The 25 Best Film Lighting Books for 202018 min read

books on using film lights and cinematography
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Reading books on film lighting and cinematography is an amazing way to learn the skills you need for lighting your next film project. Nothing beats actually doing the work, but learning from the masters will give you a solid foundation.

Reading and learning from a book, then going and trying to do what you just learned will help you grow as a cinematographer or lighting designer. You should work on it every day. Sharpen your skills and absorb as much knowledge as possible.

Our book list is for beginners wanting to learn the basics, but also works for professionals who want to learn new techniques.

1. Cinematography: Theory and Practice – Blaine Brown

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The world of cinematography has changed more in the last few years than it has since in 1929, when sound recording was introduced. New technology, new tools and new methods have revolutionized the art and craft of telling stories visually.

While some aspects of visual language, lighting and color are eternal, shooting methods, workflow and cameras have changed radically. Even experienced film artists have a need to update and review new methods and equipment. These change affect not only the director of photography but also the director, the camera assistants, gaffers, and digital imaging technicians.

Purchase on Amazon →

2. Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution

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A friendly, hands-on training manual and reference for lighting technicians in motion picture and television production, this handbook is the most comprehensive guide to set lighting available. It provides a unique combination of practical detail with a big-picture understanding of lighting, technology, safety, and professionalism, essential to anyone doing motion picture lighting.

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3. The Grip Book

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The Grip Book, Fourth Edition has been updated and revised to be even more valuable to professional grips-the “jack-of-all-trades and master of all” on a film or video set.

Grips install, set up, maintain, and ensure the safety of all equipment needed on a set, such as lighting stands, cameras, and any specialty equipment needed for a shoot. This new edition contains the latest information about the latest equipment and has been updated to reflect changes in the industry including CGI screen setup and ‘cleaning up the perms.’

The Grip Book also teaches readers how to become a professional grip and have a successful career, and will continue to be an indispensable learning tool and reference for grips of all experience levels.

Known as “the bible” for grips on TV and movie sets, professionals know it and love this well-respected and heavily-illustrated classic from a knowledgeable and well-known author and grip.

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4. Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image

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Lighting for Cinematography, the first volume in the new CineTech Guides to the Film Crafts series, is the indispensable guide for film and video lighting. Written by veteran gaffer and cinematographer David Landau, the book helps the reader create lighting that supports the emotional moment of the scene, contributes to the atmosphere of the story and augments an artistic style.

Structured to mimic a 14-week semester, the chapters cover such things as lighting for movement, working with windows, night lighting, lighting the three plains of action and non-fiction lighting. Every chapter includes stills, lighting diagrams and key advice from professionals in the field, as well as lighting exercises to help the reader put into practice what was covered.

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5. Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywood’s Cinematographers and Gaffers

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Newly revised and expanded, Film Lighting is an indispensable source book for the aspiring and practicing cinematographer, based on extensive interviews with leading cinematographers and gaffers in the film industry.

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6. Motion Picture and Video Lighting

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Lighting is at the heart of filmmaking. The image, the mood, and the visual impact of a film are, to a great extent, determined by the skill and sensitivity of the director of photography in using lighting. Motion Picture and Video Lighting explores technical, aesthetic, and practical aspects of lighting for film and video. It covers not only how to light, but also why.

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7. Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers

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Through conversations held with fifteen of the most accomplished contemporary cinematographers, the authors explore the working world of the person who controls the visual look and style of a film. This reissue includes a new foreword by cinematographer John Bailey and a new preface by the authors, which bring this classic guide to cinematography, in print for more than twenty-five years, into the twenty-first century.

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8. Placing Shadows, Third Edition: Lighting Techniques for Video Production

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A mix of theory and practical applications, Placing Shadows covers the physical properties of light and the selection of proper instruments for the best possible effect. For the student, advanced amateur, and pros trying to enhance the look of their productions, this book examines the fundamentals and is also a solid reference for tips on better performance.

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9. Painting With Light

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Few cinematographers have had as decisive an impact on the cinematic medium as John Alton. Best known for his highly stylized film noir classics T-Men, He Walked by Night, and The Big Combo, Alton earned a reputation during the 1940s and 1950s as one of Hollywood’s consummate craftsmen through his visual signature of crisp shadows and sculpted beams of light.

No less renowned for his virtuoso color cinematography and deft appropriation of widescreen and Technicolor, he earned an Academy Award in 1951 for his work on the musical An American in Paris.

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10. The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition

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This is the only book that combines conceptual and practical instruction on creating polished and eloquent images for film and video with the technical know-how to achieve them.

Loaded with hundreds of full-color examples, The Filmmaker’s Eye is a focused, easy-to-reference guide that shows you how to become a strong visual storyteller through smart, effective choices for your shots.

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11. American Cinematographer Manual Vol. I

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Known as the “Filmmaker’s bible,” for several generations, one of the world’s most widely used cinema reference books is more comprehensive than ever — moving into the digital side of image capture. Completely re-imagined to reflect the sweeping technological changes that our industry has experienced, this edition of the Manual is vibrant and essential reading, as well as an invaluable field resource, covering subjects such as: A comprehensive breakdown of digital technology terminology The explosion of prosumer cameras in professional use Previsualization 3-D LED lighting fixtures How to use the Academy Color Encoding Specification (ACES) An entirely new section on digital camera prep, and more!

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12. Cinematography (Screencraft Series)

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Cinematography is the first title in the Screencraft Series, a unique venture which aims to unravel for the first time the multi-layered language of film-making, by exploring the fusion of crafts which combine to create the most important art form of the 20th century.

Although the cinematographer or director of photography rarely receives the kind of attention reserved for directors and actors, there is little doubt that this is the key technical role in the process of revealing a story through images. The cinematographers featured in this book encompass three generations of filmmaking and represent a diversity of film cultures. What they have in common is the contribution they have made to a universal cinema heritage and the fact that their work has helped to expand — if not revolutionize — the language of film.

This book, featuring the world’s finest cinematographers, will inspire practicing professionals, students, and movie buffs alike. This beautifully designed and illustrated book speaks in the voices of these cinematographers and through the powerful images they have created for the screen.

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13. The Magic of Light: The Craft and Career of Jean Rosenthal, Pioneer in Lighting for the Modern Stage

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A lighting designer discusses the people and the productions that she has worked with, revealing the use and significance of lighting in plays, operas, musicals, and ballets.

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14. A Shot in the Dark: A Creative DIY Guide to Digital Video Lighting on (Almost) No Budget

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The most significant contribution to film imagery is lighting. Lighting is the key to turning amateur footage into professional stories and presentation. A SHOT IN THE DARK: A CREATIVE DIY GUIDE TO DIGITAL VIDEO LIGHTING ON (ALMOST) NO BUDGET shows that good lighting doesn’t always require expensive or extensive Hollywood hardware. With a little creativity, ingenuity, and some elbow grease, you can create your own lighting arsenal to handle a multitude of situations.

This book will show do-it-yourselfers how to create their own equipment and how best to use it. The first part of the book teaches you about the basics–the fundamentals of light, color, exposure, and electricity–that are the building blocks of lighting. You’ll discover what light is and how to control it. Once you have that foundation, the book will introduce tips, techniques, and hands-on projects that instruct you on how to create your own lighting tools from inexpensive, readily available resources. The only limit to what you can do is your imagination.

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15. Reflections: Twenty-One Cinematographers At Work

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An in-depth examination of the techniques and films of some of the world’s greatest cameramen.

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16. Writing with Light: The Muses

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The volume is a compendium of Storaro’s extraordinary fifty-year career and a tribute to the creative sources of his work, as celebrated through more than 500 illustrations that reflect his singular style.

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17. Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras

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With the next generation of raw cinema cameras you can finally shoot professionally with uncompressed raw motion pictures―without compromising your image or your budget. In Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, Lancaster takes you through the birth of these new cameras and includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Digital Bolex.

He field tests each camera and discusses the importance of shooting in raw and guides you through the raw color grading process so you can create stunning films. Interviews with professionals who have shot documentaries, shorts, and promotionals with these cameras are featured throughout, allowing you to learn field production techniques under real world conditions.

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18. Cinematographer Style- The Complete Interviews, Vol. II

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This book contains 55 of the 110 interviews conducted from 2003-2005 for the feature-length documentary Cinematographer Style. The lessons from these interviews is that there is no textbook for cinematography. It is an art, like painting, writing or composing. No two artists express themselves in exactly the same way. Peter Anderson, ASC Bill Bennett, ASC Gabriel Beristain, ASC Larry Bridges Jonathan Brown, ASC Stephen Burum, ASC Bill Butler, ASC Bobby Byrne, ASC Russell Carpenter, ASC Peter Collister, ASC Ericson Core Dean Cundey, ASC Caleb Deschanel, ASC Ron Dexter, ASC Ernest Dickerson, ASC Richard Edlund, ASC Don Fauntleroy, ASC Steve Fierberg, ASC Michael Goi, ASC Stephen Goldblatt, ASC, BSC Robbie Greenberg, ASC Ernie Holzman, ASC Judy Irola, ASC Mark Irwin, ASC, CSC Johnny Jensen, ASC Francis Kenny, ASC Richard Kline, ASC Fred Koenekamp, ASC Matthew Leonetti, ASC Matthew Libatique, ASC Stephen Lighthill, ASC Bruce Logan, ASC Isidore Mankofsky, ASC Clark Mathis, ASC Rob McLachlan, ASC Chuck Minsky, ASC Kramer Morgenthau, ASC Hiro Narita, ASC Michael Negrin, ASC Sol Negrin, ASC Woody Omens, ASC Daniel Pearl, ASC Wally Pfister, ASC Bob Primes, ASC Tony Richmond, ASC, BSC Pete Romano, ASC Paul Ryan, ASC John Schwartzman, ASC Dante Spinotti, ASC Uli Steiger, ASC Tom Stern, ASC Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC Rodney, Taylor, ASC John Toll, ASC Amy Vincent, ASC.

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19. Lighting for Film and Electronic Cinematography

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Provides the basic concepts necessary for designing and implementing lighting setups. Incorporates coverage of lighting, color control, texture, exposure technique, and elements that create image, look, and mood.

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20. The Five C’s of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques

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With the aid of photographs and diagrams, this text concisely presents concepts and techniques of motion picture camerawork and the allied areas of film-making with which they interact with and impact. Included are discussions on: cinematic time and space; compositional rules; and types of editing.

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21. Grammar of the Film Language

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Visual narrative formulas for anyone involved in the film and tape industry.

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22. FilmCraft: Cinematography

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The first in the FilmCraft Series, this beautiful book covers the complex craft of cinematography through discussions with notable cinematographers, like Vittorio Storaro and Christopher Doyle. With stills, photos from the sets, and in-depth exploration of both iconic and contemporary projects, from Psycho and the French New Wave classic The Week End to Chicago and Zhang Yimou’s saga Hero.

Get access to lauded professionals, who provide you with the perspective to think like the pros and create compelling visual stories. Apply the perspective you’ll gain to your own work with practical tips, or just sit back and coast along this thoughtful, behind-the-scenes road.

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23. Behind the Lens: Dispatches from the Cinematographic Trenches

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Filmmaker Jay Holben has been battling in the production trenches for most of his life. For the past 17 years, he’s chronicled his adventures in the pages of American CinematographerDigital VideoVideography, and TV Technology. Now, in Behind the Lens: Dispatches from the Cinematic Trenches, he’s compiled nearly 100 of his best articles on everything from camera technology and lenses to tips and techniques for better lighting. Whether you’re making independent films, commercials, music videos, documentaries, television shows, event videos, or industrials, this full color collection provides the tools you need to take your work to the next level and succeed in the world of digital motion imaging.

Featured topics include:

*Tech, including the fundamentals of how digital images are formed and how they evolved to match the look of a film, as well as image compression and control

*Optics, providing a thorough examination of lenses and lens interchangeability, depth of field, filters, flare, quality, MTF, and more

*Cameras, instructing you in using exposure tools, ISO, white balance, infrared, and stabilizers

*Lighting, featuring advice on using lighting sources and fixtures and how to tackle common lighting problems

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24. The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age: Fifth Edition

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The fifth edition of the authoritative guide to producing, directing, shooting, editing, and distributing your video or film. Whether you aspire to be a great filmmaker yourself or are looking for movie gifts, this comprehensive guide to filmmaking is the first step in turning a hobby into a career.

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25. Understanding Cinematography

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Cinematography is the art and craft of visualizing and recording the moving image. The cinematographer therefore has to use their technical and creative skills to photographically capture the mood of the film and the vision of the director. Done properly, they add the magic and depth to a film, giving it a defining edge.

This practical book explains the principles behind cinematography, as well as the skills of the cinematographer. Having described the equipment, it looks at how to interpret the script and advises on how to find a visual style. Written by a respected cinematographer, it also explains the roles of the camera crew and the importance of working as a team.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re new to film lighting, reading these books will get you heading in the right direction. Even if you’re a seasoned cinematographer, these books have something to offer.

Applying what you’ve learned will always take you further than just reading, so make sure you find a way to work on projects – even if you have to do them from your own home.

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2 Responses

  1. Hey- hope you can look at my book Shaping Light for Video in the Age of LEDs 2nd edition (2020) Routledge Press for possible inclusion the next time you refresh this list of books about lighting. Available on Amazon, B&N, the Routledge site, & Student Filmmakers.

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