September 5, 2013

Learn Lighting Techniques Through the Short Documentary 'Let There Be Light'

Let There Be Light DocMany new filmmakers spend a lot of time honing different crafts, such as screenwriting, camera operation, and editing. While those skills are important to develop, light and shadows are a large part of the foundation of filmmaking, and learning how to control light is one of the most important skills for filmmakers to learn. Check out Let There Be Light, a short documentary/tutorial (docutorial?) by Mark Vargo, a second unit DP who guides us quickly through the history of artificial lighting, the Inverse Square Law, different light fixtures, and how they are used in filmmaking.

Vargo has spent over 20 years in the camera and electrical department on such films as 3:10 to YumaRise of the Planet of the Apes, Tedand White House DownIn Let There Be Light, he explains how light evolved from gas-lit street lamps to the powerful bulbs we use in filmmaking today.

The most helpful aspect Vargo talks about is how the different fixtures affect the way light is emitted, as well as the different effects they produce. He mentions that sealed beam lights are good for illuminating large areas and creating fire effects when used with a dimmer.

Check out Vargo's docutorial below:

What do you think? Did you find Let There Be Light helpful? What lighting tips would you share with beginning filmmakers?

[via Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment


Interesting, the tone and rythm are very slow. Sounds like old documentary you watch on TV at 5am.
He seems to educate with the goal to sell you some LED lights from his fellow.
Video Marketing-Educating.

September 5, 2013 at 7:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


a lot of posts seem to come from filmmakeriq a day or two after it appears on their site. Is there a combined effort I'm not aware of?

September 5, 2013 at 11:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


The title is misleading. There wasn't much llighting technique teaching in this video, it's just a brief historical glimpse on the evolution of lighting.

September 6, 2013 at 3:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


This film should should come come with a warning... Liable to make you drowsy.

September 6, 2013 at 3:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Richard Wilcox

It can also come with a warning like "Not for those that want knowledge in a pill."

September 15, 2013 at 6:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

B S Kumart

Have attention spans become so low that everything has to be edited to the point of epileptic fit inducing.

September 6, 2013 at 5:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Neill Jones

Yes, unfortunately. We'll see how long it lasts 10yrs from now.

September 7, 2013 at 9:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Yeah I think so Neil. I thought it was great. Though I agree, "learn lighting techniques" is not at all accurate.

September 6, 2013 at 12:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Stay tuned guys - The "lighting techniques" video is in the works for both day ext and interior lighting schemes. I design lighting from a script, not out of thin air. I'm trying to build a foundation for people that have almost no experience but I'm really happy you took the time to watch LTBL. You might want to check out A TALE OF TWO METERS as well. And thanks to nofilmschool for embedding the video.
Mark Vargo, asc

September 6, 2013 at 4:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thanks Mark, that's great. Looking forward to it!

September 7, 2013 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Awesome, we're privileged to have such kind film makers in the internet era, I'm eagerly awaiting the next video :)

September 8, 2013 at 8:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


keep the good work Mr. Vargo, your film has value! Thanks!

September 12, 2013 at 5:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

José Iván Santi...

Hi Mark,
I watched it from start to finish and found it really enjoyable, educational for sure. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

September 12, 2013 at 10:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thank you Sir.

September 15, 2013 at 6:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

B S Kumart

Thanks for taking the time to share information!

November 19, 2013 at 10:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I just discovered all of your vids. Have watched many. They are well done and also enjoyable.
You have been around long enough to totally disregard the Trolls who insult your abilities with the "Soporific" Comments.

June 13, 2015 at 12:04PM


Thanks Mark for this great video. I found it a bit too much for beginners, I'm looking forward to see your next one!

September 7, 2013 at 6:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Fabio Lanzone

I noticed in the video that at 3:15 talking about the kelvin scale. Its showing the magic hour labeled at 9k and showing video of a very blue sky and moon. The magic hour I know is a.k.a. the sunsetting a.k.a. the golden hour, which would be 2-4k and a very warm sky. Is this mislabeled or is it just me? I believe it should be labeled as Twilight for that part showing the moon at 9k and Magic hour moved down the scale toward "Late afternoon". Im just another filmmaker trying to learn but am having difficulty excepting mixed information. Im trying to lock down my Kelvins to the point where I can roughly guess it, based on time of day and other mixed sources around.

September 7, 2013 at 6:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Derek K

The magic hour example wasn't the best, but it is accurate. Magic hour and golden hour are two different things (film school knowledge at work). Magic hour is basically twilight, where you can expose for both the sky and the rest of the scene – no harsh shadows, and no blown-out highlights, plus a pleasant bluish purple tone. Golden hour is what is often mistook for magic hour – that extremely pretty late afternoon golden sun with the long shadows.

September 8, 2013 at 12:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I liked the video break down of what each light does. I'm especially interested in LED lights as they have far less power draw and bi-colour is pretty cool too. I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts concerning the Bowens mount LED lights coming out of China (I think), for example: the Jinbei EF200 which doesn't have bi-colour but has a bowens mount which can accept soft boxes, snoots, and even fresnell attachments. I believe it can simulate the different lights shown in this 'docutorial' by changing the attached modifier. It seems pretty ideal for low budget indy film-making but I have not seen any film pieces that have used them. Any idea why that might be?

September 7, 2013 at 9:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Andrew Hart

Let's do the time warp (or the light matching a la the old Blade Runner interrogation scene) again!

September 7, 2013 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I really appreciated that video, very helpful.

September 7, 2013 at 10:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I have a question for Mark Vargo - is there an optimal distance for setting up the lights in relations to your actors or action? I assume the overhead/shoulder/hair lights will just go above the actors and there's not much reason to do otherwise. But what about the key or fill-in - presuming you got enough juice to back up considerably - and their accepted brightness ratios?
Let's start with a fairly stationary dinner scene, something like "Michael Corleone, Virgil "Turk" Solozzo and Capt. McCloskey at Louie's Restaurant in the Bronx".

September 8, 2013 at 3:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


DLD - I prefer to put lights as far away as possible - set or location permitting. That allows for sharper shadow cuts and the fall off of the lamp is diminished. Also, it's much easier to separate the sources, reduces flares and keeps the set cool. MV

September 12, 2013 at 6:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

mark vargo

Thanks, MV. Looking forward to seeing more samples and videos.

September 12, 2013 at 10:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM



September 9, 2013 at 5:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thanks Mark...Very nice foundation to how each lighting instrument behaves. This clear and concise info was very well presented. I'm looking forward to the next in the series...

September 12, 2013 at 3:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thanks for the overview! Very helpful for a noob filmmaker like me :)

September 12, 2013 at 8:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Mark, Tried to send you a message via your webpage contact page. The page asked me for an image?
Just wanted to sent private message.

September 14, 2013 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Well Done Mark!!

January 27, 2014 at 9:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM


only good & best short films

May 29, 2014 at 2:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM


May 29, 2014 at 2:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM


This presentation is great for the newbie with an interest in lighting. The new LED stuff is really nice. I use a couple of Hurricane LED lights on a regular basis. In the intermediate presentation, the green spike issue of LED's should be addressed. Many LED's come with magenta filters for this purpose. I don't think the tungsten lights will go away for a good while yet as they have a very specific quality not achievable with other units. You should up the tempo of delivery in the next one.

July 24, 2016 at 10:44PM

Pete Smith