Lighting 101 – The DP’s Playbook

My Life as a Cinematographer, by Graham Futerfas


Like any good football coach, most DP’s have a basic Playbook they use when it comes to lighting.  Of course, everyone’s got a different style and likes to mix it up, but there are things that we know work well and light positions that we can always fall back on.

If you’re interested in learning the fundamentals of how to light a scene, here’s a quick summary of concepts Cinematographers often think about.

Many DP’s like to light the setbackground first and then start applying these rules on Key, Fill and Backlights.  For instance, if there are practical lamps or windows, we’ll light for those first before setting the lights for the actors.  We might then work with the director to block the actors into better lighting and composition positions.  Sometimes we want to take the light off the actors, ‘Un-Light’ them, or make the lighting feel less staged. …

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