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April 21, 2011 / GreenMan

3 Point Lighting Setup

Back to Basics

New to lighting? It can be a scary juncture. However, if you start with the basics, you can’t go wrong. So today, I will share my knowledge of the 3 point lighting system. Being the most basic setup, everyone starts here. Once you get the idea, you can expand to a five light setup (which will come in a later blog, in greater detail), and beyond that, the sky is the limit! So okay, here we go with the 3 light setup.

With three lights, you have enough power to create realistic lighting for a scene, and also avoid any unwanted shadows. This particular setup can be used for numerous lighting scenarios including interview lighting, portraits, headshots, or product photography. I highly recommend using softboxes or barndoors so you can have control over manipulating your light to make it work for you.  Different light modifiers will evoke different feelings. Barndoors can create a dramatic effect or highlight a certain feature on your subject that you may be trying to emphasize. Softboxes give you that nice natural diffused light that makes everything just a bit softer and gives a very flattering look to your subject.

You can use a 3 point set up for both indoor and outdoor shoots. However, be advised that you might have to use gels to change the color temperature of the light to achieve the right look depending where you shoot and with what types of lights.


Imagine that the camera is in front of the subject, facing them head on.

As you can see in the diagram, the Key light and Fill lights are at about a 45 degree angle from the camera. The Key light will be the most powerful light source in the scene. You will want to keep the Fill & Back lights at a lower  intensity to compliment the Key by filling in the rest of the light. That way, you will achieve a soft, even light.

**Be advised that the Back light in the diagram is being hung and not on a light stand. If you wanted the light on the ground you would put it at an angel over the shoulder so as not to be seen by the camera.**


As you can see, you can manipulate the light to achieve different effects and mood.

With just the Key light you will get a lot of shadow across the subjects face and the subject is not fully lit.

With the addition of a Backlight, the subject is now illuminated a little more and you can see an outline form around your subject, giving them more depth.

Once the Fill light is added, you have a nice even light. The light seems natural and it gives the subject a warm, attractive look.

So there you go. That’s the basics of 3 point lighting. See? Not so hard, afterall. Now, I know some of you are thinking, what if I only have two lights? What you can do is use one for a key light and one as a backlight. Then get yourself a reflector or a bounceboard and place it under the subject to reflect the key light and act as a fill. However, to make your life easier, I would go ahead a purchase a third light.

Another thing to remember, with every video or photo shoot, you may have obstacles in the room to contend with, or the room itself may be an awkward shape, so you’re not going to get the text book 45 degree angle set up all the time. That’s okay. You just need to adjust and play with the light to make it work for you. That is why test footage is so important. Get to know your surroundings and get creative. You can make any room work for you, as long as you follow the basic elements of 3 point lighting.

Stay green, my friends! Until next time,


One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. mark grinage / Jul 3 2012 12:11 AM

    thanks g a big help! have a great day! 🙂

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