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Free Practical Lighting Techniques for a Cinematic Look

Zach Ramelan

You don’t need an expensive lighting set up to get a cinematic look. Here are some simple tips to make dramatic lighting with household practicals.

A common misconception among aspiring or soon-to-be filmmakers is that you need a lot of huge, expensive lights to really pull of a professional, cinematic look. That was true once, a very long time ago, but not anymore. In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through a few quick examples of how being creative with simple household items can really elevate your cinematography.

Let’s take a look.

Channel Your Light

Free Practical Lighting Techniques for a Cinematic Look — Channel Your Light

By taping dark household fabrics around an overhead light source you’re able to cone and channel the light so that it eliminates spill on the background. The allows the viewer to focus on your main subject instead of what’s distracting around it.

NOTE: the heat off your light can burn certain fabrics. Be cautious with this technique and monitor your lights after the setup. I recommend utilizing a nonflammable material like tar paper or only using lights that are low heat like fluorescents or LEDs.

Less Is More

Free Practical Lighting Techniques for a Cinematic Look — Less Is More

Remember that to build mood work off of one light rather than 20. If you want a realistic look chances are that’s actually with minimal light. Find one source that you can control and work around that. It’s easier, more realistic and looks way better on screen.

Angle the Light

Free Practical Lighting Techniques for a Cinematic Look — Angle the Light

A crucial key tip for cinematography is that direct light usually looks the worst. You can defuse it by pointing at a white wall or angle it so it makes a much more subtle glow on your subject. Unless it’s necessary to the style or story direct lighting looks unflattering and unnatural.

Be Creative

I find that it’s much easier to expand off of what already exists than trying to over complicate natural lighting. Explore the space look at what’s already there then build. The audience has to believe that the lighting source is realistic to the universe you’re showcasing.

Looking for more lighting tutorials? Check these out.

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