Cinematography 101 - The Goal Of Lighting & How To Achieve It!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on August 20, 2015

Thanks to Quora, we stumbled upon this great advice by cinematographer Gary Elmer on film lighting and is a must read for aspiring cinematographers.

"The goal of lighting is to create a mood that falls within the camera's physical capability to capture it.  A lot of lighting is building up base lighting and battling contrasty situations.   Which is not to say that you must go to full out war against every blown out window or deep shadow but your goal should always be to as the saying used to be "deliver a big fat neg"  (not drastically over or underexpose the camera negative) now most things are shot digitally but the idea is the same, give the post process as much digital information as is possible.

Avoid multiple shadows on walls and floors from single characters.  This is a combo of light placement, blocking and camera angles.  Nothing says amateur faster than a person with two shadows on the wall right behind them.  This distaste comes from our human upbringing , there is only one sun we expect only one shadow.

Avoid overlighting. 3 point lighting is taught at every film school but it does not mean that you need three physical lights per character.  The backlight may be accomplished by light coming in from a window.  Look at the scene, does it look good on camera? If yes, move on.

Time is always the enemy on set. The role of DP is to budget time and equipment resources to make sure the production gets completed.  There will be lots and lots of compromises, the goal is to hide the work arounds and highlight the important bits.

Read "the 5 C's of Cinematography" it is the best book on the subject.

Shoot as much as you can. Learn editing, you will learn as much about shooting from editing your material than you will from shooting it in the first place.

Gather a bunch of grip stuff.  Reflectors, stands, tape, clamps, extension cords, etc etc.  handy stuff in all circumstances.

Always remember that the story comes first, avoid showboating, make sure your actors look good, be good to the crew, help sound, they need to get in there too,  respect the director, be a team player."


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