Inside at Night: Three Lighting Strategies

(Cinematic Lighting Lesson 11)

Summary: Lighting a night interior doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. If you follow these three lighting strategies you’ll be able to successfully create the right feel and mood of a interior night scene.

Length: 5:53 minutes

Video Lesson

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On-location night interiors are one of my favorite scenes to shoot. Why? Well, because it’s almost like being in a studio. You have near complete control of all of the light, and you don’t have to compete with the sun. In this video I’m going to share with you how to create the night look, as well as the three strategies that you should be thinking about anytime you light your night interior.

Creating The Night Look

The Mood of a Night Scene (LC111)

Before you start, remember that the most important thing is to determine the mood and the look of your scene. Obviously, we’re talking about a night scene here, but is it a romantic scene just after sunset. Or the pitch blackness of midnight. Or maybe the predawn light just before sunrise. Once you have the look figured out, you can start developing your lighting approach.

Hard vs. Soft Light at Night (LC111)

At night the sources of light are smaller and more directional. So it’s justifiable to light a night interior with hard directional light. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t use soft light; you can, and I often do. But if you want that hard light look, night interiors are a good place to use it.

Angle and Distribution of Light at Night (LC111)

Another thing to keep in mind is that the illusion of night is best created by the angle and distribution of light. At night the angle of light tends to be less frontal; instead it comes from a three quarters back position and you’ll fill from the front. Lighting this way helps push more of the image into shadow, emphasizing that it’s night.

Light Sources at Night (LC111)

Typically, it is really easy to determine where your light should be coming from. Usually, there will be some sort of light source in the scene: a lamp, candle, whatever. If there is a window in the shot, you can play it as moonlight or a street light shining through.

Moonlight at Night (LC111)

Once you’ve decided on the look and the approach you are going to take for your night interior, it’s time to start lighting. Here are three strategies to help you get better results for your night interiors...

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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
  1. price76
    price76 says:

    Hi guys 🙂

    Leaving the set light un-gelled and modulating the light as a technique. Could you explain what you meant by this, I gather you refer to dimming the balast to change color temp to your desired look?


    • Tim
      Tim says:

      There are some DPs that like to add various blue gels to their “moon” since traditionally that was the way it was done (especially in the 1980’s). In this video Ryan demonstrates some of these looks, along with not adding any gels and letting the light CCT be the same as what the camera is white-balanced to. Ryan prefers keeping it white and simply adjusting the brightness of the “moon” to properly fit the scene and story. Too much light and it starts to feel like the sun; not enough, and it feels like there isn’t even a moon.

      While the color temp changes with some lights based on how bright the light it, this isn’t the best way to reliably adjust CCT since the change is very slight. Also, many traditional lights can’t be modulated very much and instead depend on ND gels and wire scrims.

  2. Rich49er
    Rich49er says:

    I practiced this on Friday but could not get it right. I placed the light to the side. I tried with a soft box and a hard light source. I put a highlight on the headboard and added a practical to one side. I recorded the scene with a slide movement. Unfortunately it didn’t look good. I experimented by dimming the lights and altering the ISO. Effectively they just offset each other. Please can you advise on how to get better results.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      It’s hard to give advice without seeing what you’ve created. Could you post a screenshot or post a link to your video online? Or you can email us the screenshot/link directly: info [AT]

  3. Ahmedsalem
    Ahmedsalem says:

    Thanks for the tutorial , I suggest you add a tutorial about night scene with blocking with long duration , you show us in it the making of the tutorial because night scenes illusion depends on controlling the spill of light , which we want to know to learn , this is missing manual in all of the books , and if indie achieve that it will be very great, also we want to know the lighting ratios in night scene


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