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Filmmaking light: Tools and techniques you should know

Filmmaking light is essential in creating film scenes that are stylized and natural-looking. There are different light sources that work for different purposes. You can adopt various lighting techniques to evoke a certain mood, build a bond with the audience, and light up the subtext of a character or situation. In this article, we will talk about four common tools and 12 basic techniques in filmmaking. Just read on and get more information.

The COLBOR CL330 LED studio light is used for filmmaking.

Tools: 4 types of light in filmmaking

Here are four common used light sources in filmmaking and their pros & cons.

Tungsten Lights

Tungsten film lights are made by sending a current through a tungsten filament. The current heats up the filament until it lights, emitting visible light in the 3200 Kelvin color temperature.


  • Great color rendition
  • Affordable
  • Longer lifespan than conventional incandescent
  • No warm up time to full brightness
  • Dimmable brightness


  • Creates much heat
  • High power requirements
  • Sensitive to oil and cannot be touched
  • Risk of explosion

HMI lights

HMIs are top choices when you need high power output in filmmaking. They are also used to simulate sunlight beaming through windows or to add extra light while filming exteriors. HMIs can illuminate large regions at once.


  • High light output
  • Higher energy efficiency
  • High color temperature
  • Flicker free


  • Expensive
  • High power requirement
  • Dims only to around 50%
  • Cannot offer consistent color temperature when dimming
  • Release toxic chemicals if broken


This filmmaking light is created by stacking many tubes next to each other and mixing as many as you need to obtain the appropriate brightness. The good thing is that you may select between warm and cold lights depending on the situation.


  • High efficiency
  • Low power requirement
  • Low cost
  • Long lifespan
  • Create less heat


  • Flicker
  • Some have low CRI & poor color rendition.

LED lights for filmmaking

LED film lights are becoming increasingly used on film sets. You can power them using batteries. This makes them portable and stylish, as no untidy cables are required. You can use LED lights for photography studio and video studio.


  • It offers soft and even lighting
  • High efficiency
  • Low power consumption
  • Can be powered by battery
  • Adjustable at brightness and color temperature
  • Long lifespan
  • Eco-friendly
  • No risk of explosion


  • LEDs with high power output are expensive.
  • Cheap models may cause flickers.

Techniques: 12 basic lighting techniques in filmmaking

There are 12 filmmaking lighting techniques:

  • Key light: It is the main and strongest light source to illuminate the subject or the scene.
  • Fill: It fills in the hard shadows cast by the key light and works to add dimension.
  • Backlight: Backlighting in film is positioned behind the subject to assist define their features and separate them out from the backdrop.
  • Side lighting: As the name suggests, this use filmmaking light to illuminate the subject from the side and concentrates on the features of their face. This achieves a high-contrast dramatic effect.
  • Practical lighting: It is any apparent light source inside the scene, such as lamps, light fixtures, candles, and television sets. They aren't generally powerful enough to illuminate a subject, but they contribute to the cinematic atmosphere of the scene.
  • Hard light: It is a lighting approach with sharp shadows that draws emphasis to a certain performer or section of a scene.
  • Soft light: It is bright and balanced, having no hard shadows.
  • High-key lighting: It is a lighting style that has no shadows and is extremely bright, verging on overexposure. It is prominent in television sitcoms, music videos, and commercials.
  • Low-key lighting: It employs a large number of shadows to create a feeling of mystery or tension.
  • Natural lighting: This makes advantage of and modifies the available light at the shoot area.
  • Motivated lighting: This technique is used to mimic natural light sources in a scene, such as the sun or the moon.
  • Bounce lighting: This uses a reflector to bounce light from a powerful source toward the subject, softening and spreading the light.
  • Illuminating a scene necessitates experimentation. To get the correct combination of highlights and shadows for your films, set up your filmmaking light with different techniques and find out the best one to express what you want to express perfectly.