Simple Lighting for Stills and Video

So what’s the big deal about lighting?   Surely if you can see what your shooting, you just point and shoot and the camera takes care of the rest?  And if it’s dark then cameras have their own light source, a built in flash for stills and video cameras can have a little ‘head light’ fitted, so what’s the problem?  The mistake here is to assume that your camera is as good as your eyes, frankly they fall far short.

Then, even if you have sufficient light on your subject to render it visible, it can be the difference between an ordinary picture and creating a great image where the lighting is placed and controlled in such a way as to enhance the artistic qualities of the picture.

Consider a portrait shot, whether for stills or moving image, if we have just one light (or flash head) where do we place it to enhance the picture?

To understand the answer to this question we need to consider the effect that a light falling on a subject has - other than making it brighter like the ‘front on’ built-in camera light source. A portrait lit with the flash or light source on the camera shows little or no shadow on the face and the resulting image looks rather ‘flat’.


If the light source is moved from directly in front the subject (i.e. not the built-in light source), the person or object on which the light falls now casts a shadow which we can see, and it is these shadows that helps us create a feeling of depth and mood in our picture.

Move that light 45 degrees left or right of the camera and elevate it and we start to see classic looking shadows from the nose and chin.

If there is no other ambient light then this can look a bit dramatic as the shadowed areas of the face are very dark, but if we add a gentle light to help lighten or fill these shadows then we can still see the modelling that the first light gave but the picture looks more natural and less dramatic.  Remember a camera does not have the dynamic range of your eyes, so where you can see detail in the high contrast shadows, the camera will not.

This second ‘gentler’ light source need not necessarily be another lamp or flash head, it could just be a well placed reflector or piece of white card, reflecting the light onto the face from another light source.

If you really want to bring the portrait alive then the addition of another light coming from behind the subject, poin

ting towards the subject, adds a rim of light that helps separate the subject from the background lending further depth to the picture.

The technique just described is known as three point lighting and has been used in film and TV for many years as a basic form portrait lighting and yet it suits well for stills as well and is very flexible since there is wide variance available in the placing of those three lamps which can vary the mood from light and airy to dark and foreboding.ikealight

The pictures shown here to accompany this article were lit using a combination of up to three Ikea style 20w desk lamps.

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Many thanks for you patience.
Kind regards,
Mike - Media4ed.

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