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What is three-point lighting and how do you set it up?

4323 Deep-053022b3-three-point-lighting copyEven if you’re a beginner when it comes to recording videos and still photography, the chances are that you still will have heard of three-point lighting, even if you’re not sure what it means yet.  Three-point lighting is a very basic lighting set-up which often forms the base of even the most complex lighting systems.  Three-point lighting is extremely versatile and can either be used on its own or in conjunction with other lights to create a more complex lighting system.

There are three main components to the three-point lighting system, they are; the key light, the fill light and the back light.

Key light

The key light is the most important light, it is usually the brightest light and it tends to have the most influence on how the end image looks.  When placing your key light it is important to make sure that it is placed to one side of the camera and the subject so that one side of the subject is well lit and the other side is more shadowy.  If you need the lighting to be more dramatic then you can simply move your light further away from the subject.

Fill light

The fill light is the next most important light in your three-point lighting system as it provides the key light with balance and fills in the shadows that the key light creates, it can also be used to create a particular mood.  The fill light is usually placed on the opposite side of the set to your key light and fills in the shadows created by the key light.  It is often set to more of a floodlight setting and is usually softer and not as harsh and bright as the key light.

Back light

The back light is used to give the subject being filmed a three dimensional look and to make it stand out from the background.  The back light is usually placed behind the subject in order to light it from the rear and to better highlight and define the subject.

The combination of all three lights works to create a natural looking and three-dimensional image.  Almost all lighting arrangements will use the three-point set up as the base to light their video or image.  Experiment with these three lights so that you can get a feel of how to adjust each one to create a slightly different effect, once you’ve mastered the basics you can start introducing more lights where necessary.