Lighting 101: Direction of Light

Lighting 101: Direction of Light


Hey guys, we’re back with the second part
of our lighting 101 series, and today we’re about the direction (or angle) of light. So direction of light is… where you point
your light. That’s it. That’s the video. No, just kidding! There’s actually a lot to delve into here. You’re choosing where the light’s coming from,
and where it falls, and therefore what it actually illuminates. But, in the process you’re also choosing how
and where your shadows fall, and what shapes they take. This has an equally, if not more powerful
impact on your image. So using lighting angles in film is not only
choosing what is lit and what is not… It’s about creating and defining shape and
depth. It’s about bringing out three dimensions on
a two-dimensional movie screen. There are innumerable variations and combinations
of different lighting angles, and how cinematographers use them. But in this video, we’re going to go over
the standard angles that you need to know to be able to communicate well with other
filmmakers, and what effects these angles have. Today we’re going to be focusing on the human
face: the place where this interplay of light and shadow really comes to life. The canvas where cinematographers can reveal
character and emotion. And our canvas today is Cate! Let’s start with front lighting. Which is pretty much what it sounds like:
The light is coming from in front of the subject, relative to the camera. A few things to note here: since the light
is coming from the front, there is minimal to no shadow cast on the face. Which explains why front lighting is also
often called “flat lighting.” But when you throw a little height into the
equation, we already begin to see changes. Shadows are immediately brought out, but they
are still fairly minimal. This angle is popular in beauty lighting,
because it highlights the cheekbones, and the downward-cast shadows hide the chin, define
the jawline, add some shading on the cheeks, and a delicate shadow under the nose. But let’s push it even further so our light
is no longer frontal, but directly overhead, shooting down. This is called a “top light.” Shadows are cast dramatically downward, creating
larger and deeper shadows under the brows, the eyes, nose, and cheeks, leaving only the
top of the brow, the nose and the cheekbones highlighted. What’s most unsettling here is the eyes are
cast in shadow. We’ll get to why we’re getting that “kinda
creepy” feeling in a sec, but let’s reverse this and see what happens when we move our
light down to a low angle. This is called “under lighting.” Everything we just saw in top lighting– the
highlights and the shadows– just got flipped upside down. Once the light is almost directly below, the
jaw, nostrils, lower cheeks, and the skin under the eyebrows are all illuminated, and
the cheekbones, nose, forehead and eyelids all cast shadows upward. Now that we’ve seen how the height of our
source can cast our shadows up or down the face, let’s start rotating our light source
around. A very common lighting angle you’ll come across
is the “45 degree light.” It’s still considered frontal, meaning the
light is still coming from the same direction as camera, but moved 45 degrees to the side
in either direction. Because it’s not directly frontal, more shadows
are allowed to come into play, cast to the side of the nose and onto the opposite cheek. By moving our light 45 degrees to the side,
we’ve allowed the shadows to define more of the face’s shape, while still keeping most
of the face illuminated. Often you can get a spot of light on the opposite
cheekbone, an effect affectionately known as “Rembrandt Lighting” a nod to the famous
Dutch Golden Age painter. This is a very versatile angle of light, giving
you the best of both worlds: clarity and illumination on the face, but also with added depth and
texture. But let’s keep our light source moving. This is called a “side light.” It’s pretty straightforward. Our light is coming directly from the side
of our subject, perpendicular to camera. The shadows we began to see earlier have grown,
now covering an entire half of the face. Our subject is now split down the middle,
half in the light, and half in the dark. This dramatic effect is even more pronounced
as we rotate our light back even further. This angle is called an “edge light.” Like the name implies, an edge light illuminates
one edge of the subject, keeping the shadowy side of our actor facing towards the camera. We touched on how we used this lighting in
an earlier tutorial, “Harnessing the Shadows.” This light still gives us information: we
can see the side of the cheek and the jaw defined, the outline of the edge of the nose,
and maybe some detail in one eye. But the rest of the face is left in shadow,
leaving our image mostly dark. Last but not least, we have the “back light.” Back light is when the light source is positioned
directly behind the subject, creating an illuminated outline of their shape. The face is now hidden entirely, but our subject
still pops out from the background with a halo-like glow. Back lights are primarily used to define and
highlight a shape, creating separation between your subject and your background so they don’t
blend together. So what does this have to do with character
and story? As you choose what is illuminated and what
is cast in shadow, you’re communicating directly with the audience, carefully controlling what
they are able to see and perceive about the character in front of them. If a character is supposed to be safe, welcoming
and familiar, we turn to the high, frontal lighting that is most familiar to us, that
we see almost everyday. We can take that comforting feeling away almost
instantly, by turning that familiar lighting on its head with under lighting, casting shadows
in places that feel unnatural to us, transforming a face into something unsettling, fearful,
or even dangerous. Eye contact is one of the strongest ways in
which human beings connect– take that away with a top light, and suddenly a character
becomes isolated from us and hard to read. The more and more we put into shadow, the
more mysterious they become, and the more our imaginations are stirred to life, having
to fill in the blanks. And there are so many shades in between. From the shadowy drama of a deep edge light,
to the romantic painterly effect of the 45 degree angle, to the conflicting light and
dark halves of a side light, we are showing the audience not only the inner conflicts
and emotions of the characters on screen, but stirring the audience’s own emotions in
response… sometimes without them even realizing it. We’re gonna stop there for now. These seven lighting positions are an excellent
place to start from when tackling a scene. Now, while we demonstrated all of these with
a single light source, rarely will you use only one light on set. More on using and combining all these different
angles together in a later video. Thanks, and we’ll see ya next time.


98 thoughts on “Lighting 101: Direction of Light

  1. Nice, can't wait for the video with combined lights. I hope this is the topic for today's livestream, i already have some questions

  2. I like the part moving the light-source around and seeing directly the impact of the changing light-angle on the face of the model … Well done! 🙂

  3. Brilliant video, one of the best I've seen on lighting. It's basic stuff, but explained extremely, extremely well. Excellent work!

  4. Amazing video! You give the basics, yet is so well explained. I've learned more about lighting in this video than in college. Thank you!
    I just have a suggestion: You guys should put CC in your videos.

  5. When you said "that is all for now" I got sad. I thought this is the stuff I need in my life. These tutorials are amazing

  6. Thank you so much for these videos. I have a huge passion for film and filmmaking but there are a lot of pieces of information that seem impossibly dense to learn about outside of a formal education. This knowledge is invaluable and I plan on making great use of it all. Thanks again!

  7. My favorite example of lighting used to tell story was with the murder scene in The Force Awakens.. Kylo Ren's face is split between the red of the room and the light from the sun when he talks to his father… illuminating the inner struggle he's characterized as feeling.. and then when the sun is all drained, the room falls into darkness leaving only the red half light on his face, signalling his acceptance of the dark side as he kills his father… a bit on the nose but still beautiful

  8. From depth of my heart,Thank you.
    This tutorial is an excellent piece of film making.
    to you madam ( and your hardworking team) I say BRAVO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. I've seen a lot of videos on 'lighting', this is by far the best at connecting not only the practical, but emotional connections that lighting bring. Great job, Lauren!

  10. There's a video from behind the scenes from "Fan Friction", if I recall correctly, in which Lauren (the DP) did the lighting to work throughout the whole blocking, it would be great to see a video in which you can elaborate in lighting a whole sequence/scene hardly changing anything, not necessarily for action, but for a long shot, following a character indoors.

  11. Would love to see a video about wich lights you can use, so you don't get these horrible horizontal lines on the video. (Don't know their name :/)

  12. GREAT VIDEO, SUCCINCT, HELPFUL, AND ACTUALLY WORTH KEEPING IN MY WATCH LATER LIST!

    So, I really would like for you guys to keep this series up specifically combining lights, and if i can make one particular request:

    I've often seen a sort of side light scene, but with the shadow side JUST getting the shadow eye to be lit up but nothing else on that side lit. I think you'll find this is a very popular look nowadays and it'd be nice if you could include a tutorial on that. Thanks and keep it up!!!!!!

  13. I think it'd be better if the subject wasn't facing the camera but was instead maybe 45° to the left or right.
    Same thing when DPs make lighting tests, they place the subject facing the camera but it's not something that happens a lot in movies.
    Showcasing reverse keylighting doesn't really work with a subject facing camera for example.

  14. Thanks very much. I'm starting to make storyboard (a dream job for me) and I give a lot of values to emotional consideration… 🙂

  15. Hi. I've added russian subtitles to this video, youtube approved them, but it seems they're still not here. Can you approve them?

  16. As someone who's been a photographer going on 30 years, this is a fantastic basic summary of lighting. You do a ton here in less then 7 minutes, and students could learn a bucket load from this.
    Also, if you want a longer version on lighting film, watch Stranger Things. Its pretty much everything you could possibly do with light on the best scale possible, in one show.

  17. U guys are amazing! It is just so simple explained that everyone can learn and understand! Thank you! I hope u didnt give up on this channel! Thx again!

  18. Thanks A Bunch I learnt a Lot From Your Lessons I am an article writer .and your explanation has added much to my knowledge

  19. I learned a lot of the technical side of filmmaking from Ron Moore. His podcasts went very in-depth to the point that I have force myself to not see acts, breaks, story pivots, lighting, music, editing etc.

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