Basic Lighting and Cinematography Tips & Tricks - Raindance

Filmmakers unite! Lighting and overall cinematography can be time consuming, but there is certainly nothing better or more important than the visuals in your film. When we watch films, sometimes we tend to focus on one certain aspect of the whole process depending on where our interests lie. This is why it’s good to breakdown all of the parts and roles that go into making a film, and observe them so we can get a better understanding of each role. If you are still building your portfolio and experimenting with creating movies, it’s good to keep an eye out for the cinematography and all of the tips and tricks you can use while shooting. Kathryn Butt and Dušan Mrden are going to shine a light on what the director of photography brings to a film, and talk about some hacks that you can use to make the whole experience amazing for your audience.

Three-point Lighting

Whatever you doing in life, it’s always good to start from somewhere. Three-point lighting is a very basic and common technique filmmakers use to create a more engaging atmosphere in their films, and you should definitely try it out. It can consist of a key light, fill light and backlight. Every lighting setup needs to be motivated, so try and think where it would come from and if it makes sense for the scene. (Unless you are doing an experimental art house film, in which case by all means go crazy)

Check out this article to get a more in-depth explanation on how lighting works.

Experiment with lights

This one is a no-brainer. You need to watch a lot of films and look at how lighting and shadows bring about the mood of the story. Think of a very simple example in Nosferatu (1922) and how Count Orlok appears in some of those iconic scenes. It’s a visually very simple, yet a horrific appearance that haunted many people for many years (us included). Use different coloured filters and take different lenses so you can get a feel of what works for you and what doesn’t!

Also check out Pixpa’s detailed article on what is cinematography.



On set of The Affair (2016) – Behind the scenes photography by Dean Street Designs

What is the genre of your film?

As we’ve mentioned many times before, it’s always extremely helpful to think about what genre your film is going to be. The right kind of lighting can make or break your film, so you need to really research what style you are going for. Comedies tend to have more basic lighting set-ups, but that doesn’t mean you need to follow the exact rules that have been established in films before. You can also check out some music videos and inspect the kind of styles that have been used for a specific kind of song, and how they help enhance the visual presentation that goes along with it.


Always be practical

I don’t have a passion for lighting as much as my dear friend and Director of Photography Isis Madonna Basile does, but she has definitely taught me a lot. Working with a great DoP can enhance your senses of lighting on set. For example, many filmmakers know that it’s always better to shoot on a cloudy day when the weather is more constant, rather than a sunny day when it can get too bright. The last film I shot with my DoP, we were shooting inside a room all day so she used kitchen foil to block out the windows and prevent light from coming in so she could create an atmosphere she would be able to control. You can do a lot of things in post afterwards – don’t rely too much on that though, but always keep it in mind.

Make time for lighting

As we all know, many things can go wrong when shooting a film. Always make sure to give your DoP enough time to set up the lights and for you to see what it looks like on screen. Organise your time and shots properly, and you will be absolutely fine because lighting a scene can take up a lot of time.



Director of Photography Isis Madonna Basile setting up the lights on set of Impassible (2017) – Behind the scenes photography by Dean Street Designs

For goodness sake be careful

Whenever you’re shooting a film, make sure that you are working with a very observant and careful first assistant director. They need to make sure your DoP has all the right tools and possibilities to execute whatever you imagined together:

  • Check the power sockets in the room you are shooting in, and be certain they can hold your lighting equipment.
  • Don’t forget that while shooting outside you need to have a power source nearby!
  • No water or food should be near the cables and wires!
  • Use gloves when handling hot lights!


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Have you tried Raindance’s Basic Cinematography Course?

Check out more from Kathryn Butt here

Also, our book of the week to help you out is Visual Storytelling: How to Speak to Your Audience Without Saying a Word



Dušan (pronounced (Scooby) Doo Shawn) joined the Raindance team as Campaign and Community Manager in 2018 after pursuing an extensive career in reviewing cheese. After acquiring a BA in Media and Marketing in Serbia, he completed an extensive year in filmmaking which lead to an MA in Film and TV Production from the Cambridge School of Arts. You can find him vigorously supporting indie filmmakers whilst pursuing a career in acting at the same time.

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