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The Three-Point Lighting in Videos: Why and How?

A three-point lighting technique is one of the oldest lighting techniques used in shooting video. It plays a very important role if you yearn for a well-lit video.

This can provide a remarkable and dynamic image of your subject where it can be seen with more dimensions, giving you more control overshadows. It works great to create a studio type light and is most preferred for many 3D scenes.

It essentially consists of three lights- the key, the fill, and the back. By using these lights, you can have complete control over how the subject is illuminated.

Three-point lighting diagram


Image source

Read More – Video Production Process: An Ultimate Guide (2019 Edition)

How does 3 Point Lighting work?

While at the shoot location, you will often see a lot of lights. Initially, I was also confused as to why these many lights are there. In this Do it yourself series for video making, I will guide you through the 3 point lighting for video.

Key light

Many times, I have considered using this light solely as it is sufficient in most cases. The key light is a primary light and is used to bring direct light to your subject so that it is well lightened in the shot while filming.

It should not be placed directly in front of the subject, but placed about 45 degrees to the subject, either left or right. This light will help you attain outlining shadows on the face, which would otherwise be lost if the light were on a parallel axis.

Fill light

It is used to cover up the dark side of your subject and helps you control the overall feel of your shot, conferring to the extent of light or dimness to fill the light. Using the light brighter will give your subject a more even look while a dim fill light will give you more of a film-noir, harsh type of shadow.

Fill light is normally of the same aspect as the key light in terms of bulb size and wattage. It is indeed a reaction to the key light and its position will completely depend on the function of the fill including the shadow it is creating.

This light is usually placed at a nearly 45-degree angle on the opposite side of the camera, which is at a level with the face of your subject.


It is also known as the rim light or shoulder light and will help add another dimension by putting the additional element to the image of your subject by pushing him/her off from the background.

It is placed at 45 degrees off the axis and shines down upon your subject. This light should be placed behind your subject pointed at the back of their neck.

It should be high enough to be out of the frame and watch out for light, it should not be too bright, but should be at least as bright as the key light.

Here are a few tips to make the best out of 3 point lighting

  • As a beginner, start using the one light at a time and not all three light altogether. For instance, add the key light first and look at it both bare and diffused followed by adding the fill light.
  • Give some space between your subject and background, not just for light, but to give some distance in the form of an out-of-focus area that is formed with a wide f-stop and a long lens.
  • If you are trying to save up money and don’t want to use a separate light as a fill light, then you can simply use something that reflects light from the key light and bounces the light back toward the subject.
  • The key and the fill should be more diffused than the rim.
  • To keep the light focussed on the back of the head and shoulder, you can cover the rim lightly with a grid or a snoot.
  • You can also use a reflector (cardboard, homemade tinfoil, a piece of foam core and large collapsible disks) instead of fill light.
  • You might not have to use the key light all the time as you can also use direct sunlight or window light as your key.

A good lighting set-up can make your video look clean and professional. Even if you just need to illuminate a single subject or create a still image, three-point lighting is an incredible source to do so.

Remember, three-point lighting is a beginning and is a basic practice from which many other types of video lighting develop. Now that you are familiar with three-point lighting, the next recommended step is to try it on your own in your next project.

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