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Artificial lighting in film: Three basics to know

Film wouldn't exist without film lighting. Lighting is essential to cinematic storytelling, akin to both a script and a subject. Filmmakers have continuously explored various film lighting techniques since the film came into play. In this case, artificial lighting gives them more flexibility and creativity in lighting effects. In this article, we will focus on some basics, talking about what is artificial lighting in film, what are the types of light sources, and what are its pros and cons.

COLBOR offers artificial lighting in film, making it simple to film at night.

What is artificial light in film?

Artificial light includes all non-natural light sources, ranging from flashes and streetlights to indoor lighting and other human-made illuminations. It's commonly mistaken with ambient light, which can include these artificial sources. Strictly speaking, the only truly non-artificial light sources are sunlight, moonlight, and starlight. Some filmmakers might argue that using reflectors to manipulate natural light keeps it within the realm of natural lighting.

What are the types of artificial light sources in film?

Tungsten, HMI, fluorescent, and LED lights are four common artificial light sources used in film production.


Tungsten lighting, often referred to as incandescent or quartz halogen, has been a staple in filmmaking for decades. It produces a warm, natural-looking light that closely resembles daylight, making it versatile for both indoor and outdoor shoots. Tungsten lights are available in various wattages and sizes, offering filmmakers flexibility in creating the desired lighting setups. However, they generate significant heat and consume more power compared to LED alternatives. They can also be fragile and require careful handling due to their delicate filaments. Despite these drawbacks, tungsten lights remain valued for their affordability, color temperature consistency, and the quality of light they produce on film.


  • Excellent color rendering for natural skin tones and colors.
  • Versatile with various types and sizes available.
  • More affordable compared to LEDs.
  • Maintains consistent color temperature.


  • Produces significant heat.
  • Higher power consumption.
  • Fragile and requires careful handling.
  • Limited dimming range compared to LEDs.


HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium-Arc Iodide) lights are widely used in filmmaking for their powerful, daylight-balanced illumination. This type of artificial lighting in film produces a crisp, blue-white light that closely resembles natural daylight, making it ideal for outdoor shoots or simulating daylight conditions indoors. HMIs are renowned for their efficiency in generating intense light output while consuming less power compared to tungsten lights. They come in various wattages and sizes, including robust Fresnels and compact par fixtures, offering filmmakers versatility in achieving desired lighting effects. Despite being more expensive than tungsten alternatives, HMIs are favored for their ability to produce high-quality light suitable for capturing intricate details and vibrant colors in film.


  • Powerful daylight-balanced light ideal for outdoor and daylight simulations.
  • Efficient with high light output and lower power consumption.
  • Versatile with various wattages and fixture types available.
  • Produces crisp, vibrant colors suitable for detailed filming.


  • Higher initial cost compared to tungsten lights.
  • Requires careful handling due to heat generation.
  • Bulky and heavier than some other lighting options.
  • Requires accessories like ballasts for operation, adding to setup complexity.

Fluorescent lights

Fluorescent lights in filmmaking are valued for their ability to provide soft, even illumination over a large area, which is particularly useful for creating a consistent look across a scene. However, filmmakers must be mindful of the color quality, as fluorescent lighting can sometimes result in muddy skin tones. The choice between warm and cold lights allows directors to match the lighting to the desired mood and atmosphere of the film.


  • Soft, even illumination over large areas.
  • Affordable and easily transported.
  • Adaptable to different shooting environments.
  • Low power consumption and eco-friendly.


  • Can result in muddy skin tones.
  • Requires careful consideration of color quality.
  • May need to be adjusted for desired mood and atmosphere.

LED light

LED lights in filmmaking are celebrated for their energy efficiency and longevity, making them a sustainable choice for set lighting. They offer high color accuracy and can be precisely controlled for various scenes, enhancing visual storytelling. Additionally, their portability and flexibility allow for creative lighting setups. However, they may require a higher initial investment compared to traditional lighting options.


  • Cost-effective and energy-efficient.
  • Low heat emission, making them safer to handle.
  • There is portable LED video light that can be battery-operated.


  • May have a distasteful color cast from cheaper models.
  • Can produce incoherent colors and unwanted shadows.
  • Cheaper LEDs might cause flicker when batteries are low.

What are its pros and cons?

Using artificial lighting in film gives you more control over film lighting and ensures creative expression. However, it also requires more gears and setup time for perfect lighting effects.


Here are four main benefits of artificial lighting in filmmaking:

Control: Artificial lighting allows filmmakers to have precise control over the intensity, direction, color, and quality of light. This control is crucial for creating specific moods, emphasizing certain elements in the frame, and achieving consistency across different shots.

Flexibility: Unlike natural light, which is variable and dependent on weather conditions and time of day, artificial lighting provides filmmakers with the flexibility to shoot at any time and in any location. This is particularly important for indoor shoots or when shooting at night.

Consistency: Artificial lighting setups can be replicated consistently throughout filming sessions, ensuring that each shot maintains the desired look and feel. This consistency is essential for maintaining the visual continuity of a scene or film.

Creative Expression: Lighting is a powerful tool for enhancing storytelling and conveying emotions. With artificial lighting, filmmakers can experiment with different lighting techniques such as high-key or low-key lighting, chiaroscuro effects, and various lighting patterns to visually support the narrative and enhance the audience's engagement.

These benefits make artificial lighting a fundamental aspect of modern filmmaking, enabling filmmakers to achieve their artistic vision with precision and creativity.

Cons of using artificial lighting in film

While artificial light sources provide enhanced control during photo shoots, they necessitate additional equipment and setup time. Unlike natural sunlight, artificial lighting incurs costs, even with DIY alternatives like candles or desk lamps. Professional-grade artificial lights require secure placement on light stands and may involve accessories such as umbrellas, beauty dishes, and softboxes for modification. Depending on your desired lighting effects, multiple artificial light sources may be necessary to achieve balance. Additional accessories such as batteries, power cables, and plugs are also essential, along with a dedicated studio or space for setup. In essence, artificial lighting introduces numerous complexities to filmmaking, demanding extra time, resources, and practice.