Chapter 6
Principles of
This chapter covers basic lighting principles including concepts such as
the key light, the fill light, the highlight (or rim light), the bounce light,
three-point and four-point lighting, basic coloring, intensity ratios, and a
little history discussing how lighting became what it is. By the end of
this chapter, you should have a grasp of these basic concepts and how
they relate to not only photographic lighting but also light in the real
Lighting has four primary purposes. First, we light a scene to illumi-
nate the subject, to make it visible, so the audience can see what needs
to be seen in order to tell the story. Second, we try to focus the viewer’s
attention on specific areas of the shot and to subtly make other areas
less prominent. In this way, we manipulate the audience’s perception of
the scene, and the order in which viewers get information from the
scene. Third, we give form or shape to the subjects, the set, and other
elements in frame so they don’t seem flat and unreal. And fourth, we
wish to build an emotional framework for the scene so that our viewers
will follow along with the story just as we wish. This fourth point is per
haps the most powerful of all in that we can manipulate the viewer’s
perception of many of the scenic elements even before the action begins.
As with any other visual element, there are certain principles that
apply to most lighting situations. I hesitate to call any of these rules,
since this is art and artists tend to make hamburger out of anything they
are told is a rule. So consider these principles a starting point. Once you
have fully grasped the principles, do with them as you will. Please don’t
misinterpret that statement as meaning that the principles in this chap
ter are not important. They are crucial in being able to move on to more
advanced lighting concepts, just as when learning to play a piano, the
pianist must first learn which key is middle C, what a scale is, and what

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