3-point lighting

three-point lighting

There is a basic lighting convention when lighting for filming. It's called 3-point lighting and it can be widely adapted. The main, or key light, is the most powerful light source. It can be a hard light source that casts a shadow. The 'fill' light is a more diffused light source that softens some of the shadows cast by the key light. This is necessary because cameras are not as sensitive as eyes and they do not cope well with a high contrast ratio - you will lose detail in either the bright areas or the shadows. Angling the key and fill lights at roughly 45 degrees to either side of the camera gives the subject some modelling. The third component in 3-point lighting is the back light. This is positioned somewhere to the rear of the subject (but obviously not in shot!) on the same side as the fill light. It gives a 'halo, effect and is used to give the image depth by separating the subject from the background.

Key light Key light only

key light plus fill Key light plus fill

key plus fill plus backlight Key plus fill plus backlight


If you don't have access to lights, use a natural source e.g. a window, as your key light. A white or silvered reflector board (white polystyrene and silver foil) can be used to fill the shadowed areas.

In the end, lighting is very subjective, and it is worth trying out before you do major shooting, even running tests on video. When trying lighting, view it on a TV monitor, since just looking with the naked eye does not always tell you enough.