Lighting Techniques

How can we get others to see our visions as artists and succeed in the American dream? It comes from a lot of hard work and a lot of dedicated time. Now depending on your profession this will change. In this blog we are interested in filmmaking and succeeding from it. One of these aspects that take a lot of dedicated time is how we utilize lighting in real life situations while filmmaking. Since my last post was about how lighting is important to a film and how to critique it. I figured the next step would be to introduce ways for us as indie filmmakers and photographers to incorporate different lighting techniques into our work.


One technique that we can use will create a hot edge on your subject. “This is when you use a soft (diffuse) light source from the front and a stronger, more directional light from the back” (LAvideoFilmmaker, N/D, Para. 1). With this technique we can always readjust the lights and increase or decrease the brightness to obtain the desired preference. So let’s say we want a more defined edge on the subject. For this we would have to increase the backlight to cast a more pro dominant shadow onto the subject. If this lighting becomes to bright and over powers your camera you can go into your setting and adjust the ISO to a lower setting. Mind you if the ISO is set to a lower setting it will create a higher quality image or video, but requires more light to expose the images to the sensor. Whereas, if the ISO is set to a higher setting it creates an unpleasant image as it will become grainy, but requires less light. So this means that if we have available lighting we should be utilizing it, as this would create extraordinary pieces from us as indie producers with inexpensive gear starting off.


Another way you can create stunning visual techniques is using different colors for lighting. If we’re doing a scene where we are inside and there is a computer screen, yet we are doing an angle from where the computer screen should be. We can replicate the look by using a blue light. They sell gels that you put over lights to give this look or you can even use something that is lying around the house like a sheet. This gives the light something to pass through to give it its color and lowers the potency so it doesn’t look like you have a light directly pointed at the subject. A bonus is that if you have the material available for your use. You can combine the lights so one side of the actor will have a natural inside light while the other side has a blue light. This can create the effect that a door is open and light is seeping in from the outside. If you inquire just a blue lighting effect for your scene, “You can achieve it completely by in-camera, with no color correction in post-production. We did it by using HMI lights and setting the camcorder to a preset…. But essentially the camera was set up more or less on a tungsten balance”(LAvideoFilmmaker, N/D, Para.30). If you want a green hue use fluorescent lights with the camera set to a tungsten balance.



There have been a couple of techniques I’ve used on spot just from experimenting to achieve my vision. One of these is using the focus to your advantage. The camera lens acts as your pupil and closes, as light gets brighter and opens when it dims. So use this to your advantage since this is how you create silhouettes and can manipulate the light to become over-saturated.


In this example I was filming a Public Service Announcement (known as PSA) for distracted driving. This task was particularly difficult since I wasn’t able to move the car due to the school not wanting to be responsible if anything went wrong. So to give the illusion that the car was in motion when it wasn’t I focused my camera inside of the car so that way the light from the outside was over saturated and didn’t allow the outside parked cars to be captured in my video. You can also achieve this by changing the ISO to let in more light, but remember this will downgrade the quality of the image or video. Another technique I have used is using mirrors to bring light into certain areas that I wanted to be highlighted that using a light would have lightened up to much of an area whereas the mirrors can be more focused when used for smaller areas.




LAvideoFilmmaker, (N/D) “Film Lighting Techniques and Tips: With Pretty Pictures!Film Lighting Techniques and Tips: With Pretty Pictures!” [Article], May 13 2014.



The Matrix Bullet Time. Digital image. Fliwave. N.p., 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014. <;.



Is Lighting Truly Important

What makes a movie so appealing that you don’t even consider turning it off? You could say that the actors or storyline are most important, but another aspect that can really make or break a movie is the lighting. The lighting can be used to make the foreground; which is the actor or object, or the background; which is the set, pop out. This is why in my opinion the lighting in movies or any type of film needs to be realistic, evenly spread, and focused. For this we’re going to focus on the lighting in horror movies.

Lighting needs to be realistic, but dramatic. Terry O’Rourke says, “Horror movies are typically over reacted rather than just being a great performance” (2012, Pg54). You’ll see some horror movies that are bland. They go through the scenes, all looking normal and the lights dispersed perfectly. This doesn’t add the contrast to make us as the audience get in-depth and feel apart of the film. This can work if it was a comedy or a family film, but in a horror movie we need to have the elements that can scare us with the slightest movement. Films typically leave long caps between actions so we start guessing what’s going to happen next. Some of these tricks that they do use the lighting to give us clues. They go from full scenes where everything is bright, to focusing on one actor and dimming the rest of the area. We’ve seen other films where the actors are always in harsh light. This makes us all accustomed to the harsh light so then we aren’t as startled when something happens since it always looks normal. Terry O’Rourke says, “you want harsh, almost violent lighting along with dark ambiguous shadows” (p.55, 2012). An example of this is in the Saw movies you’ll notice most of the scenes are very dim and you cant see much. Where when the doll comes in its normally very bright compared to everything else because they want it to stick out.

Girl torture scene from Saw 3

Girl torture scene from Saw 3

Saw doll riding a bike

Saw doll riding a bike

Next, the light needs to be spread evenly compared to where the light source is. This is for most of the scenes that aren’t dramatic. If your watching a scene and you see there’s a weird shadow compared to where the sun or a light is this is due to uneven lighting to where it casts shadows where they shouldn’t be. Sometimes these can really hurt a film. People like O’Rourke use flags, which are solid pieces of material that they use to control where the light is angled and what it lights up (2012, Pg.56). So when there are times in films you see that there is a lot in the background that is lit and you keep on focusing on it; They use these flags to get rid of the distracting background. They also move the lights to create different effects. In another film taped in a palace. Ravi Varman lit it during the night to see how it should look so he could create it during the day and have total control over it (2013, Para.5).

Flags that are used to block lighting

Flags that are used to block lighting

Lastly, there are times the light can be focused onto certain parts of the actor. When we watch old movies you see a lot of this. Like in the Addams family, the mothers’ eyes are always highlighted creating a hotspot.

It creates a place for you to focus your attention to. For example in one film they highlighted the wound that happened from the enemy. In horror movies we see this since they are typically gory and have fighting. When the films are being created it is easier for the crew to create these highlights by using spotlights and dimming the cameras settings to make bright scenes taped during the day seem like they are night. It surprises me because many horror movies could be better if they used more diverse techniques like this. It always seems like the films use one way or another. They never combine them to create a nice neutral.

What makes a horror movie so appealing that you don’t even have to consider turning it off? You could say that the actors or even the story line are most important, but as this proves the lighting can really make a big difference. From the excitement that it presents to you even the emotion behind the lighting when they use color overlays. Every aspect of it can change how you feel about the film and could make or break it. So because of this the lighting in movies or any type of film needs to be realistic, evenly spread, and focused.



Varman, R. December 2013. “Creating the mood for Ram Leela”, P.121, Academic Search Complete, April 18 2014.


TVBEUROPE. August 2005. “Into Digital Film Space”, P.42, Academic Search Complete, April 18 2014.


O’Rourke, T. October 2012. “Horror Film Lighting On a Budget”. P.54-57. Academic Search Complete, April 19 2014.



The Addams Family. (N/D) Mother and Father holding hands [JPEG]. Retrieved May 4, 2014


Saw 3 (2006) Girl Torture scene [JPEG]. Retrieved May 4, 2014 from


Saw (N/D) Saw Doll on a Bike [JPEG]. Retrieved May 4, 2014 from


Unknown (N/D) Flags for Lighting [JPEG]. Retrieved May 4, 2014 from