Why Light A Subject?

The reason for lighting in the modern age has changed from before. Camera technology has improved drastically, with dynamic range huge enough to be able to film in the middle of the night and record amazing detail. The modern age of lighting is no longer for ensuring the camera can see a subject, it is purely for aesthetic purposes. Cameras can cope with low light so lighting is needed to convey emotion.

The traditional three point lighting system is very much obsolete, it can become unnatural and create a false image when used on location. Three point lighting hasn’t always been used throughout history, as long as there is one dominant key light the addition of further lights is purely optional. Christ At The Column by Caravaggio (1607) is just one example of a single source of light, something this historic proves how three point lighting isn’t compulsory, this painting features a strong key light from the right side of the frame, perhaps a subtle fill from the opposing side to keep some shadow detail.


The beauty of light (along with colour grading) is that there is no right or wrong. There are suggested practices (i.e. subject should look into the light in an interview) but the rest is purely stylistic and comes down to the verdict of the Director of Photography or Lighting Director.

Light Breakdowns

A group of us were able to observe the effect various lights cause on a subject, this is something I had previously investigated but was worthwhile discussing the observations with peers. The main focus being on the colour temperature and quality of light, these are the elements to consider when choosing the light you need for the situation you are filming.

Dedo Aspherics2 – Hard light, focusable (lens in front), fresnel focusing unit, lightweight, 3400K colour temperature.

HMI – Used on a lot of feature films and high end drama, very expensive but losing their prominence, 250W bulb, open face without focus, used to work with daylight, 5600 – 6000K colour temperature.

Kinoflo Diva – Very soft, the further you move a soft light from a subject the more it acts like a point light.

LED Panel – Industry going towards LED technology.

This makes you think more and more about the possibilities you have available when it comes to lighting a subject, for me it particularly persuades the use of natural light so I can travel lighter as a lighting designer. One final note to make on colour temperatures, it is vital that all the lights you use match up otherwise you will be creating unnecessary problems for the grade. Temperatures are around the follow figures:

3000K – 3600K Tungsten
4000K – 4600K Florescent
5600K – 6000K Daylight

If you need to convert lights the best method is the use of blue gels, a full filter will typically convert tungsten to daylight whilst a half will push tungsten into the florescent temperature range. The possibilities with lighting really are endless and inspiration can go beyond the medium of the virtual image (i.e. film or photography).



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