How to Do It: Three-Point Lighting




Lighting makes a huge difference in your work. If you haven’t considered it yet, give it a shot–you’ll be amazed at the difference.

But beyond simply “get a big light and point it at somebody,” there are subtleties to a professional light job. Today we’ll explain one of the simplest and best: three-point lighting. (We learned this from secondpicture.com, which is a pretty cool blog!)

Three-Point Lighting

Three-point lighting is an all-around great lighting method. You’ll see it everywhere: photography, film, video. It uses (surprise!) three lights: the Key Light, the Fill Light, and the Back Light. Let’s go through in order of magnitude.

Key light


The key light is your main light. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can easily think it’s the only light. In three-point lighting, your key light is placed to one side of the subject. It gives one side a well-lit glow and the other side a shadow. Look familiar?

Fill light


The fill light, your secondary light, shines on the other side of the subject. It’s called the “fill” because it fills in the shadows created by your key light. It also illuminates the eye sockets of a human or animal subject and gives the eyes a little twinkle.


Traditionally, the fill light is softer and not as bright as the key light. If you have two lights of the same luminescence, just scoot the one farther away from the subject. Boom! Fill light.


Back light


The back light illuminates the rear of the subject. It’s traditionally the dimmest of the three, so your viewers probably don’t even notice it’s there. It shapes and defines the subject‘s outline. It also prevents your subject from blending into the background.



Three-point lighting is a great tool, but don’t think it’s the only option. There are tons of styles of lighting. You can do a great shot with just one light (just use it as your key). If you have two lights, use one as your key, the other as your back. And you’ll do great.




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