Key light

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A typical three-point setup with a shoulder or back-side lamp to create contrast between the background and center object so as to give a three-dimensional appearance 3 point lighting.svg
A typical three-point setup with a shoulder or back-side lamp to create contrast between the background and center object so as to give a three-dimensional appearance

The key light is the first and usually most important light that a photographer, cinematographer, lighting cameraman, or other scene composer will use in a lighting setup. The purpose of the key light is to highlight the form and dimension of the subject. The key light is not a rigid requirement; omitting the key light can result in a silhouette effect. Many key lights may be placed in a scene to illuminate a moving subject at opportune moments.

Photographer Person who makes photographs

A photographer is a person who makes photographs.

Cinematographer chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film

A cinematographer or director of photography is the chief over the camera and light crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece and is responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image. The study and practice of this field is referred to as cinematography.

Silhouette image

A silhouette is the image of a person, animal, object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black, with its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the hole is typically presented on a light background, usually white, or none at all. The silhouette differs from an outline, which depicts the edge of an object in a linear form, while a silhouette appears as a solid shape. Silhouette images may be created in any visual artistic media, but were first used to describe pieces of cut paper, which were then stuck to a backing in a contrasting colour, and often framed.


Position of camera

The key light can be "hard" (focused) or "soft" (diffused), and depending on the desired setup can be placed at different angles relative to the subject. When part of the most common setup—three-point lighting—the key light is placed at a 30–60° angle (with the camera marking 0 degrees). In addition to the horizontal angle, the key light can be placed high or low producing different effects. The most common vertical position for the key light is at a 30° angle (i.e. slightly above the eye line; the nose should not cast a shadow on the lips).

Three-point lighting Lightning technique

Three-point lighting is a standard method used in visual media such as theatre, video, film, still photography and computer-generated imagery. By using three separate positions, the photographer can illuminate the shot's subject however desired, while also controlling the shading and shadows produced by direct lighting.

Camera Optical device for recording images

A camera is an optical instrument to capture still images or to record moving images, which are stored in a physical medium such as in a digital system or on photographic film. A camera consists of a lens which focuses light from the scene, and a camera body which holds the image capture mechanism.

A key light positioned low appears to distort the actor's features, since most natural or ambient light is normally overhead. A dramatic effect used in horror or comedy cinematography is a key light illuminating the face from below. A high key light will result in more prominent cheek bones and long nose shadows. Marlene Dietrich was famous for insisting that her key light be placed high.

Available light

In photography and cinematography, available light or ambient light refers to any source of light that is not explicitly supplied by the photographer for the purpose of taking photos. The term usually refers to sources of light that are already available naturally or artificial light already being used. It generally excludes flashes, although arguably flash lighting provided by other photographers shooting simultaneously in the same space could be considered available light. Light sources that affect the scene and are included in the actual frame are called practical light sources, or simply practicals.

Cinematography Art of motion picture photography

Cinematography is the art of motion-picture photography and filming either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as film stock.

Marlene Dietrich German-American actress and singer

Marie Magdalene "Marlene" Dietrich was a German-American actress and singer. Throughout her long career, which spanned from the 1910s to the 1980s, she continually reinvented herself.

Lighting a scene

Using just a key light results in a high-contrast scene, especially if the background is not illuminated. A fill light decreases contrast and adds more details to the dark areas of an image. An alternative to the fill light is to reflect existing light or to illuminate other objects in the scene, which in turn further illuminate the subject.

Fill light

In television, film, stage, or photographic lighting, a fill light may be used to reduce the contrast of a scene to match the dynamic range of the recording media and record the same amount of detail typically seen by eye in average lighting and considered normal. From that baseline of normality using more or less fill will make shadows seem lighter or darker than normal which will cause the viewer to react differently, by inferring both environmental and mood clues from the tone of the shadows.

The key light does not have to directly illuminate the subject: it may pass through various filters, screens, or reflectors. Light passing through tree leaves, window panes, and other obstacles can make a scene more visually interesting, as well as cue the audience to the location of the subject. The key light also does not have to be white light—a colored key (especially when used with fill or back lighting of other colors) can add more emotional depth to a scene than full white alone. In mixed indoor/outdoor daytime scenes, sunlight may appear to be a warm white, and indoor lighting to be a neutral or artificially-toned white. By contrast, moonlight appears to be cooler than indoor lighting.

Lighting choices

In many cases, the key light is a stage light for indoor scenes, or sunlight for outdoors. A lighting instrument may also be used outdoors to supplement sunlight or as the primary light source with sunlight or skylight serving as fill lighting. Actual lamps, lighting fixtures, can serve as key lights, provided they are of sufficient brightness. They may also appear within the scene as props — in which case they are called "practicals." Similarly, fire, candles and other natural sources of light can be used

Sunlight portion of the electromagnetic radiation given off by the Sun

Sunlight is a portion of the electromagnetic radiation given off by the Sun, in particular infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light. On Earth, sunlight is filtered through Earth's atmosphere, and is obvious as daylight when the Sun is above the horizon. When the direct solar radiation is not blocked by clouds, it is experienced as sunshine, a combination of bright light and radiant heat. When it is blocked by clouds or reflects off other objects, it is experienced as diffused light. The World Meteorological Organization uses the term "sunshine duration" to mean the cumulative time during which an area receives direct irradiance from the Sun of at least 120 watts per square meter. Other sources indicate an "Average over the entire earth" of "164 Watts per square meter over a 24 hour day".

Fire Rapid oxidation of a material

Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition.

See also

High-key lighting

High-key lighting is a style of lighting for film, television, or photography that aims to reduce the lighting ratio present in the scene. This was originally done partly for technological reasons, since early film and television did not deal well with high contrast ratios, but now is used to suggest an upbeat mood. It is often used in sitcoms and comedies. High-key lighting is usually quite homogeneous and free from dark shadows. The terminology comes from the higher balance in the ratio between the key light and the fill light in a traditional three point lighting setup.

Low-key lighting

Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only a key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector.

Stage lighting instrument device that emits light to illuminate performer

Stage lighting instruments are used in stage lighting to illuminate theatrical productions, concerts, and other performances taking place in live performance venues. They are also used to light television studios and sound stages.

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Daylighting the practice of placing windows or other openings

Daylighting is the practice of placing windows, skylights, other openings, and reflective surfaces so that sunlight can provide effective internal lighting. Particular attention is given to daylighting while designing a building when the aim is to maximize visual comfort or to reduce energy use. Energy savings can be achieved from the reduced use of artificial (electric) lighting or from passive solar heating. Artificial lighting energy use can be reduced by simply installing fewer electric lights where daylight is present or by automatically dimming/switching off electric lights in response to the presence of daylight – a process known as daylight harvesting.

Lighting deliberate use of light to achieve a practical or aesthetic effect

Lighting or illumination is the deliberate use of light to achieve practical or aesthetic effects. Lighting includes the use of both artificial light sources like lamps and light fixtures, as well as natural illumination by capturing daylight. Daylighting is sometimes used as the main source of light during daytime in buildings. This can save energy in place of using artificial lighting, which represents a major component of energy consumption in buildings. Proper lighting can enhance task performance, improve the appearance of an area, or have positive psychological effects on occupants.

Contre-jour photographic technique

Contre-jour is a photographic technique in which the camera is pointing directly toward a source of light and an equivalent technique of painting. It was also used in paintings prior to its use in photography, where the shadows would fall to the left on the left, to the right on the right and forward in the lower centre. The edges of the subject would show surprising colour effects.

Grip (job) occupation in film and TV production

In the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom, grips are technicians in the filmmaking and video production industries. They constitute their own department on a film set and are directed by a key grip. Grips have two main functions. The first is to work closely with the camera department to provide camera support, especially if the camera is mounted to a dolly, crane, or in an unusual position, such as the top of a ladder. Some grips may specialize in operating camera dollies or camera cranes. The second main function of grips is to work closely with the electrical department to create lighting set-ups necessary for a shot under the direction of the director of photography.

Grips' responsibility is to build and maintain all the equipment that supports cameras. This equipment, which includes tripods, dollies, tracks, jibs, cranes, and static rigs, is constructed of delicate yet heavy duty parts requiring a high level of experience to operate and move. Every scene in a feature film is shot using one or more cameras, each mounted on highly complex, extremely expensive, heavy duty equipment. Grips assemble this equipment according to meticulous specifications and push, pull, mount or hang it from a variety of settings. The equipment can be as basic as a tripod standing on a studio floor, to hazardous operations such as mounting a camera on a 100 ft crane, or hanging it from a helicopter swooping above a mountain range.

Good Grips perform a crucial role in ensuring that the artifice of film is maintained, and that camera moves are as seamless as possible. Grips are usually requested by the DoP or the camera operator. Although the work is physically demanding and the hours are long, the work can be very rewarding. Many Grips work on both commercials and features.

High-intensity discharge lamp Type of electric lamp/bulb

High-intensity discharge lamps are a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp which produces light by means of an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent fused quartz or fused alumina arc tube. This tube is filled with noble gas and often also contains suitable metal or metal salts. The noble gas enables the arc's initial strike. Once the arc is started, it heats and evaporates the metallic admixture. Its presence in the arc plasma greatly increases the intensity of visible light produced by the arc for a given power input, as the metals have many emission spectral lines in the visible part of the spectrum. High-intensity discharge lamps are a type of arc lamp.

Fill flash photographic technique

Fill flash is a photographic technique used to brighten deep shadow areas, typically outdoors on sunny days, though the technique is useful any time the background is significantly brighter than the subject of the photograph, particularly in backlit subjects. To use fill flash, the aperture and shutter speed are adjusted to correctly expose the background, and the flash is fired to lighten the foreground.

Luminous paint

Luminous paint or luminescent paint is paint that exhibits luminescence. In other words, it gives off visible light through fluorescence, phosphorescence, or radioluminescence. There are three types of luminous paints.

A background light is used to illuminate the background area of a set. The background light will also provide separation between the subject and the background. Many lighting setups follow a three-point lighting or four-point lighting setup. Four-point lighting is the same as three-point lighting with the addition of a background light. In a four-point lighting, the background light is placed last and is usually placed directly behind the subject and pointed at the background. By adding a background light to a set, filmmakers can add a sense of depth to shots.

This article contains a list of cinematic techniques that are divided into categories and briefly described.

Rembrandt lighting lighting technique that is used in studio portrait photography

Rembrandt lighting is a lighting technique that is used in studio portrait photography. It can be achieved using one light and a reflector, or two lights, and is popular because it is capable of producing images which appear both natural and compelling with a minimum of equipment. Rembrandt lighting is characterized by an illuminated triangle under the eye of the subject on the less illuminated side of the face. It is named for the Dutch painter Rembrandt, who often used this type of lighting.

Hard and soft light

Hard and soft light are different types of lighting that are commonly used in photography and filmmaking. Soft light refers to light that tends to "wrap" around objects, casting diffuse shadows with soft edges. Soft light is when a light source is large relative to the subject; hard light is when the light source is small relative to the subject.

Backlighting (lighting design) lighting

In lighting design, backlighting is the process of illuminating the subject from the back. In other words, the lighting instrument and the viewer face each other, with the subject in between. This creates a glowing effect on the edges of the subject, while other areas are darker. The backlight can be a natural or artificial source of light. When artificial, the back light is usually placed directly behind the subject in a 4-point lighting setup. A back light, which lights foreground elements from the rear, is not to be confused with a background light, which lights background elements.

Portrait photography photography genre

Portrait photography or portraiture in photography is a photograph of a person or group of people that captures the personality of the subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses. A portrait picture might be artistic, or it might be clinical, as part of a medical study. Frequently, portraits are commissioned for special occasions, such as weddings or school events. Portraits can serve many purposes, from usage on a personal Web site to display in the lobby of a business.

Reflector (photography) reflective surface used to redirect light towards a given subject or scene, used in photography

In photography and cinematography, a reflector is an improvised or specialised reflective surface used to redirect light towards a given subject or scene.

Photographic lighting illumination of scenes to be photographed

Photographic lighting is the illumination of scenes to be photographed. A photograph simply records patterns of light, color, and shade; lighting is all-important in controlling the image. In many cases even illumination is desired to give an accurate rendition of the scene. In other cases the direction, brightness, and color of light are manipulated for effect. Lighting is particularly important for monochrome photography, where there is no color information, only the interplay of highlights and shadows. Lighting and exposure are used to create effects such as low-key and high-key.