Three point lighting is the cornerstone of lighting a scene, whatever genre you’re working in. It’s taught everywhere and its strictures are pretty much followed everywhere too, from high end film to low end photo shoots.
Whilst there is no particular way to arrange your lighting set-up, it will be key to informing what is happening in the narrative on-screen. This article is written with 4 C’s in particular to consider to improve and make your lighting more consistent.
A three point lighting setup
- You have a key light that gives you about three-quarters of the light on a subject.
- You have a fill light that fills in the rest of the space and brings out extra detail.
- You have a backlight that works to define the outline of the subject, highlighting that you’re working in three dimensions
Set-backs of using three point lighting
The problem is that we’ve all been trained to think fairly narrowly in this way. When we look at a scene, we’re not thinking so much of the visual elements that make up an image, we’re using the reductive nature of three point lighting to confine our creative answers to ways we can manipulate key, fill, or back light. We’re intentionally limiting ourselves.
Perhaps back in the day when lighting tools were fairly blunt instruments, that was the best way of approaching the problem too. When your light temperatures are fairly fixed and when you’re primarily using gels to control colour, then there are only certain formulas you can work with, especially if you’re trying to work at any sort of pace.
Quasar Science: A solution for better light control
The tools we can use to light scenes have become hugely more sophisticated in recent years. Lights such as the Quasar Science Rainbow 2 Linear offer high quality tunable white light and the high RGB colour saturation with multiple pixels maintaining super smooth, flicker free dimming. The result is complete control of over one billion colours available and the opportunity to think of lighting scenes in a different way.
That involves thinking less of the actual fixtures and more about what we’re doing to the image. All of which brings us to a new way of thinking about lighting and the 4 Cs: contour, contrast, clarity, and colour. By framing our thinking about an image in terms of these four variables and attaching lights to them, we can produce better images than we can by restricting ourselves to thinking of the fixtures first and foremost.
A new take on three point lighting: The 4 C’s with Tim Kang
You can see vivid demonstrations of this in a recent webinar we ran with Tim Kang, Quasar Science’s Colour Engineer and Cinematographer. In it, he sketches out the Four Cs and conceptualises what each light accomplishes – the goal being to achieve more naturalistic lighting.
Breaking down light control
When you light a subject, what is the first thing that defines them? It’s the contours of their face. So when you move around that face with your main light, you should be thinking about those contours and how they are created. Their appearance depends on a large range of variables, including the shape of the light, its direction, and the distance from the subject. All of these, we can vary. Effectively we have not so much a key light as a contour light.
So let’s add another light in there; let’s add a contrast light. This enables us to ease the transition between light and shade, giving us balance between the lit and unlit parts of the scene. Again, this is basically a fill light, but we’re changing the emphasis to consider the end result first rather than the process we use to get there. The overall goal is to think about the lighting environment surrounding the subject, and the same happens with the third C in our new approach; Clarity.
Back light, edge light, hair light, rim light – if we redefine it as Clarity, that removes the confusion over the nomenclature and in the same process does exactly what it says on the tin; it provides clarity. It defines your subject and places them in the image.
Lastly, implement colour science
Colour brings it all together, and by using lights where you can vary colour immensely, this allows you to start playing with colour schemes and using different ones to emphasise different aspects of your scene.
- Monochromatic schemes – place you in the same hue of the colour wheel, but still give you a huge amount of flexibility, such as the whole scale between white and orange including cream, tan, and candlelight.
- Analogous schemes – use two or three adjacent hues.
- Complementary – use two opposing ones with very different colour temperatures.
- Triadic – use three equally spaced hues.
- Tetradic – four separated ones and so on.
The creativity you can bring to bear on this is close to limitless, but it all starts with the way you see lighting a subject. By thinking of the Four Cs instead of key, fill, and backlight, we’re being subject-led rather than technology-led, using our newly flexible and powerful tools to produce the best lighting environment possible.
Quasar Science overcomes the limitations of three point lighting and gives room for boundless creativity.