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What is 3-point lighting and How to use it?

Passion for capturing moments has gone wild in our generation. There are more cameras on one phone than people in your home. All focused to capture the best moments that can ever be. You set the right background, the right filter, the best focus, and clear angles. You do all that you can that a beginner does. Professionals do the same with one major difference. They don’t live on the mercy of good lights. Either they find the right time like sunrise, sunset, or cloudy weather or they create their best with studio lights. Today we will discuss what a 3-point lighting system is. A few wise words can put you strongly into the game.

Three-point lighting is the old standard of lighting for many years. It is used in still photography, motion pictures, CGI effects, and even theatres. There are three types of lights that shine on the object. Each of them differs from strategic angles and intensity. It depends on how well you want to create the climate of the presentation.


Types of Lights

There is a Key light. It shines directly upon the subject and serves as the principal illuminator. It serves as the majority impact factor that brings out the color and intensity of the object. The key light in outdoor shots is served by the Sun. While indoors, one sets up a special lamp or flashlight. Due to the key light factor, day timings are important for photographers like the ones capturing scenery or wildlife.

· Then there is the second light called Fill light. It shines on the object but from a side angle. All the shaded surfaces created by key light are illuminated with the help of it like back shadows or nose shadows of the subject. It is often placed in lower positions. It is less bright and softer than the key light and more often than not flood the whole area. Using a dill light is absolutely essential to cover up the harshness of the key light. It makes the shots look more natural. Reflectors, rather than straight beam are generally used to scatter the fill light.

· The third one is also known as a backlight. It shines on the subject from the backside or sometimes from up-side-back. It is also called rim-light and serves as a distinguisher between the subject and the background while providing a contour effect. This light is not meant to hit the front surfaces of the subject so the intensity and focus are adjusted accordingly.

Three-point lighting is not a fixed or standard formula but to have fun with. Whatever suits your cinematic effects perfectly, you have to keep adjusting. For your information, Light setup engineers are full-time real professionals where they try to be as cool as it demands. Once one grasps the general concept of this lighting setup anyone can play around the lighting techniques.


How to set up your own 3-point lighting

· Start in a dark room with as little light penetrating as possible.

· Set and turn the key light on. Set it according to the mood of the shot. It is supposed to be the brightest.

· Setup the fill light at approx. 45 degrees from the subject. It must be soft and scattered.

· Bring in the backlight. Place it anywhere behind the subject but make sure it does not ruin your shot.

· Take sample pictures and adjust the three accordingly.

Newcomers are confused at times listening about many types of special lights like rim lights, side light, catch the light, eye light, etc. All exist to make the 3 point system better and that’s it. One other thing that bothers is the fill ratio. It is the ration between the key and the fill. As a thumb rule, the key light must be twice as bright as the fill light.

Your lightings must be motivated by the environment. It must not stand out but look like a natural extension to the environment. One must set the color and temperature that improves the environment without creating contrast. This wisdom is mostly applicable for outdoor shoots. Your subject can be fully or partially exposed to external lighting. Better judgment comes with experience and experiments.

The three-point lighting system is inspired by nature only. The sun or moon works as the key light. The reflected lights from the objects work as a fill light and facing backs to the sun gives a sense of back-lights. No surprises must come as humans always innovate via nature.



Lighting is a major factor determining how close you can make the audience feel close to nature. Learn to motivate your lights and you can find a perfect balance of creativity and feel of the shot. Three-point lighting is the tip of the iceberg, yet it is enough for any beginner to start with. Motivation from what the scene demands is the key, the number, and types of lights just add up to it.

One must follow accomplished photographers, movies, interview shoots, and other such things that make you ask the question – ‘This looks so awesome. Where must they have kept the light?’


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