Four Elements of Light

(Cinematic Lighting Lesson 03)

Summary: Ryan covers the four elements of light: color, angle, intensity and quality. He then shows you how they can be used to better craft your images, gives you practical tips, and questions to ask yourself as you light your scene.

Length: 5:18 minutes

Video Lesson

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Understanding the functions and the role that light plays is not enough to be able to craft cinematic images; you also need to understand the four elements: color, angle, intensity, and quality. Once you understand these elements and you begin to apply them to your work, your work is going to really shine.


Normal lighting colors (LC103)

As I covered in Lighting Foundations, the color of light is measured in color temperature. But great lighting is more than just accurate color. It’s about using color to convey tone and set the mood.

Warm lighting colors (LC103)

Cool lighting colors (LC103)

For example, warm light is more inviting and welcoming, while cool light is more removed and distancing.

The color of light can also help us create a sense of space. As objects recede in space, they become more monochromatic and become more cool in color. And objects that are closer to us are more vibrant and warm in color. Knowing this can allow us to use the color of light to create separation...

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Lighting Diagrams

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Tools We Used
How To Cinematically Light A Corporate Video (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 20)
How To Light Quickly (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 19)
Lighting For Extreme Frame Rates (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 21)
12 Crucial Questions Before Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 15)
3 Strategies For Lighting Your Night Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 14)
5 Essential Strategies To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 12)
10 Tips To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 13)
How To Light A Small Commercial (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 23)
Where To Begin Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 18)
8 replies
    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention. It looks like there might be a frame or two delay. I’ll have to pull it up in the editor to see for sure.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      The light is a 1,000 kilowatt tungsten light, abbreviated 1kW and often called simply a “1k.” It has double and single wire scrims in it. A wire scrim is a wire mesh mounted to a round metal frame that you insert in front of the tungsten lamp that reduces the amount of light output. The single reduces the amount of light by about half stop, and the double by about a full stop.

      The 2×3 doubles in front of the light are fabric nets. These are doubles so they each reduce the amount of light by about a full stop.

  1. eneal24
    eneal24 says:

    Can you tell me if there is a need to gel bi-color led panels? Does this provide a different look or do the changes in Kelvin adjustments on the panel simulate their look appropriately?

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      That’s a very good question, one that not many people think about. While bi-color LED lights can change the Correlated Color Temperature (CCT), such as between tungsten balanced to daylight balanced, it doesn’t mean that their light output has the best color quality. Some LEDs still might have a green or magenta tint, or another problematic color. This is true of single color LEDs as well as bi-color LEDs.

      I recommend checking out our article on how LEDs might be ruining your project. We now use LEDs almost exclusively, so I’m not knocking LEDs at all. You just want to be selective with which ones you use, and be sure to test them ahead of the shoot day.

      Another resource that we’ve created is the LED database. I’m currently finalizing data from over 160 LED lights that I sampled at this year’s NAB. The list includes around 80 bi-color lights, and give values and graphs for CRI, TLCI, CQS, and TM30-15 for everything on the list. It should be posted in the next two weeks. Until then, check out last year’s LED database.

      Also remember that bicolor only changes which version of white your camera is white balanced to. If you want to purposely create an effect with the light — such as a steel blue for moonlight, and Urban Sodium gel to make it feel like a sodium-vapor lamp, etc — you of course will have to use gels. (Note: there are a few RGB LEDs on the market, that let you create light that is more than just a version of white. Since those are not “bi-color” I didn’t mention them. With some of these lights, you can actual add or remove magenta or green tints so as to balance with lights that have that issue or to create an effect.)


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