Foundations of Lighting Placement
One of the first steps in any lighting setup is to decide
where to place the lights. The most important light is the
Key light, the main light on your subject. The second most
important is the Fill light, which supports the Key light by
filling in shadows that it creates on the subject. The placement
of these 2 lights is the most important part of a basic
The angle that you light your subject from is a creative
choice, depending on what suits the needs of your shot the
best. To begin developing an awareness of how the position
of a light can affect the look of the subject, use these
image players to see the effect that different angles will
Key Light Position
Looking at the image player you will see that the starting position for our Key
light is 6:00, the same angle that the camera shooting the closeups will also
be placed. Lighting from this angle will be flat and straight on, and there will
be very little shadow because the light source is coming from approximately
the same angle as the camera is seeing the subject. Notice the effect on the
subject as the Key light moves around her. A normal position for the Key
light in conventional portrait or talking head type lighting is around 5:00 or
7:00. Which side you chose to light with the Key from depends on which
one looks better on the subjects face for the requirements of the shot.
Lighting from this position is sometimes called the "3/4 position", since the
light is clearly hitting 3/4 of the subjects face.
Some lighting angles are more flattering than others. Some angles are more
dramatic with great contrast between the areas of the face that are lit and
those that are not, such as the 3:00 or 9:00 positions. Some angles, such as
the 12:00 position behind her, are unsuitable for most normal shots, unless
you are interviewing someone in the witness protection program. Keep in
mind that we also had some low level ambient light on, so you could see the
positions in the wide shots. Without that added light, the contrast effects
would be even more dramatic. But, as you can see, there are a number of
creative possibilities that one light can offer, just based on where you position
Fill Light Position
Having chosen a Key light position of 5:00, it is now time to begin experimenting
with the position of the Fill light. Conventionally, the Fill comes
from the opposite side of the Key, since its purpose is to fill in shadows
from the Key. The amount of Fill light you add is a creative decision. Use the image player to move the Fill light around, seeing the
effect of its position when mixed with the Key light on the subject. Notice
that a key position of 5:00 and a Fill position of 7:00 will give a very even,
flat lighting. The effect becomes more dramatic when the Fill light comes
from the 10:00 or 11:00 positions, which can help create a sense of separation
from the background as well.
Note: The relationship of the Key to the Fill is not just based on the position
of the lights, but also on their relative brightness to each other. This brightness
relationship is referred to as the "Contrast Ratio". So a 2 light setup
with a contrast ratio of 3/1 would mean that the Key light is 3 times as
bright as the Fill light. You can quickly change the brightness of a light on
the subject by moving it closer or further away. Keep in mind that this may
affect spill & shadows elsewhere on your set.
Light Stand Height
We've looked at the effects of lighting from different positions circling our
subject. Another variable is the stand height that you choose to light from.
Conventionally, the light would be set at a position a somewhat above the
eyeline of the subject, since we are most accustomed to seeing things lit
from that angle in normal room light. But interesting moods can be created
by experimenting with the height that you set the light stand. Notice the difference
when the light is coming from a height below eye level on the subject.
Lighting from chin level or below was common in old b-rated horror
films, for example.
The height you choose can have ramifications, however. As the wide shot
in the image player will show, the lower the height of the light, the longer
the shadow it throws behind the subject. This can start to show up on the
back wall and create problems. However, a light positioned at forehead
height or above will often create a shadow on the jawline of the subject that
can be more flattering if they have a double chin or wrinkled neck, because
the shadows can help de-emphasize the problem area.
© 2008 Lowel-Light Mfg. All Rights Reserved.