8 Lighting Techniques That Will Help You Achieve a 'Cinematic Look'

You want to make your footage look more cinematic? Well, lighting is one of the most powerful tools in your filmmaking toolbox.

What elements make a film look all—filmy and cinematic? The answer: lots. It's camera movement, shooting at 24 fps, motion blur, composition, blocking, performances, costuming, and about 1000 other extremely important things. However, one of the most powerful elements that give films that rich, textured look is lighting, and damn it all, it's also one of the most difficult to get right. But Ted Sim from Aputure is here to show you eight creative lighting techniques that will help you make your images look and feel more cinematic. Check out the video below:

Again, the cinematic look isn't created with one element alone, but with many elements working together. As I said earlier, camera movement, performances, costuming, composition, and certain camera settings (frame rate, shutter speed, aperture, etc.) are a great place to start, but lighting is simply one, if not the, most important ingredients in the stew. Sim gives the following tips in the video:

  • Highlight using your key light: A nice, soft key light will draw your viewers' attention to the most important part of the frame, usually your actor's face.
  • Low-key lighting: Creating high-contrast is a great way to add a more cinematic feel to your scene. Hard shadows and fast fall-off scream "drama" and "tension."
  • "Shoot into the shadows": Many contemporary filmmakers capture their subjects from the side in which the shadow is cast, as opposed to the "lit side" of their faces.
  • Use an edge light: An edge light works to separate your subject from the background, which adds depth and loads of style.
  • Light for depth: We work in a two-dimensional medium, so creating depth is crucial for the cinematic look. Lighting multiple planes (foreground, midground, background) will help you add depth and textural layers.
  • Color contrast: Using colors that contrast each other will help make certain elements in your shot more distinguishable and interesting, guiding your viewers' eye to the area of the frame you want them to look.
  • Texture lighting: How do you create texture with lighting? Use practical lights (lights that are visible in the frame), like light bulbs, Christmas lights, or flashlights, or you can add some haze or fog to create soft light or light beams.
  • Texture shadows: Don't forget to make your shadows interesting. Create some cool shadows with tree branches, blinds, or even cookies or gobos.

What are some other ways you can use lighting to make your footage look more cinematic? Let us know down in the comments.     

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May 8, 2018 at 12:48AM


"Shoot into the shadows" is called up-stage lighting.

May 8, 2018 at 3:18AM


thanks for good answer

October 13, 2019 at 8:26AM


All these techniques can really make an impact in your cinematography thanks for going over them. Great post

May 8, 2018 at 10:30AM

Cesar O Perez-Beato

May 9, 2018 at 4:37AM


ll these techniques can really make an impact in your cinematography thanks for going over them.!
"Shoot into the shadows" is called up-stage lighting.

May 9, 2018 at 2:30PM


Dear have a look at this, Lighting techniques are good article no doubt.

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Yeah, Its ok, But you must have an deep look on this topic. Hope you understand it more!

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