In cinematography there are three main light roles that you’ll use to light your subject in a basic three point lighting setup. These three light roles are the key light, the fill light and the back light, which is also known as a rim light or a hair light.

The key light is the main source of light hitting your subject. It’s the light that you can see here lighting up my face so that I’m visible to the camera. I’ll turn it off. And then back on so you can see what that’s doing.

And the key light can be placed in lots of different places to create different moods in your work, which we’ll talk about more when we get into lighting angles later on.

But for right now I have my key light at a 3/4 angle to my face, just above the eyeline in order to get this look.

The fill light is over here on this side and is used to control the amount of light on the shadow side of my face.

You’ll see as I turn it down the shadows become more intense and if I turn it up, the lighting on my face becomes more even. It’s called a fill light because you’re filling in the shadows with light to create the contrast ratio that you want.

Now right now I’m using an actual light for my fill light but it’s also common to use a bounce board which is a big piece of white styrofoam, fabric or paper that is used to bounce light back onto the subject.

Now the third light role is a back light, and this is the one that you can see here hitting the back side of my head. It’s called a rim light too because it creates a nice rim around the subject that helps separate it from the background.

It’s also referred to as a hair light sometimes because it is used to light up the subject’s hair in the same manner. I’ll go ahead and turn it off.

And then back on so you can see what that does. So those are the three main light roles used in cinematography. The key light, the fill light, and the back light. It’s important to note that you don’t have to use all three in every lighting situation.

Three point lighting is the most basic lighting technique and as with most things, rules are meant to be broken. So, it’s up to you to use these three light sources in creative ways to tell your story.’

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