Artistic Lighting



Mr. Mullen,
Thank you in advance for your time and energy. This may seem a bit convoluted, but I will try to get to my question as quickly as possible.

I have been watching as many movies as I can with the idea of studying the lighting. I have also aquainted myself with the concept of "3 point" lighting, and "4 point" lighting (the 4th point being, lighting the background elements specifically, and from what I've heard, lighting them first......meaning before the subject).

The thing that is surprising me about watching movies and studying this, is the specific artistic differences between shots in a scene. For instance, if a master shot has two people in it that end up in two shots or close ups switching back and forth............there will be artistic differences in the choices made (i.e. no hair lights in the master........but distinct hair lights in the subsequent shots).............some thing that I would have thought would be a "continuity" issue.

Apparently not................instead of continuity, the point of each camera set up is to make the most beautiful photograph possible.(and by the way, I never noticed the differences until I looked for them)

The same thing with colors (colored lights placed in places that they would not be in "real life")......light placement (light seeming to come from "unnatural" locations in the frame)...etc........don't seem to really matter from a "realistic" point of view.

Am I on the right track here? Do you always light the background first.......and make it as artistically pleasing as possible.....then move on to the subjects of the shot?

Sorry to sound so scattered............learning a lot.

It's hard to talk out of context -- there are always exceptions to rules.

Most of what you are describing is called "cheating" -- improving the lighting when moving in closer. Typically, you want to be clever enough about the cheating to keep people from noticing it, often by maintaining contast, direction of light, color, etc. But it's amazing how much you can get away with cheating. And some people will notice it more than others.

Some people would say it was bad photography to ignore continuity and simply make each image look great out of context to the sequence; that works more for commercials than it does narrative features where story and performaces are kings and your goal with the cinematography is to support them, not grandstand.


New member
In Eastwoods latest film for example (million dollar baby), in some of the night interior scenes, you can tell that the lights are very close to the subject because the shadows move with very slight movement, and the lighting was sort of unrealistic in that way, but also from where the light was coming was unconvincing. Even with all of these things I have just said, it perfectly fits the mood and scene. So sometimes cheating can be good I think if it feels right, even if it may not necessarily 'look' right.


thank you for responding.

When you say "cheating" you mean

cheating = "short cut".....(i.e. not a recommended way of doing it but with the right amount of experience, acceptable)


cheating = a technique for fooling the eye with shots that you know will be intercut and therefore will minimize differences between them to the viewer.

or something else?

I am just learning this lingo......

thanks much



I think he means you aren't lighting your closeups exactly to match your wider shots - - you may embelish an eyelight or a backlight on the hair to really make the person pop from the background - - most people don't notice this stuff because they aren't comparing the 2 shots as scrupulously as you are in order to study it more closely, but it can compliment the effect of a closeup well - - - is this what you're getting at Mr. Mullen?
Yes, cheating is basically improving the lighting when doing the tighter coverage, sort of "cleaning up" anything that couldn't be done in the wide master. Usually the goal is to not be noticed. But sometimes you HAVE to cheat because you see things up close that you wouldn't notice in a wide shot. For example, an actress standing under an overhead soft light (like a hanging fluorescent work light, for example) in the wide master -- you move into her close-up and don't like the overhead light bringing out the bags under her eyes, so you lower the overhead light and move it more in front of her face so the light still comes from overhead, but it's a little softer and doesn't create as deep a shadow.