Different Types of Lighting for Film

By Rahul Nair
In Lighting
Mar 26th, 2015

Filmmaking is telling stories with pictures or painting with light. Lighting is a very important aspect of storytelling, as it creates a full range of emotions and tones even if the subject doesn’t move. So, here’s some of the basic types of lighting that most of the cinematographer focus on.

1. Key Light: Key light is the main light or predominant light on people or subjects to lit up a scene. If a person has only one light on him or her, that by definition the key light. It is the light that gives shape, form, and definition to the subject.

2. Fill Light: Fill light is used to fill in the shadows that are not lit by the key light, in other words any light that balances the key light is referred to as the fill light. Lighting can be described in terms of the key/fill ratio.

3. Backlight: The light that hits a person or objects from behind and above is called backlight or also be called a hair light or shoulder light.

4. Kicker and Rims: A kicker is a light that grazes along an actor’s cheek on the fill side from behind. Kickers are sometimes called 3/4 backlight.

A rim is similar to a kicker but doesn’t come around onto the side of the face so much. It is more for creating a shape-defining outline.

5. Eyelight: A very special type of fill is the eyelight. It can be created  by reflecting anything into the eye, sometimes a key light is enough to create a nice reflection or you could use a Dedo, or a LED Micro Litepanels, or a bare lightbulb, or a Kino Miniflo on the matte box, or a small Chinese Lantern hanging right over the lens, or under it, etc.

6. Topper: Light coming directly overhead and high enough to get over the head and onto the face and nose is called a top light.

7. Hard Light: The light from the sun or other lighting sources such as a Fresnel that creates sharp, well-defined shadows.

8. Soft Light: The light from a large source that creates soft, ill-defined shadows or no shadows at all are soft lights.

Low Key Lighting

Low Key Lighting

9. Ambient Light or Available Light: The light which already exists at the location, that may be natural light i.e. sun, sky, overcast day or artificial lights like street light, overhead fluorescent’s.

10. Practicals: Practical’s are those lights which can be used as a prop in the scene like table lamps, floor lamps, sconces and so on. All the practical lamps have a dimmer on them for fine tuning control; small dimmers for this purpose are called hand squeezers.

11. Upstage: Part of the scene on the other side of the actors, opposite the side the camera is on.

12. Downstage: Downstage is the side the camera is on. Comes from theatre when stages were sacked upstage was the part farther away the audience.

13. High Key: Lighting that is bright and fairly shadow less with lots of fill light which are often used in fashion and beauty commercials.

14. Low Key: Lighting that is dark and shadowy with little or no fill light. It can described as having a high key/fill ratio.

15. Bounce Light: Light that is reflected off from something like a wall, the ceiling, a white or neutral surface, a silk, or anything else.

16. Motivated Lighting: The light in a scene which appears to have a source such as a window, a lamp, a fireplace and so on. In some cases the light will come from a source visible in the scene and in some cases, it will only appear to come from a source that is visible in the scene.


Rahul Nair loves everything about Cinema, Photography, Cinematography and likes Journalism.