4 Cinematic Lighting Techniques Explained5 min read

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The Victory Studios team created a video with a quick rundown of how to light your film to achieve a number of cinematic lighting effects for your next film project.

They put together four different shots to illustrate different lighting techniques, and break down what went into creating those shots.

We covered many of these lighting techniques in our Ultimate Guide to Film Lights, but this video does a great job of actually showing you the setups.

Here’s the transcript from the video in case you’re not able to watch it:

Number One – Film Noir

Here’s a classic ‘film noir’ look.

To create a look like this you’ll need several things: fog blinds and a light to shine through them.

The important thing here is to use a small light to achieve the most defined shadows. To do this you could try using a snoot or just use your light’s barn doors.

Just be sure to narrow and angle the barn doors parallel to the blinds.

Number Two – Swimming Pool Scene

Does your script call for a scene near a swimming pool at night? Don’t worry, you can fake the look

of a swimming pool by making a shallow pool and bouncing light off of it.

To do this in our studio here, we built a four-by-six foot frame out of pipe clamp to tarp to it and filled it with water.

Luckily the water doesn’t need to be very deep to achieve the effect but the shallower the water is, the more frequently you’ll have to stir it to get the ripple effect. Then put a blue gel on your light source and bounce it off the water’s surface onto your subject.

We also placed an RGB Pavo tube just behind the subject to resemble a party going on just off-camera, and we also place the light bouncing off the floor to resemble walkway illumination.

Number Three – Projecting Reflection on Wall

You can use the same pool in a different way by projecting the reflection on a wall as seen in Bladerunner 2049. Naturally you’ll want to swap the blue gel for something in the yellow orange range.

The rest of the lighting for this shot is comprised of a diffused key light and lots of flags to prevent that key light from spilling on the back wall. We also tried another version with a light streak going across the back wall which was just flagged into a beam and gelled with the yellow.

Number Four – Night For Day Lighting

You’ve heard of shooting “Day for Night,” but shooting “Night for Day” can also be useful if you’re losing daylight. Shooting at night or shooting in a studio.

Let me show you what we’ve done here to achieve that effect. The daytime sky features two main things: the Sun and the sky.

To emulate the Sun, we’re using a daylight balanced 2k. But for the sky, we’re using daylight balanced Kinos with blue gel applied to more closely resemble the color of the sky.

To more accurately portray reality, the skylight should be as large of a source as possible and the sunlight should be fairly small. Because the Sun is so much brighter than the sky, we had to run the Kinos at a lower intensity.


Day for Night Lighting

day for night lighting in a film scene in a living room
Photo courtesy of PremiumBeat

The video mentions day for night shooting, and it’s something we haven’t really covered on here before.

In its simplest form, day-for-night lighting is a set of cinematic techniques used to simulate a night scene while filming in daylight. It is often employed when it is too difficult or expensive to actually shoot during nighttime.

Day for night lighting is mostly used for exterior shots, but can also be done for interiors.

Film Noir Lighting

example of film noir lighting with man at desk and lighting shining

Another lighting example featured in the video was Film Noir lighting.

Whether it’s a style or a genre, film noir has a very signature look using high contrast. It might be most known for its use in old black and white movies, but modern filmmakers have adopted this lighting style in many of today’s dramas and thriller movies.

As you can see in the video, this look is easily achieved just by using a hard light source. The only other items you might need are a few flags to shape the light.

Final Thoughts

This video does a good job of showing you how easy it is to get creative with film lighting, and without a lot of expensive gear.

If you’re shooting a scene, play with the lighting setup and see what you come up with. Don’t be afraid to bounce the light off of different materials or surfaces and see what it adds to your shot.

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