Top 8 Goals of Lighting Your Scene

10GoalsLighting00I’m sure you’ve heard this, “If you light it right…” or “With good lighting, the scene will…” What does that mean? What is “good” lighting?
Lighting has nearly infinite permutations and variations. There is certainly no one “right” way to light a scene. As a result, there is no chance that we can just make a simple list of “proper” lighting techniques. What we can do, however, is try to identify what it is we want lighting to do for us. What jobs does it perform for us? What do we expect of “good” lighting? Starting this way, we have a better chance of evaluating when lighting is working or us and when it is falling short. Naturally, these are generalizations. There are always exceptions, as there are in all aspects of filmmaking — staging, use of the lens, exposure, continuity, editorial, and so on.

What are the Goals of Good Lighting?

So what is it we want lighting to do for us? There are many jobs, and they include creating an image that has:
• A full range of tones and gradations of tone
• Color control and balance
• Shape and dimension in the individual subjects
• Separation: subjects stand out against the background
• Depth and dimension in the frame
• Texture
• Mood and tone: emotional content
• Exposure

Can you think two more goals of lighting to make this a Top Ten list?


Blain Brown began in New York as a commercial still photographer before starting in the film business. After working as a gaffer, he became a cinematographer doingBlainBrownCinematographyCover primarily commercials and music videos. After completing his first feature film, he moved to Los Angeles where he has been Director of Photography on 14 feature films as well as national commercials, promotional films, industrials, music videos and documentaries. As a Director of Photography specializing in features and commercials, he is now based in Los Angeles. His books include A Sense of Place; Motion Picture and Video Lighting and The Filmmaker's Pocket Reference.

Excerpted from Cinematography, 2nd Edition by Blain Brown © 2011 Elsevier.  All rights Reserved