How to Use Three Point Lighting
Three-point lighting is a common lighting technique used in visual media such as still photography or film. The term refers to the 3 lights utilized in the setup: the key light, which illuminates the subject directly; the fill light, which helps soften the harsh shadows created by the key light; and the back light, which provides illumination around the edges of the subject. Learning how to use three-point lighting effectively is a matter of selecting the position, angle, and intensity of each light.
Set Up the Key Light
Position the key light.The key light is the most crucial element in your lighting design and will have the strongest effect on the overall image. The key light should be positioned so that it is aimed more or less directly towards the front of your subject (in the case of portrait photography, this would mean your subject's face). Place the light either slightly to the left or to the right of your camera.
Determine the intensity of the key light.You can adjust the intensity of the light by varying the wattage of the bulb you use or by placing filters or shades in front of the lamp. You should be happy with the overall brightness and contrast of your image when the key light's intensity alone is adjusted, as the other lights produce only subtle adjustments to the image's composition.
Utilize the sun as a key light in an outdoor shot.If you're shooting outdoors, you'll need to accommodate the sun's light into your lighting scheme. The easiest way to do this is by setting up your shot so that the sun is behind your camera and will illuminate the subject directly. In this way the sun acts as your key light, and a separate lamp is not needed.
Set Up the Fill Light
Position the fill light.The fill light's role is to soften or eliminate the sharp shadows created through the use of the key light alone - for instance, the shadow cast by a person's nose onto their cheek. For this reason, the fill light should be positioned at around a 45 degree angle to the key light. If the key light is just to the left of your camera, then consider setting up the fill light just to the right.
Choose a fill light method.If you have the equipment, you can of course use an electric lamp as the fill light. However, for a softer, more diffused, and less expensive method, you can easily use a reflective piece of material as a fill light. White foam board can be used to reflect ambient light and key lighting for use as fill lighting, while aluminum-backed umbrella-style reflectors will reflect a bit more light than foam board.
Check for shadows created by the fill light.The fill light should not be strong enough to create a second set of shadows - its role is only to diffuse the shadows created by the key light. If you have 2 conflicting sets of shadows in your image, reduce the intensity of your fill light.
Set Up the Back Light
Position the back light.The back light's role is to provide a glowing rim of light around your subject that will separate it from the background. For this reason, the back light should generally be positioned directly behind your subject. The best way to keep the lamp out of your camera's shot is to suspend it above your subject and aim it downwards.
Adjust the intensity of the back light to suit your subject.If your subject is very light-colored (for instance, a fair-skinned person in white clothing), you will need very little intensity to your back light. A dark-colored subject will need a much more powerful back light to provide separation against the background, especially if the background is also dark.
Use the sun as a back light in outdoor shots.Just as you can use the sun as a key light, you can employ it as a back light. Position the shot so that the subject's back is to the sun. You can even use a bright aluminum reflector as a key light and a piece of white foam board as a fill light. This type of setup requires no electric light at all!
- Adding a fourth type of light called a background light creates a setup known as 4-point lighting. The background light is aimed at the background to highlight particular elements or to create depth.
- Using blinders or "barn doors" on your back light will keep the light from washing into the camera lens, muting your image's contrast and even creating lens flare.
Video: Photography Lighting like a PRO (Three Point Lighting Tutorial)
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