What does cinematic lighting mean?
If you are on your way to create cinematic images, this article will help explore the basics of lighting in terms of techniques and what gear to use. The following information is tailored to the less experimented filmmakers but also to the pro’s dealing with low budget projects.
Lighting is the main instrument that can make a difference between flat, washed out images and professional looking ones. The lighting skills and proper gear will impact the most your final result.
What does cinematic lighting mean? As there is no clear definition of the term, various lighting techniques are encountered, like using just the available light. The cinematic lighting is all about emotions and timing, that can mean waiting for certain weather conditions to create a realistic and intense scene. In a brief, this cinematic image that filmmakers are looking for is the emotional approach to lighting that helps creating the story.
Of course, lighting has to suit technical needs, like the limited sensitivity of film or sensors. Sometimes, that means creating a lighting that is very unrealistic. There is no strict rule to follow, only some basics to start from.
While many lighting setups look very complex, there are enough ways to give that elaborated look to an extremely simple setup.
In terms of lighting techniques, there are different aspects to consider. First, the direction of the light that helps to create dimension and depth, depending on the desired final result. Usually, creating depth is what makes an image more cinematic, like highlighting the subject through contrasts.
The key light is the main light in a scene and helps giving the subject shape and dimension. Often placed slightly above the subject and off to one side, in order to separate it from the background, whithal creating a flattering look.
The fill light helps to fill the shadows that the key light generates. Generally, this light is positioned on the opposite side of the key light. The amount of the used fill light sets the mood for the scene: the less you use, the more dramatic the look, therefore a more cinematic result due to the added depth.
A practical light is a type of light visible on the set and helps to give life to a scene, like a desk lamp for example.
An effect light is a light that helps to establish a location or makes an effect more believable (like camera flashes for example).
The ambient light is the light available on the scene by nature, like sunlight, moonlight or street lights.
The light can also be defined by position, like the backlight which is used to create a silhouette, the sidelight that defines shapes and dimensions, and also the frontlight which is used for drawing attention to the main subject or to a scene.
The light is also defined by its quality: it can be soft or it can be hard. The soft light it usually comes from large sources that give up a diffused light. The hard light usually comes from small sources that are used to shape the light.
As previously mentioned, light doesn’t have to be realistic, but it often makes sense to use lighting in a motivating way, like for example if a talent has a window on his side, the keylight should also come from that direction. Light should always come from where the natural sources are already visible.
Lights can also be defined by mood: there is high key for a bright scene and low key for a darker, moody scene. Different settings and film genres lead the lighting technique: a horror film is traditionally a low key, while a comedy would rather be high key. The challenge is to play with these perceptions to achieve the desired look to your production.
Thanks to the nowadays technology like improved sensitivity of the sensors and brighter, cooler, more versatile and less power-hungry LED’s, cinematic lighting setups can be achieved at lower budgets even for the hobby filmmakers. Many productions have completely switched to LED lighting only, as the benefits outweigh the problems by far.
What lights to use?
For an ultra-portable cinematic lighting kit, we suggest the following combination:
All these lights are small, lightweight and able to run on batteries for an extended period of time. To use these lights in a mobile way, they are fitted into transport bags to be easily handled and stored.
Starting with the key light, most often being a soft lighting source, the CineFLEX HUE “XL” is a good choice because of its versatility. With high output, great light quality and flexible design, this light can be easily taped to a table, a lamp or a chair or even shaped to fit in confined spaces. When shaped into a cylinder form, the CIneFLEX can light multiple characters or objects in a scene at the same time. The Bi-Color mode can be used to match other light sources, while the RGB mode delivers millions of rich and vibrant colors. Even more, the included library of digital gels and effects with customizable parameters can help achieve that dramatic look with no other setup needed.
A flexible LED is a must have for any small production, as it can easily help accomplish that elaborated look without any extra heavy gear needed. Just bring gaffer tape and use your imagination to work with this light in the most creative way possible.
For the fill/effect light we suggest the soon to be released TubeLED RGB that allows for programming animated lighting effects. It is a compact fixture, includes the battery and can be easily handheld or placed into hard to access places.
And final, the hard light CineDOT 100 is a small but powerful fixture with adjustable beam angle from spot to flood mode. The crisp, single shadow is achieved using the double lens optical design with similar properties specific to Fresnel lens. The light modifying accessories like the barndoors, diffuser, softbox or snoot help to achieve different patterns and effects for the background lighting.
Of course, the suggested lighting kit is not limited to only cinematic lighting but also can be used for the ordinary interview 3-point lighting or even for the YouTube channel videos.
The filmmaking industry is not only about the big productions, but more and more about the passionate amateurs who are willing to invest their time into basic and useful knowledge in order to make the best choices in gear acquirement.