Cinema Lighting 101:
Everything You Need to Know by Max Paterson

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Ever heard lighting is the most crucial in every aspect of filmmaking? Chances are if you’re a filmmaker, you have! Learn all film lighting techniques and discover how to get cinematic lighting in your videos with Max Paterson. 👉

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Max Paterson

Everything You Need to Know about Cinema Lighting:

Ever heard lighting is the most crucial in every aspect of filmmaking? Chances are if you’re a filmmaker, you have! Learn the cinema lighting with Max Paterson.






Theory of lighting


Face types


Light modifiers


Light tools


High-key light


Low-key light




Practical lights


Lighting techniques




Location scouting


Lighting setups


Wrap up


Meet Your Instructor


What you’ll learn

Nailing the 3-point lighting: Key-, fill- and backlight.

Using negative fill: For creating an artificial shadow.

Contrasting the image: The main principles of light and shadow contrast.

Essential factors in film lighting: Accent, volume, and mood & atmosphere.

Reflecting light: Achieve cinematic lighting by diffusing light on a negative field.

Working with different light sources: On overpowering the sunlight with artificial light.

Masterclass Chapters

Theory of lighting

The theory of lighting starts with two things: fixtures and modifiers. The fixture is the name for where the light is emitting. There are a lot of different fixtures in lighting. LED is probably the most used lighting, especially if it's a low-budget environment. In a higher budget environment, we use Tungsten-lights, HMI lights and Fluorescent lights.

Face types

The four main face types you will find on lights are the chip-on board, LED panel, tubes and fernal light. The chop-on board is the primary type of light you find in an LED. A bunch of LEDs create a LED panel, that goes through one or more diffusion layers and create one light source. The tubes also go through some diffusion source, which blends them all into one light source. Lastly, fernalis are lenses, that go in front of your light sources. Some of them are built directly into the fixtures themselves.

Light modifiers

Light modifiers are anything you put in front of your light fixture. Light modifiers improve the lighting in photos and videos. That can be anything from fernals and softboxes to honeycombs and barn doors.

Light tool

There are many light tools to use. Colour gel helps recolour the light you have in a scene. There are also scrims, which help bring down the level of light. Scrims are used for old-school lights. Diffusion, bounce and negative fill are three useful light tools to learn.

High-key light

High-key lighting is a low contrast lighting type, with a low lighting ratio. You will commonly find this in a comedy or a sitcom. Choosing the right tone for your lighting affects how people interpret the image.

Low-key light

The opposite of high-key lighting is low-key light, also referred to as upstage lighting. That is more cinematic, with a higher lighting ratio. Low-key lighting creates a much higher contrast between the fill and the key.


The backlight comes in many forms, such as kickers, hair light and edge light. Kickers are usually behind the subject, spilling through their shoulders and neck, giving them a dimension. Hair lights light up the rim around the hair, while edge light runs around the subject.

Practical lights

Practicals are any light fixtures which is inside the shot. You will find these as lamps, lights on the ceiling or candles. Practicals can help ground and motivate where your light is coming.

Lighting techniques

Some lighting techniques often used in the film are from Italian painters. There is the Rembrandt technique, which uses a triangle section of light that hits the cheek of the face on one side. Chiaroscuro lighting deals with light and dark in the scene. It deals with contrast and shape when the light moves around the scene. Max is sharing more techniques in the masterclass.


3-point lighting is an often used term in film. It refers to the number of sources in the scene. A scene has a key light, a fill light and a backlight. In this chapter, Max is telling you about 3-point lighting in detail.

Location scouting

Location scouting is an important technique that prepares you for what to expect when you are on the shoot. Max's advice is to spend the time on location scouting, and he has multiple reasons for it. He tells you all the reasons in this chapter.

Lighting setups

In this chapter, Max will walk you through a lighting setup for a movie, putting the theory into practice. You will see scenes of a film and blueprints for the lighting to reach the perfect cinematic look.

Photo of the instructor

Max Paterson


London, United Kingdom

“Lighting is about telling a story. Telling the audience what to look at and what not to look at, what has importance and what doesn’t have importance in the shot.”

Max Paterson is a New-Zealander DOP based in London and a founder of Valley Films.

Valley Films crafts impactful videos with stories, in a world of evolving formats and trends, with a story that lasts!

They craft stunning visuals and powerful stories for commercial and narrative films. And have worked with brands like Warner Bros, BBC, and more!

Want to learn more about cinematic lighting? Head over to our article about Understanding Cinematography Lighting.