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How to Use Three-Point Lighting in Your Marketing Video

Three-point lighting, the most common type of professional lighting, is a videographer’s friend. It provides even, warm illumination on the subject of your marketing video while minimizing shadows. Naturally, three types of light are involved in three-point lighting:

  • Key: The main light is used to provide the greatest level of illumination on your subject. A 500-watt bulb works well.

  • Fill: The secondary light fills in the shadows created by the key light. The fill light can have about half the intensity (approximately 250 watts) of the key light.

  • Back (or “kicker”): The kicker shines from behind, adding a “rim” of light to the subject’s head and shoulders. It also has about half the power (about 250 watts) of the key light.

Three-point lighting accomplishes a neat trick: It “pops” out a two-dimensional image, giving it a third dimension. Three-point lighting gives your shots a sense of depth — your eye can make out distances between your subject and the background.

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If you’re ready to play with lights, follow these four steps to give your scene an even look with some added dimension:

  1. Determine where the subject and the camera are positioned.

    This advice is a good rule of thumb for every lighting setup. The lights should accent the action on the screen, not the other way around. After the director and the camera person (both of whom may be you) have decided where to position the subject and the camera, set your lights.

  2. Set the key light.

    The key light should be to the left of the camera, at an angle roughly 15 to 45 degrees in relation to it. In other words, if the camera is at noon, the key light is between 1:30 and 2:30.

    The light should be elevated so that it shines on the subject at about 45 degrees. (This strategy may be difficult in certain spaces, so just do your best.) Though the light should shine into the face of your subject, you should experiment to avoid creating harsh shadows and weird angles.

  3. Add the fill light.

    The fill light should be set on the opposite side of the camera, also at an angle that’s between 15 and 45 degrees relative to the camera’s position (between 9:30 and 10:30). The light should be about the same height as the key light. Experiment until you have eliminated the major shadows from your subject’s face. Some shadows will remain beneath the subject’s nose and chin, but nothing too dramatic.

  4. Position the back light.

    The back light doesn’t light the background — it lights your subject from behind. The ideal place for the back light is directly behind and high above your subject.

    You can make the light stand out of the frame of the shot and still position the light so that it shines on your subject’s head and shoulders. The light shouldn’t be drawing much attention; maintain only a rim of light outlining your subject and adding a slightly magical glow.

After you position (and reposition) the lights, step back and look at your creation. Better yet, look at it through the viewfinder of your camera. You should see a shot that looks evenly and warmly lit, with a sense of depth to the frame that gives it an engaging and professional look.

Congratulations! You’ve just mastered three-point lighting. In this setup, you can light any simple scene easily and make it look great.

After you’ve grown comfortable with it, you can begin to experiment: Change the heights of the lights, move the back light around, and switch sides for the key and fill lights. Watch how you can create shadows and even change the shape of your subject’s face. You can be quite creative and versatile with this basic layout.

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