Lighting Angles Visual Artists Should Know

Whether you’re taking pictures for a paid gig, shooting some test videos, or in the middle of filming your first movie, you’ll need to understand how lights work in regards to your camera. Good lighting can alter the mood of a scene or even completely transform the way a subject looks, so all visual artists should familiarize themselves with different lighting methods.

The first thing videographers should know is the differences between natural lights and artificial lights. Natural light tends to give off a yellowish warm hue, especially right before sunrise and as the sun is setting, that looks really flattering in portraits. In contrast, at noon, when the sun is high up in the middle of the sky it just creates hard shadows, sharp lines, and a really strong contrast that’s really hard to handle with most cameras.

Artificial lights, on the other hand, can be manipulated and colour corrected with the right equipment. Regular artificial light, like most fluorescent lights, of the kind you find in most offices, give off a greenish hue that’s universally unflattering, and they’re also really poor in terms of how much light they give off, so shooting under fluorescent bulbs might result in an underexposed image with a weird green tint to it. This can be corrected with colour gels on lenses, adjusting the white balance of the camera, or in post-production (so long as is a colour issue and not underexposure), so don’t worry too much.

The other kind of artificial lights, the one professional videographers and photographers use, is a bit more complicated and varied. There are thousands of different lights, brands, colours, and shapes. But what’s important is not the light per se, but the angle you use it in to light your subjects. That’s where things get tricky.

Indirect Light to Soften Shadows

This is light that isn’t hitting your subject directly. It might be because it’s right behind a diffuser, a piece of fabric, or even fog. This results in softened lights that hit the subjects with a sort of smooth effect. It looks a bit like the blur tool in Photoshop. Since that softness completely eliminates high contrasts, it becomes easy to correctly expose your images, so you don’t run the risk of accidentally under or overexposing with this kind of lighting.

Front Light for Vibrant Colours

This is the easiest kind of lighting. The light is behind and above the camera, hitting the subject from the front. This help in bringing out the colours of a scene and eliminating shadows almost completely. Be careful of the intensity though, as too harsh a light might not work as well. What you’ll want is a diffuminated effect… and also, make sure you add something to the scene as this kind of lighting tend to have safe and predictable (and, therefore, sometimes boring) effects.

Side Light for Experimenting

The light hits the subject at 90 degrees. With this angle, you can get as creative as you want. Use it to bring out texture, patterns and to emphasize depth. If you want to create a dramatic mood in a portrait, this is definitely the lighting you’ll want to use, though you might want to do it at a 45-degree angle.