Film Techniques – Lighting

Film is a medium used to visually convey a story or idea. Lightning is a very important part of it. A film cannot exist without lighting. Other than the basic need lighting is used produce various effects, set the mood, and to enhance the overall experience of the audience.

In the beginning film makers used mirrors and other reflecting devices as an aid to lighting. These were used to redirect or block sunlight on the subject. Cinematography relied a lot on natural light. Unpredictable weather, clouds etc hindered their progress. This caused movie makers to shift to California where ample sunlight was available throughout the year.

Improved technology has brought in new sources of lights. They include spot lights, search lights and also sophisticated film which allow directors to capture more wavelengths of light.

Natural light

Outdoor shooting with the natural sunlight is ideal and the best. Environmental objects reflect well in sunlight. Props can also be used to reflect sunlight. However it is difficult to have the same kind of lighting at every shooting. Schedules of stars and technicians make it difficult to synchronize. Artificial lights can be used along with sunlight when needed.

Lighting enhances film viewing in the following ways.


The mood of the film can be easily changed with proper use of lights. For e.g. bright vibrant colorful lighting convey a feeling of youth, cheerfulness and hope. Dark colors suggest the presence of evil, lurking danger and dark plots. Focusing the light on a man doing something can show his concentration. Flickering lights show confusion.


The genre of films can also be highlighted. Dark shadows and low lights are used to show film noir and horror films. Direct lighting is used to create harsh shadows on the subject to give him a sinister look. Lighting must be properly used to go along with the story. Poor lighting can make a comic situation look serious.

Improve background

Lighting can be used to add life and color to an otherwise dull background. The location of the scene whether it is in a closed room or a well lit auditorium can be effectively shown using proper lighting. Distant objects like an approaching police car can be shown through flashes of colored lights.

Dramatic effect

Proper use of lighting can produce a dramatic effect. The face of a person can be changed from innocent to evil and beautiful to ugly. The placing of light also makes the character appear taller or shorter. Flash backs in different lighting are popular.

Three point lighting

This is the most commonly used lighting technique. It consists of using three different kinds of light. They are key light, fill light and back light.

  1. Key light: This light focuses on the particular person or object which is to be emphasised. It makes them stand out by eliminating shadows.
  2. Fill light: This is used to fill dark areas and eliminate shadows in key light.
  3. Back Light: This produces the contrast between the object to be seen and the background.