The Key Light
The key light is vital for video production lighting: it is placed about 45 degrees to the subject, either left or right, usually above and aimed down between 30 and 45-degrees. It is the dominant light. Position this light as you would if it were the only light you had. From this, you’ll have defining shadows on the face which would be lost if the light were on a similar axis to the camera, but you’ll notice that, in a room with no other lighting, it will create deep, dark shadows. Toning down those shadows is the job of the next light.
The Fill Light
The fill is usually two or three stops dimmer than the key light, and its placement is at a near 45-degree angle on the opposite side of the camera, often on a level with the subject’s face. The fill light is a reaction to the key light, and its ultimate placement depends on the function of the fill – what shadows does it create? Where do you need to reduce them for better video production lighting?
The fill light can be the same size as the key light in wattage and bulb size, but you might then place it further away than the key. Watch as the fill drives back the shadows; though the lighting is not nearly as harsh, these two together still present a very two-dimensional view. The job of the third and final light is to create a sense of distance between the subject and the background, giving an illusion of a third dimension on the screen.
The Back Light
The back light, sometimes called a rim or shoulder light, is aimed at the subject’s back, and, like the key light, it is usually 45-degrees off the axis and shines down upon the subject. This creates a bright rim around part of the subject, creating an outline which then appears to separate the shoulders from the background. The back light should be at least as bright as the key, often brighter.
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Because this light is a very flattering light, flat lighting is used primarily in head shots and glamour editorial shots.
This lighting pattern is usually used in beauty shots when a reflector is added underneath to soften the shadows.
Because the light pattern comes from this angle, it creates a more dramatic look with a shadow that falls off the nose pointing down to one side. The subject will have more light on one side of their face. You can use this to your advantage if the subject has a “good” side or a preferred side of their face by lighting that side.
Rembrandt is a stronger angle than loop lighting, making it look more dramatic. The more shadow we add to our subject and the more we turn our light away from flat lighting the more dramatic our lighting becomes. It is used heavily in all types of portrait photography including athletes. It is also the type of lighting we used in the video above!
If flat and loop lighting fills in wrinkles, split lighting will exaggerate them. This lighting pattern is used a lot in athletic portraits just for that purpose. It exaggerates their muscle definition and body features.
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