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Lights, Camera and Action? More Lights Please

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Lights, Camera and Action? More Lights Please

What is the most important factor needed to make a quality film or video? A famous cast never hurt, an experienced director combined with a great script would almost guarantee a successful film. The success of a film can only be determined by the creator and the reasons they produced their film. Was it created to communicate a particular message to anybody that would listen or was the reason to get featured on a network or theater and adored by the general public?

No matter the reason for making a video whether for business, art, marketing, entertainment or informative the one consistent factor you want is a quality video. Nobody will sit through a hard to see video that is a struggle to watch? Video quality is very powerful and can be used to magnify your story along with your screenplay. Despite a novice popular belief that the quality of your shot will lie within your thousand(s) dollar camera, instead the truth is your foundation starts by properly lighting your scene.

The first issue to consider is your overall environment; think about things like spacing, existing light, your subject and your desired mood for each scene. Most people beginning video production use standard three-point lighting as a starting point. This lighting is primarily used for interviews, but versatile enough that you can apply to multiple situations. What is most important is to learn the reasons behind each light and expand from that point. Since most modern cameras are very sensitive and won’t need much light, lighting kits have become smaller. Key, fill, and backlight are the three lights needed for three-point lighting, with an optional fourth light.

Key light: Is the main source of light used to illuminate your main subject. You should start at a 45-degree angle directed at your subject face and adjust as you see fit.

Fill light: Is used to address the shadows and give your subject a dimensional presence. Start at a 20-degree angle and at the same level as the camera. As always adjust as needed, but remember the fill light should be slightly dimmer than the key.

Backlight: Is mainly used to separate the subject and its background, which produces a 3-dimension look. Also referred to as rim light it can be creatively used to highlight an interesting background.

Before we continue let us get a basic understanding of how lights are measured and applied in video production. Lighting is measured in heat and will displays different colors at particular temperatures. Lighting can be as simple as matching natural light (sun) and artificial light (lamps), which alone can become a task. The art of lighting any scene can be and should be used as a powerful tool to enhance your story. First we will start with keeping your lighting consistent. Your inside light is usually around 3700K (Kelvin), while outside are approximately 6000K.

o Natural light is usually bluish, approximately 5400K degrees (except during sunrise and sunset).
o Common incandescent lighting is reddish approximately 2000K degrees.
o Quartz halogen TV lights are also reddish approximately 3200K degrees.
o Fluorescent lights range from under 3000K to over 6500K and will produce a greenish color.

Every video clip for a scene should have the same color; therefore the major problem is balancing different sources of light in the same scene. I once shot an office scene that had a huge window while the sun was setting, which produced an overbearing yellow tint. I didn’t know what to blame the bad color on the sun or inadequate lighting (oh it can get complicated or should I say tricky). Did I mention the walls were yellow and my main subject was wearing a yellow shirt? The problem with this example may be easy to pinpoint, but in general you want to avoid certain colors and busy patterns.

You can clearly see the problem most videographers face. We will keep it general in order to keep this article a short read. One option to match outside light is to use HMI lights as a fill light that will produce an outside temperature at approximately 5700K. A more economical option is to use the sun as your key light and employ the use of reflectors as a fill light.

When filming in an office environment remember fluorescent lighting will be dominant and will need to be properly matched. The most efficient option would be to use fluorescent bulbs as fillers and adjust the temperature to match the office lights temperature. You can also use color correction gels to reduce the heat to get your desired color. Find what is most proficient and experiment to find your visual preferences. The key is to identify the existing lighting and understand how to balance the different temperatures efficiently.

Next the art of mood lighting…

Aderemi Simmons, (Executive Producer) has a creative touch and his passion for film making is rivaled by few. For more information please preview some of his work and other projects at GreenHouse Films website at

Author: Aderemi Simmons
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