cinematography

Three Point Lighting: Why does it Matter?

Lighting credit: Rhett Miller

Lighting credit: Rhett Miller

There’s a huge focus on “The 80’s look” in films today. It’s often achieved using neon lights casting strong shadows. It’s a cool look, I am a big fan of it but there’s something that also bugs me about how it’s often executed. It lacks motivations.

This is not referring to the motivation of the filmmaker or photographer. Often times, their motivations are clear and inspired by some amazing pop-culture. NERDVANA: The Web Series itself is motivated by comics, movies and other pop-culture.

I am referring to the motivation of light.

When I started making films, I would just blow out an image because I could. I had bought an expensive lighting kit and thought that more lights = more production value. How mistaken I was. My preliminary knowledge of three point lighting had me trying all sorts of things to make sure every inch of the frame was literally “lit AF.” The reason was because I knew how to three point light, I didn’t know why I was three point lighting.

Three Point Lighting is considered the minimum basic lighting for film and photography. it consists of three lights around a subject arranged as such:

  1. Key Light

  2. Back Light

  3. Fill Light

Key Light: This light is the main light that is usually positioned straight on your subject. Don’t make the same mistake as me and go into Vistek asking where they keep their “Key lights”

Back Light: This light is often used to outline your subject and give them shape and depth in the frame. Sometimes referred to as a rim light.

Fill Light: This light, also known as the motivated light, adds a final piece of dynamic range to the frame and literally fills in some of the unintended shadows the key or back lights missed.

Do you need all these lights? Besides a key light, the answer is… no

You, as a story teller, need the number of lights required to motivate the story in your frame. A key light is whatever the main source of light is for your subject. It doesn’t need to be a professional light but an image does need a light, even if it’s natural light. A back light will pop your subject from the background and a fill light will add motivation, but these last two are optional.

The distance of these lights also plays an equally important role, but I’ll get into that in a future post.

Lighting Credit: Rhett Miller

Lighting Credit: Rhett Miller

Going back to motivation for a moment and the lack there of. I would later learn, from the talented cinematographers that have inspired and mentored me, that all light requires motivation, that’s the magic trick of good lighting. A light source in or just outside the frame that can be explained in the narrative of the story. In The Good Survivor, the fire Dylan and Steve share did not emit enough light to their faces but we were able to use it as a motivator for the warm oscillating light used to light them off screen.

There are always exceptions. Indie Horror often has strong shadows out of low budget that work in the genres favor. One of my favorite movies “Creepshow” uses a lot of dynamic lighting that doesn’t always have a light source motivator in the frame; but I would argue that the tone of a horror comic book is plenty of motivation for such stylistic genre piece.

With amazing color grading tools available now, it’s easy to slap on some warm oranges and cool blues and assume that’s good lighting. It’s not, and you can only manipulate the information available, which is why it’s also important to understand your cameras ability to capture light and exposing to allow for optimal dynamic range.

A Key Light that is, or simulates, a sunset
A Fill light from a neon sign across from the subject
And a Back Light from a stop light behind the subject changing from Green, to Yellow, to Red

That’s what should at least come to mind when trying to generate “the 80s look”

Speaking of “80’s Look” Check out our latest Cosplay Video from the 2019 Calgary Expo featuring the song “Video Game Champion” by GUNSHIP

Full Frame VS Crop: Which is the better sensor?

Sensor-size-comparison.png

I’m glad my first DSLR camera was not a full frame.

The first DSLR camera I purchased was a Canon Rebel XTi. It could not take video and it had a 1.6x APS-C sensor. I cut my teeth on this camera and it served me well as a photographer. Many of its features were automatic and I had to guess my way through trial and error when my pictures came out blurry, as well as over or under exposed. As my skills developed through each trial, so did my comfort with disabling the automatic features of my camera.

Soon, I began to not only understand how to use shutter speed, f-stop and ISO settings but more importantly, I began to understand the limitations of my camera. What ISO settings I should not use even though my camera could go up to 5600 ISO. I also learned the difference between my EF-S kit lens and the 50mm EF lens I had purchased afterwards.

I was ready to upgrade.

At this time, having a crop sensor meant two things for photographers/ videographers

  1. Crop sensors are not good for low light

  2. You are amplifying your lens.

For myself, a crop sensor meant I could not shoot photos over 1600 ISO without sensor noise and that my 50mm lens was actually the equivalent of an 80mm lens (50mm X 1.6 = 80mm).

To shoot with my Rebel XTi I needed to be taking pictures with plenty of light and would have to take a few extra steps back to get the framing I wanted. This made me realize I wanted a full frame camera as my next purchase.

Wanted… not needed.

Both limitations of my camera could be overcome by my growing experience. This is important to note as too many photographers and filmmakers place their abilities on the tools they use. A tool is only as good as the person using it. It’s about growing the skill needed to take a compelling picture or tell an engaging story.

The times, they have changed. The Lumix GH5 is an example of a mirrorless camera with a cropped sensor (micro 4/3) that can compete with full frame cameras in low light performance and image quality. The industry seems to be heading that direction as even full frame cameras are becoming mirrorless. The reasons why I upgraded to a full frame camera are not the same reasons someone may upgrade today.

So which is better? It depends.

  • If you have already invested in expensive glass of a certain mount like myself, you will want to stick with cameras that share the same mount as the glass you’ve invested in or be willing to purchase a speedbooster but will still need to consider the amplification.

  • If you’re starting out, do what I did, go with the most affordable option that meets your current needs as a storyteller and then upgrade once you feel the tool you are using has reached its limitations compared to your skill.

What else is new with M’Guphynn Media? Check out our latest Vlog and find out