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Filmmaking Tips: How to Create Dramatic Lighting

Joshua Noel

Dramatic lighting doesn’t require expensive equipment and complicated setups. Learn how you can easily create an impressive low-light scene.

There are many ways you can tell a story with dramatic lighting. In this video tutorial, we take a look at several different approaches to help you decide which will work best for your project. Let’s go setup by setup and learn how to create a beautiful composition.


House Lights

Filmmaking Tips: How to Create Dramatic Lighting — House Lights

In our initial shot, the only available light is the tungsten ceiling light. Obviously, this light is not good. In order to create great lighting, you need to be able to control the light. Since we are going for a dramatic low-light look, be sure to turn off any light that is spilling all over your shot.


Motivated Light

I find the best way to light your scene is by defining where your light is coming from — or “motivating” the light. I added a practical lamp that will provide a source for the light in the scene and how we will shape it.


Control Your Light Sources

A good cinematographer makes sure that important elements don’t get blown out. We put a light dimmer on the lamp here to control the exposure.


Enhance Your Light

Since we dimmed the lamp, we lost a lot of the light directed at our subject. So, to add a defined key light, we set an LED panel behind the lamp out of frame left. This added more light back onto our subject, making her stand out from the background.


Creating Lighting Depth

In large rooms, it’s easy to create lighting depth. However, in small spaces, the best way to develop contrast with your lighting, is to create shadows. You can purchase a professional shadow kit or you can create a DIY 4’x4′ PVC frame and use solid tape. Then simply shine light through your cucoloris.


More Than One Way To Create Dramatic Lighting

The examples in our tutorial are just a few ways you can create a dramatic low-light scene. Make sure your lighting helps tell your story, and if you can, always motivate your light from a practical source.


Need More Help with Lighting?

Here are a few lighting-based video tutorials that can help.

Working with Both Low Key and High Key Lighting Styles

Working with Both Low-Key and High-Key Lighting Styles

6 Creative Ways To Light With Gels

6 Creative Ways To Enhance Your Next Film with Gels

How to Control Ambient Light

Learn How To Enhance Your Film with Ambient Light

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