How You Can Create Cinematic Lighting as a Photographer

Most photographers who learn the basics of lighting usually take light for granted. Lighting seems pretty simple at first: If there’s an absence of light, just add a strobe. Isn’t that why we all love on-camera flash?! I’m joking. Learning how to give light motivation is truly the easiest way to create cinematic lighting, and it’s a lot easier than you’d think.

If you’re trying to master cinematic lighting, you’ll absolutely want to study the principles of lighting, but beyond that, you'll want to understand how to purposefully manipulate color, size, quality, direction, angle, etc. in order to create the illusion of ambient light in the scene. For example, the light that emanates from a table lamp without a lamp shade creates really strong, contrasty shadows when far away from your subject. If you were to put a lamp shade on the lamp, it would diffuse the light source, creating a subtly soft source of light, which will obviously depend on the opacity of the lamp shade.

You would not only expect that the light emanating from the lamp shade would be softer than it was before, you would also expect it to retain its direction. In the video above (at 0:54), I purposely use a studio strobe with a Phottix Luna Octa Softbox positioned so that it replicates the soft, directional light emanating from the lamp shade.

Alternatively, you could also use a strobe on low power on the opposite side of the subject’s face as a fill light. Unfortunately, as you see in the video, I don’t have the room to do so.

Giving light motivation is not only a great way to learn cinematic quality lighting, but also study the principles of light. If you’d like to learn more about lighting, I’d advise checking out The Technique of Lighting for Television and Film by Gerald Millerson.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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lighting for the incidentals, I think Greg Heisler has great series on that. Also remember the incidentals can work both ways. You can ream a light and create the prop for it.

Love Greg Heisler! :D

Check out Wolfcrow on YouTube. His videos breakdown the cinematography techniques of some of the World's best cinematographers. Start with "The Cinematography of Roger Deakins". You will learn how his lighting style evokes certain moods.

Woa! Thanks for the tip!!!

Awesome little video. Such a simple tip but it makes a ton of sense. I've always struggled when using a flash combined with an additional light source.

Thanks so much Will! I'm glad that you enjoyed the video. :)

Holy crap that was so well explained and exemplified. Great video and again - fantastic explanation!

Thanks Tom! I'm glad that you enjoyed the video. :)

Good approach to the issue! I prefer this warm color version instead of bw :)

Thanks so much Radoslaw! :)

Love that side on shot, perfect lighting :)

Thanks Shaun! :)

This video was very informative. Thank you!

Thanks for watching! :)

I would like to advise everyone to check out the works of Nick Saglimbeni and Gregory Crewdson.

Great video, thank you for sharing!
But I have on question - is better to put filter inside softbox than on softbox? Isn't to too hot inside for filter?