS is exactly why I say that lighting can only be purely cinematic if it caters to the story you are trying to tell. So finally I’ll leave you with this: Conrad Hall was once asked how he knew where to point his camera. “I point it at the story,” he replied. Alright guys that is it for this video! I hope you enjoyed it. And now you see the endless possibilities that you can have with lighitng Of course, we only skimmed over some very basic set ups but hopefully it gives you an idea of just how much you can change the mood and tone of a scene. And definitely let me know what you think of these new videos, whether you like them or not, let me know in the comments section below. Any feedback is super helpful. And what is also helpful is giving this video a thumbs up and sharing it with your friends. That all supports this channel and it helps me help you with more videos like this and just keeping the content coming. Thank you so much for watching, my name is Kris Truini for Kriscoart Productions, I’ll see you next time.


72 thoughts on “CINEMATIC LIGHTING: Lighting with purpose and story in mind

  1. can you do a tutorial how to use prime cine lesnes(zeiss,arri,etc) how to use them like in a music video production/film production,their limits and stuff !!! ??

  2. Thanks for another great film tutorial, Kris! Could you maybe do a follow up with recommendations on the best lights to get on a budget that are easy to carry around? I've had some experience with lights but I've heard that LED lights are superior in that they're much lighter and don't heat up while providing the same power.

  3. Your stuff is getting so good! You can tell you have some serious direction! Really inspiring. Any shorts of your own on the way?

  4. Indoor lighting have been covered perfectly.
    What about outdoor lighting is it a big difference then indoors or not ?

  5. I'm loving every single video of this channel. Amazing tips. Great Inspiration. I'm even starting to create my own channel thing to make music videos. you might hear of it soon. Thanks a lot bro!

  6. Hmmm… all those light examples is on SITTING STILL actor/object. And light stand is visible. And examples from movies are where actors moves and / or camera moves! And only practical lights is visible.

  7. Thank you! Also will appreciate if you can post some tips about the filming for the beginners (the best angles, positions of the camera, tips, what to avoid etc) good luck!

  8. This probably goes without saying but you should 100% keep these lessons going. I really like the use of examples in established films.
    I found you a few months ago after watching a few of your after effects tutorials, I was so pleased to see the introduction of production too!

  9. cool, I don't know much about lighting, these are great videos to start. Keep 'em comin ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Normally I wouldn't leave a comment, but this video was awesome. It went beyond most of youtube lighthing tutorial videos that go simply on the 3 point lighthing. Please, make more of it, expanding to other themes. You're great, mate

  11. Respect your work! Really awesome lighting tutorials. That's what i'm looking for.
    You made nice transition from aftereffects tutorials into lighting tutorials!

  12. Really great videos. One question, how do you keep the kicker, or even backlight from spilling onto the nose with head movement? I tried a basic 3 point setup, and the backlight would cast a spot on the nose when the subject tilted her head back

  13. Dude this is amazing! i know a lot already. But your use of examples really helps and sets the bar for understanding and implementing it in my own films.

  14. Thumbs up indeed! Very nice video, very helpfull and entertaining. I would love more of these ๐Ÿ˜€ thanks a million

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  16. I stumbled across your channel trying to teach myself some video shhlang and ended up staying for the compelling content.

    Just wanted to stop in to say hi, really. I'm sure you'll be seeing my name throughout your comments fairly often.
    …. And to answer your question, yes. You should throw up more videos like this. Its very Rocket Jump-esque, and I love it.
    Eager to see more, my friend.

  17. Just watched the Godfather yesterday and made the same observation about the high overhead light making shadows on the eyes. Really love that look for several parts of that movie! Great vid btw love this channel

  18. so in SE7EV and Fight Club. you have the practicals in the scene. But whats lighting the over all set? The lamps are well balanced in exposure with no overexposure. So, I'm sure some low wattage bulbs are being used. which means the lighting around it is artificial.

  19. You didn't "diffuse" your light with your female subject, you just have it positioned more frontally and create this "loop" light to your subject.
    Diffusion doesn't mean soft, and diffusion is not the opposite of hard.
    This content is not legit for learning.

  20. hi mate.
    tell me i an learning using and position my lights; specially the ration between the the key light and fill light; do i need to use a light meter or is there another way to figurd out the ratio between these 2 lights? thanks!

  21. okay this is a little weird, so I'm gonna try and make it as not weird as possible. so I'm making sort of like a romantic scene, but its less movie romantic and more adult film romantic, if you know what I mean, and I'm really stuck on how I should set my lighting up. plus I have two point lights, and I'm assuming from watching your videos that I'm gonna need a little more then that. can you give me some tips and ideas on how I can make a good looking romantic scene lighting, but still have the adult film lighting still present. and what type of lightings I should be working with. thank you.

  22. An old post I know but I wanted to share some framing suggestions. Bring that camera up a little (or subject down) and cut down heavily on that extra head room and you will get a much more pleasing framing for your talent.

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