March 19, 2016 at 3:33AM


Cinematography lighting

He guys!

I was just wondering what your thoughts were when it came to learning about lighting. I want to shoot my own stuff and looking into LEDs but the books and youtube videos i've found dont give me the info i expected on more knowledge on lighting. tips would be appreciated.


The best artists know when to break the rules. Which means they have to know the rules first. The best way to learn the rules is with the fundamental tools of the trade. This ARRI three-light kit represents a middle-of-the-road starting place:

I say middle-of-the-road because there are many kits priced higher (because they include larger and/or more and/or more types of instruments, optional goodies like softboxes, etc) and there are some kits priced lower (because they include smaller instruments). But whether you go larger or smaller, the principle is the same: to learn 3-point lighting, which is the basis of virtually all cine lighting, you need three lights to provide key, fill, and rim. Of course you can fudge things a bit and use natural light coming from a window as one of your light sources. You can break the rules by omitting one or two of the three lighting sources for effect. But in general, just as a well-constructed sentence usually has a subject, a verb, and an object, lighting starts from the three-point construct.

Once you have a good grip on three-point lighting, you can look at how new technologies provide better solutions. (You also need to take care not to blindly purchase new technologies that provide worse solutions.) Soft fill lighting comes from a large, diffuse source. There are many ways to make a hard light soft, such as bouncing it off a diffuse surface or shooting it through a diffuse filter or fabric. There are also ways to get a diffuse source from the get-go, using sufficiently many fluorescent tubes or a sufficiently large matrix of LED elements that provide high CRI (color rendering index) light. Many lights *look* like they will do the job, but the CRI makes the difference between light you actually want on your subject and light that you don't. (The CRI of tungsten/halogen bulbs is 100, the highest, which is why starting there means you don't have to worry about funky color shifts right from the beginning.)

There are others who make lights less expensive than ARRI, but as you go down in mechanical quality, you may get to a point where you are giving up on good technique simply because the instruments are too difficult to work with. Avoid that trap if you want to learn good technique.

Back to your question about LEDs...ARRI (and others) do make LED instruments that function like their halogen-based fresnel counterparts. Such instruments costs thousands of dollars each--not a great place to start if you are just a beginner. But simple LED matrix arrays are really not a great place to start learning about lighting. They do have their place in the toolbox (I have some myself), but they are really much more useful once you have a specific need that they best fill, rather than a general need for knowledge of the craft.

March 19, 2016 at 8:25AM


Michael makes a great suggestion of starting with a basic ARRI lighting kit, but I would definitely check out some of the better ARRI clones to save some money.

CAME-TV 300W+650W+1000W Tungsten Studio Kit : $508

March 19, 2016 at 11:04AM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

There are tons of YouTube videos on lighting. Videos on the types of light, on effects, on positioning, comparative videos etc.

Why anyone would want to learn this from books is beyond me, videos can show the actual effect the type of lighting and position has on a scene books cannot.

And then of course there are movies to study.

March 19, 2016 at 1:37PM

Cary Knoop

Books provide theory in which I can understand as well as videos and practical usage except I cant seem to narrow my search enough to find the videos that provide theory that I want. If you have any suggestions I am open to it. Def want to be on top of my game and watch and read what I can to be better.

tre E.

March 19, 2016 at 4:42PM

Here's a video that will help you "see" lighting in whatever you watch:

Film Noir (aka Low Key):

Straight-ahead 3-point lighting tutorial (including one and two-light examples, with fourth and fifth light bonus):

March 20, 2016 at 7:52AM


Hi there, here are my suggestions about lighting based on my experience. I graduated from film school.

1. Youtube videos won't give you professional level tutorials, most of them just touch the surface about lighting. You need to read a book. I recommend this book, which was my text book for my film classes in college year, and it is probably the best written filmmaking book.

Film Production Technique: Creating the Accomplished Image
by Bruce Mamer

All you need to read are these three chapters:

Chapter 12. Exposure and Latitude
Chapter 13. Planning the lighting
Chapter 14. Executing the lighting

2. Spend some money and buy a light meter. Got this one (every cinematographer use one)

Sekonic L-758Cine-U DigitalMaster

And this is an article why you need a meter:

For me, if you are serious about lighting, this will be your first investment, you don’t even need to any actual lights.. You need to learn how to MEASURE the light, once you master how to measure the light, you can use any camera, and use any light to create the lighting you want. I can’t emphasize that enough.

3. This is a really good seminar, and there are two real lighting scenarios in it and pretty helpful to see how they do it:

4. one thing about LED you have to keep in mind: LED is not a full spectrum lighting source, so most of them don't render skin tone correctly (even with high CRI). Arri LED and Mole Richardson are two companies that produce LEDs that can render skin tone pretty accurately.

In conclusion, I will say buying a lighter meter will definitely be the first step, and knowing how to measure the light and planning the lighting, is what will separate the professional and the amateur.

Good luck!

March 20, 2016 at 11:10PM, Edited March 20, 11:10PM


Sam, I agree with you to a large extend. Read some books! Read many books. Learn the techniques, tools and concepts. EVERTHING is about understanding concepts. You can apply the same principles of lighting with hundreds of different tools if you understand the fundamentals. Light meter can be helpful to see a measurable ratio, but seeing it for yourself and being able to distinguish the dynamics of cinematic lighting within a scene to the naked eye is an incredible feeling. Use your camera and film everything. Light a scene with whatever you have then do it again in a different style. Look at Blaine Brown's cinematography and lighting. Read Hairy Box's set Lighting technicians handbook along with Michael Uva's grip book. Understand the tools available and there applications but all keep in mind the fundamentals so you can make magic with anything and everything you have access to. Work hard and have fun!

Casey Schmidt

March 21, 2016 at 1:48AM

If you can understand this* ( see below), everything else is a lot easier.

* taken from's thread on learning foot candles.


25 are the frames...

f= t stops or f stops....

s = iso

t= 1/50 if its video...

for films...

E= 1250fe2/s

1250 ... try imagine what does that means....

f = stops on the lens...

s = iso....

for example... if you have a tungsten arri 650 w... (we know 650 is the consumption) not how may foot candles per square meter does it delivers... but as I know it delivers round 52800 fc

LETS know how may foot candles do we need for a ISO/ASA 100 at 1/50 at 2.0

using the first equation...

E= 25(4.0)/2 = 100/2 = 50 FC we need to expose that iso with that speed and that t-stops...

so now that we know that... what else do we need?

lets put the 650w from arri...

to know how much distance do you need the 650 to deliver 50fc we use the next equation...

I= E/De2

I= 52800/32 = 52800/1024 = 51 fc...

so you need to put that 650 at a distance of 32 feet ...

use the data sheet of the light companies...

or use this...

March 21, 2016 at 2:31PM, Edited March 21, 2:32PM


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