How You Can Achieve Cinematic Lighting on Any Budget

Have you ever gone to the movies and was blown away by the lighting and cinematography of a certain scene and wish you could go home and recreate that look yourself? The problem usually arises that you don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars of lights accessible to you. In this quick video, learn how you can achieve a cinematic lighting scheme on any budget.

A lot of times, as indie film makers, we arrive to a dingy looking set or office building, and are required to make it convey a mood or feeling. The best way to transform a scene is by using lighting. In this weeks episode of 4 Minute Film School, released by The Aputure YouTube channel, they interview Los Angeles based film maker and director of photography, Michelle Kwong. Kwong takes us through how she uses the elements of cinematic lighting to transform her scenes, whether she's using high-end lights, or low-end lights.

In order to get the most of your lights, you must first know what cinematic lighting is. Michelle defines cinematic lighting as a tool to guide the viewer’s eye to the most important part of the frame. In this video, she breaks down the three techniques she uses to enhance her scenes: contrast ratio, color contrast, and background separation. 

One of my favorite techniques to incorporate on set, is utilizing color contrast. Color contrast is simply the difference in color temperature between the lights used in a shot. When using color contrast in a scene, I typically will place the warmer light in the foreground of the scene, and the cooler lights in the background. Our eyes are naturally drawn forward when the color is warmer, and the opposite for the colder colors on the spectrum. This technique is one way to take your scenes to the next level. 

By using the techniques explained in this video, it will help you lead the your audiences eyes to the area you want them to focus on and add depth to your scene.

How have you incorporated cinematic lighting into your last image or film? Leave them in the comments below!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Eli Dreyfuss is a professional portrait photographer based in sunny Miami, Florida. He focuses on making ordinary people look like movie stars in his small home studio. Shortly after graduating high school he quickly established himself in the art world and became an internationally awarded & published artist.

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I have 3 120d IIs but every video they do they are using the 300 d as the key. Apparently the 120 isn't as powerful as I thought.

I think the most overtold, overrated term of the last decade was "cinematic lighting"...:-)

Huh? Any Budget as long as you have all those lights.

iPhone video doesn't have background separation so it doesn't look cinematic 😂
The 300d spotlight looks good...

Raise the blues in the shadows, raise the oranges in the highlights. Boom! "Cinematic lighting".