Lighting – Storytelling with Cinematography

Lighting – Storytelling with Cinematography


this week we’re looking at lots of different lighting examples focusing on the ways that we can use light creatively hello my name is simon cade and this is DSLR guide so this series is all about the ways that we can use cinematography to tell a story visually and in part one we looked at framing composition which is the second link in the description and the future will be looking at lenses and camera movement but for now we’re focusing on lighting so our first setup will film in some sort of workshop now typically this space would be lit by a single florescent strip coming from above and you’ll notice that with most of these setups we’re making lighting choices based on what would naturally be there already so I think this is a really important part this is called motivated lighting and I think it’s really vital when it comes to the creative side of cinematography because we’re helping to immerse the audience in the film now before we look at that example let’s just quickly cover the basics of positioning lights so if we’re going for a flattering look then we could go for Rembrandt lighting which is where we position the light roughly 45 degrees to the left or the right and then we have a triangle of light which is bordered by the shadow of the nose so with a bit of diffusion this kind of light is generally going to be pretty flattering we can clearly see the eyes including the little spark which is saying we see all the time in filmmaking and photography so Rembrandt lighting with that little eye light is a pretty safe bet if we’re going for flattering lighting and of course we could move our lights further to the sides and then we can get some pretty weird looks and that’s pretty much where a lot of lighting tutorials would stop but I really think that it goes way further than just saying this lighting make someone look good and this lighting doesn’t so let’s say that our character is a workaholic they spend all their time at the workshop away from their family so we might want the audience to empathize with his family to understand how he’s distant from them so we might use lighting coming from above which creates these nice shadows over his eyes so that we can’t really connect with him now if we think that’s distracting the audience we could use a bit of diffusion to make it more subtle but either way by hiding his eyes we’re only changing the mood and we’re stopping the audience from being able to fully connect with him so if we go back to the workshop we’ve got a single LED panel the aperture HR 672 s with some diffusion and of course I’ll put all of the lighting gear that I’m using for these setups on the blog post which you can find the first link in the description so our light is coming from above which is motivated by two things firstly the fact that it’s a shed and that we would expect there to be a single fluorescent coming from above in this workshop and then also the fact that his family feels distant we want to kind of disconnect the audience from him by hiding his eyes so we’re happy with both things there the fact that it’s motivated by the surroundings but also the emotion so the other aspects of lighting aside from placement are firstly intensity so in this case we will it in the background fall into darkness because he’s so focused on his work that he can’t see the things around him and his family also the light quality in this case we’re using fairly soft light because we’re trying to replicate a fluorescent and finally is the color of the light in this case we’ve added a slight green tint to it in color grading because we want to remember the fact that it’s supposed to be a fluorescent tube so for our next example we’re looking at the softness or the quality of light so in this one our light is motivated by a window so we don’t have to have the light coming from directly above and it can be really nice and soft so let’s just quickly go over the basics of light quality before we move into that example so a hard light source creates crisp shadows with lots of contrast whereas if we had a bit of diffusion in front of the light then or essentially doing is making the light source bigger by spreading it out and that means that the light kind of wraps around the edges a bit more and has much softer shadows now in movies soft lighting is pretty common I think this is because firstly it’s very flattering it makes people skin a better but also I think it’s because in real life we don’t really see really harsh dramatic light that much just will make kind of a learn about now I’ll be the first to say that it’s impossible to fully summarize what hard or soft light will do for your film but I think a good way think of it is to imagine the punch ups in the grimy basements of Fight Club it’s all about that tribal aggression and so we’ve got that really dingy lighting with you know single light sources which are very hard and leaving lots of shadows around and then compare that to the start of the movies with the boring office job and the obsession with IKEA furniture got very minimal shadows and of course the lighting is quite soft and quite unobtrusive so imagine if we could swap the lighting for those scenes and how much that would change their kind of mood of the scene I think that’s the general thing you have to think about is you know watching a film and I’d recommend finding your favorite film and looking at when they use hard light and when they use soft light and what that kind of does in terms of the tone of the scene but let’s get back to our main example so if positioned camera and our actor so the two aperture LEDs are roughly where the window would be or that you can see that I’ve definitely cheated a bit we’ve got a nice reflection in the eyes and because we’re imitating a window we’ve got a really really soft light from the west caught fast Flags diffusion which are rigged on a c-stand so both the placement and the quality of the light are motivated by this idea of it being window although of course we’d have to have established this already earlier in the scene with maybe a wide shot which shows the window so the next thing is to check that we’re happy with the way that this presents our character now I think it’s worth mentioning here that lighting is not usually going to be the main focus of the scene most of the time we’re going to let the performance and the script handle most of the storytelling so I think in this case we might be happy to just use soft lighting as a default so as not to distract the audience sometimes just keeping it simple and going for realism is a perfectly valid creative choice so next up we’re looking at intensity so let’s jump back to our generic example the majority of the time once we chose somewhere to place our key light will then set our exposure based on the intensity of that light and the interesting part is then deciding what we want to do with the rest of the scene how bright we want the rest of the seem to be so to me there are two main ways that a cinematographer can help to tell the story with the intensity of light so the first thing is by guiding the audience’s eyes but then the second thing is evoking an emotion so firstly if everywhere is equally bright the audience won’t know where to look it’s an uncomfortable information overload so by letting the background become darker it helps our subject in the foreground to stand out now I know that sounds simple but a great cinematographer can have complete control over where the audience is looking at any time in the film so in practical terms this just means looking out for bright reflections in the background that could be distracting or flagging light away from the person in the foreground of an over-the-shoulder shop so if we go back to one of our examples we can see that I’ve carefully blocked the light with some Westcott flags in order to keep the attention on the foreground these flags can help us have complete control over the intensity of each different part of the scene whether it’s the foreground the background or some little detail so the other important part of intensity is the key to fill ratio so in our example I used another aperture LED light to bring up the shadows a bit which I think gave it a more natural look but to be honest you can’t always give a perfectly logical explanation as to why you’re using a certain amount of fill light although it’s definitely worth thinking about it but you know you can say that using less fill light gives it a more dramatic look like someone is hiding something all this an element mystery to it but really I do think there’s a lot more to it than that and it’s often just a very subtle kind of shift in the atmosphere so I definitely think is worth kind of watching a film that you like and looking out for how much feel like they’re using because again this stuff is really subtle it’s really emotional when it’s not as simple it’s just saying like that using more fill light makes it happy and less makes it set and finally let’s look at colour and I think it’s worth noting that I believe that colour is best used as part of the costume and the production design rather than just lighting I would rather have completely neutral lighting with really interesting color contrast between the costume in the background and the colour of walls and stuff like that but there is still a time and a place to use coloured lighting so for example about color we’ll be using blue light which is associated with moonlight in a night scene now I think the key thing with lighting a night scene is to focus on the background here I pointed a second LED to catch those leaves now illuminating the background and then backlighting our character is a really common way to light a night scene I think the silhouettes remind us that it’s a night scene while still letting us see what’s going on because the last thing we want is for it to look totally unnatural as if someone is literally placed a lighting on top of the camera so this is why I think by collecting and lighting the background works well so if we quickly go through our four aspects the placement of the light is quite high up because we’re replicating the moon which is also high up the quality of the light is quite hard because the moon is a relatively small source so you guys it’s so far away and it does create fairly harsh shadows as for intensity we’re really dialing it down and making it quite dark because of course we do want this to look like a night scene and finally the most important one for this one is color so we’re using a white balance which makes everything look a little bit blue which really helps to seal this idea of it being moonlight because of some reason we have this idea completely ingrained in us from movies which is that at night things get a bit blue and you can see how strange it looks when I warm up that light so I definitely think this is something worth noting if you’re trying to sell this idea of it being night now in terms of the creative application of this kind of light the obvious choice would be for horror films where we’re trying to scare people reminding them that out in the shadows anything could be hiding so often in horror films there will be nice scenes but then also there’s something quite romantic about night scenes whether it’s going for a stroll outside and dark when no one else is out and about or maybe even just you know looking up at the stars there’s something very romantic about night so it really can go either way and that’s what I’d like to end with here is that there’s never one answer to what a certain light quality or placement or color or intensity will do for your shots there’s always you know different interpretations and then once you combine it with all the other aspects of filmmaking you know having a script and performance and the kind of shots you’re using you can completely flip the emotion that a certain lighting means so it really is up for interpretation but that’s pretty much it for this week on the blog post I will be adding those lighting diagrams plus all the equipment I’ve been using as well as some videos that really got me interested and inspired about lighting that’s it for this week see you next


91 thoughts on “Lighting – Storytelling with Cinematography

  1. This guy doesn't make any sense until you speed the video 2x
    Finally I found a solution to enjoy your good video

    just in case you didn't understand what I am saying
    he talk slow as hell but he is a good guy

  2. Hey simon, I was wondering, how do you draw on your videos? Is it in Final Cut Pro 10? Or another software?

  3. dat intro doe!1!!!! the amount of effort you put into these projects and editing deserves a like for 'dedication' 😀

  4. Hey everyone. As this is a film making community, i was wondering if anyone would checkout my stuff, or even subscribe as i'm only 5 subs away from 100. Thanks everyone 🙂

  5. It's mindblowing how you can color grade your t3i shots like you do. Simon, you should create a course on how to do it. I'd pay money for it!

  6. Hi Simon, great video as always; very interesting! I'm filming a car chase coming thursday, it's night-time and the mood is very desperate. What lighting would you chose? I thought of an orange spinning LED, representing the street lanterns and a small white/blue rim light in the back. As I'm saying it, I have no idea how it works out. Can you (or anyone) help me out a bit?

  7. Hi Simon, loved this as usual, I was just wondering if there's any chance you could check out the short film I made on my channel? I made it a while ago now but it's my first real attempt and would love any criticism that I can improve on next time! Thanks!

  8. That is a nice pink shirt your model is wearing Simon… I hope we get to see more of him in the future.

  9. Another great episode, Simon! Your videos help me out a lot, especially these cinematography ones and the storytelling ones. Keep up the good work man! 🙂

  10. Do you use Magic Lantern to shoot with your 600D or you're just shooting with the built-in codec and firmware? Thanks!

  11. Your videos are so incredible and interesting! They're really getting me motivated to pursue film-making! Thank you 🙂

  12. Hi Simon, great, very useful video again! I got myself an introduction to lighting/grip gear with a very low budget lighting kit. It contains 2 cheapo light stands, 2 135W CFL bulbs, 2 lamp sockets, a reflector, a reflector clamp, a crab clamp, a tilthead and a few babypin and screw adapters. Do you think there is something essential missing in that kit?

  13. you all look like movie characters. anyway, i'm an aspiring filmmaker and this is incredibly helpful and lovely. thank god you don't have such loud obtrusive videos, some get a bit ridiculous. thanks kid (:

  14. Great vid! I think you hit it on the head that too many videos just say "do this because this is good". I'm trying to learn more about color grading and it has been really hard because that is exactly how every video is.

  15. Simon, I have been a huge fan of yours since your very early videos on YouTube and I just have to say, you get better and better the more and more I watch you. Thank you for your insight and wonderful knowledge that comes from past experiences in your own filmmaking. My name is Paul and I have commented many times on your videos before, but just wanted to give you some kind words and encouragement to keep on doing what you are doing! Great work my friend! 🙂

  16. Simon, i need to say this was helpfull in so many levels! 
    As filmmakers we need to be aware of every element in the film. And till today i used to see the light as Beautifull or Ugly (simplifiing). But the motivated light was not on my mind. Thanks a lot!

  17. Hey Guys,

    really appreciate your channel and the work you do.
    I have a question , do the same lightening rules you apply in this video, also apply for landscapes and outdoor shots? if so, can you make a video to explain more or less how to manipulate light outdoors . I really find frustrating dealing with the excess of light and the lack of light.

    thank you

  18. Another good video and some great examples of how to light your subject taking the mood of the piece into account.

  19. Simon, you truly are a blessing man. I look forward to every video you post. I literally smiled when I saw the title of this video. Loving the cinematography series. Definitely helpful. Please keep up the good work!

  20. I've been making videos with a lot of the techniques that you showed me, just wanted to say thanks for being such an amazing resource!
    And if anyone is interested in checking my channel out that'd be great!

  21. Subbed. Awesome information. I think it's great how you self taught. I started my channel about a month ago with the intention of doing gaming videos, but since exploring cameras I find myself much more excited about filming than recording my game play! Keep up the good work, I really appreciate your efforts.

  22. Hey Simon. Your videos have definitely shown me the ways through several aspects of film. As an aspiring young filmmaker, such as yourself, I am trying to build my portfolio and hopefully make my way as a cinematographer one day. To think there is someone about my age making stuff like this, is just mind-blowing. I greatly respect the work you do and the genuine passion you have for what you do. Expecting great stuff in the future! Keep living your dream 🙂

  23. Definitely one of your best videos. Cinematography is one of the trickiest parts of film making. And its not that easy to find good tutorials or books about it. Very helpful. What I liked especially, was when you explained the fight club lighting. Maybe you could do this more often. Pick two or three shots from a movie and explain the cinematography of it. Like the guy did who you linked to in another video. He analyzed the cinematography of prisoners.

  24. Thanks for your videos. They are great. Although I cant afford to by a camera, I guess Im going to invest in lighting and film on "soap"

  25. Excellent video. Learning about lighting, composition and framing has opened my mind up and I notice much more in films than I did years ago.

  26. Hi 🙂 your videos are extremely helpful. I have been looking for some good lighting to start with and was wondering if you had any suggestions? Thanks

  27. Really appreciate your videos and that you get into the motivation for "why" certain techniques particularly work. Tnx.

  28. I think it's not entirely from movies that night is blue. When I go outside while it's night everything that's white seems a bit blue to me. And I can tell you I've never seen white as "white". Maybe something wrong with my eyes or something 😀 but there's always a tint to it. And during night time it's blue.

  29. I'm currently making a movie of my own and these videos are really helpful even though I don't have the right equipment.

  30. Thank you very much for the tips its going to come very useful for me in my next video!! you are totally awesome!

  31. Incredibly helpful! I'm looking into buying my first lighting equipment (so I don't have to depend on borrowing from school), and I'll probably buy an Apurture Amaran 672. I see you have the spot version. I'm wondering if you'd recommend getting the 672s or 672c for using it as a key light. I know you can use gels, but it seems like the colour temperature knob on the C version is a really handy feature. What do you think?

    Again thanks for all these marvelous videos. 🙂

  32. man, I've been going through all your videos. They are incredible, you should be proud. Thanks for the awesome content. You should do a bts of what is takes to make one of your videos if you haven't already, I would enjoy watching that.

  33. I've been watching your vids because 'No Film School' keep posting. I had to subscribe because you do these videos so well – film riot level, man. I like how objective your approach to lighting and how there are so many ways to approach it – great vid

  34. Hey cade, I have been watching your videos for decades. it always feels fantastic when I grab an eye on it. particularly when you explain lightings as filmmaking. .. I have been struggling with shadows when it comes to lighting, especially when I film a moving subjects…. no matter how I adjust accordingly with film terminologies.. . .. .. could you help me out to go through that on the topic of how to film a moving subject with lighting ?

  35. Just discovered this channel, and it's truly helpful! You're so young and already so passionate about filmmaking. Thank you for the top quality content.

  36. tip for night scenes; light them enough and make them darker on post production, this way you don't lose details during filming and you gave now edition control 🙂

  37. Click vào đây sử sụng hoàn toàn miễn phí, lại có thu nhập thụ động. https://www.wowapp.com/w/quylight/join

  38. No wonder your channel audience is growing … excellent content nicely explained. Lots of work behind the scene. It shows.

  39. Really great channel – when it comes to lighting i truly believe stanley kubrick comes at the very top of that least , What about you Simon ? PS: finally a channel that explains , identify and analyse the principles of Cinematography .

  40. You don't usually watch a scene and say "oh the lighting is this way, I should feel that way" – lighting is "visceral" in the way it helps the emotion of the scene.

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