The Three-Point Lighting System

Three-point lighting is a key foundation to creating professional looking interviews. The main goal is to get a nice, even distribution of light across a subject avoiding deep shadows while allowing the subject to pop a bit from the background. With both videography and photography, you’re working with images that are two-dimensional (2D). Utilizing this lighting system allows you to create the illusion of three dimensions (3D) giving your shot much greater depth and adding much more interest.

As the name suggests, this system uses three different lights:

Created by Daniel Twieg

Created by Daniel Twieg

Key Light

Much like its name suggests, the “Key Light” is really the key to the whole setup. The key light is the main source of light in your scene. Ideally, the best spot for placing your key light is at a 45-degree angle from where your camera is set up

Once you have your key light set at the proper angle, you can see how well defined your subject is and how the light tends to wrap around the face. However, you also get severe dark shadows on the opposite side of the face and the scene itself looks pretty rough. Now, to “fill” in those shadows.

 

Fill Light

The placement of the fill light is again 45-degrees from the camera, but this time 45-degrees opposite from the key light. You also want to make sure that the fill light is less intense than the key light so it doesn't compete with it. There are a few ways of doing this.

  • Use a lamp or a bulb with less wattage
  • Move the light further away
  • Use a neutral density gel or diffusion in front of the fill light

When both the key light and the fill light are turned on, you get a much more even light around the whole face. The shadows from the key light are still there. The idea is not to get rid of all the shadows, but to soften them. Now, however, the overall image looks a pretty flat.

 

Backlight

The idea behind the backlight (also called a rim light or accent light) is to shine down on the subject and create a rim of light around the shoulders and head. When combined with the other two lights, the backlight helps to separate your subject from the background and focuses your attention where it belongs, on the subject.

 

Lighting is your pencil. Shadows are your eraser.

Photography, by definition, means “drawing with light.” Video is simply a series of still images which, when shown on a screen, creates the illusion of moving images. Now, imagine that your scene is your canvas. The lights (your pencil) are used to reveal and illuminate your subject. Shadows act as your eraser by hiding areas of your subject. You can’t see details that are in the shadows. So to recap:

  • First, the Key Light to illuminate your subject
  • Second, the Fill Light to fill in the shadows created by the key light, preventing them from getting too dark
  • Third, the Backlight to make your subject stand out from the background

 

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