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Cinematography Lighting Schemes

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 11/30/2010

Here is a look at a few relevant cinematography lighting schemes that are going to be important for film and video production.

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    Applying Cinematography Lighting Schemes

    People often think of cinematography as being about the positioning of the video or film camera, angles that are used, the movement that is applied, and the technical aspects of that equipment. In reality, much of what cinematography is about is lighting because that is essential to the composure of a video image. This will dictate how the objects and subjects will appear in the framing, what will be visible or darkened, the mood that the image will convey, and the general character of it. To do this effectively there are a lot of cinematography lighting schemes to deal with certain situations depending on the environment or requirements of the image, and these cinematography lighting schemes can then be applied as a strategy for filling the needs that the Director of Photography has set. Here is a look at some effective cinematography lighting schemes that you can use in different situations for your production.

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    Lighting in the rain for digital video production is a difficult prospect because you have to negotiate the needs of the image with the needs of the video equipment. The first thing that you have to do when trying to light for filming in the rain is to find the appropriate covers so that the rain will not damage the lighting or video equipment.

    Then you will have to decide what role you want the rain to play in your video image. If you are choosing to film in the rain so that you will have the rain be a main focus of the image then you will want to light the image from the front so that rain reflects that light that is coming in, as well as backlighting the subject so that they are not quite as bright in comparison to the lit rain. This will require some trial and error because each rain lighting situation is a little different. If you want to light the person or object instead then you will bring the light closer to the object so that the rain itself does not take the focus.

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    Interview Lighting

    Interview lighting is a fairly standardizes cinematography lighting scheme and uses common techniques in most situation. Here you will set up a four point lighting scheme where you start out by using a key light on one side of the subject's face, which will then be a sharper light. You will then fill in the long side of the face with a more diffused light, possibly even just a bounce card. Then you will place a backlight from behind them to light the back of their head and shoulders so that they will pop out a little more. After that you will then light the background so that you can illuminate a texture or relevant backdrop for your interview. The fourth light is not always necessary for this cinematography lighting scheme, and instead you could just use the three point lighting set up.

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    Light Motivation

    For most situations where the cinematography lighting scheme is meant to reflect a possibly real world situation you will need to make the light in the scene appear as though it could actually be there. To do this you have to "motivate" the light in the scene, which means that you have to provide logical sources for that light in the scene. This could be done by presenting outdoor light as being the motivation, practical lights in the room where you are filming, or things like moonlight drifting through a window.


Here is a series with different articles relating to different aspects of cinematography.
  1. Cinematography 101
  2. The Secrets of Cinematography
  3. Film & Cinematography Techniques
  4. Cinematography Lighting Schemes
  5. Cinematography for Beginners