3 Point Lighting Explained! - Master Photography Podcast (2023)

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon1 Comment

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(Video) Studio Lighting For Beginners - The Three Light Setup | Mark Wallace

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Jeff hosts with Connor at the roundtable to talk about 3 point lighting. They cover key/fill/hair lighting, how they should be positioned, how they should be powered, and why a photographer would want to use a 3 point lighting setup.

(Video) Where to Put Video Lights (3-Point Lighting Explained)

Welcome to the Master Photography Roundtable part of the Master Photography Podcast Network! You are joined by thousands of photographers listening to this show who are all on the same journey to master their photography. I am Jeff Harmon, the host for this episode and joining me at the roundtable today is my friend and co-host of the Portrait Session podcast, Connor Hibbs. How are you Conor?

  • Connor, I have wanted to do an episode on this topic for a while now. I know you and Erica have talked about it a lot over on the Portrait Session podcast, but it is a topic that I continue to see requested over and over by listeners and I have never talked with you about it myself. So we are going to do it in this episode.
  • I want to have my own personal training session here that we will share with several thousands of our closest friends and have you help me with 3 point lighting. Even though I know and have played around with some of this I am going to jump in as you help me with this and ask you to explain terms if that is OK?
  • First up, tell me why it is called 3 point lighting and why or when would a portrait photography want to us it?

Key Light?

  • Main light is another word for it. Going to be the brightest part of the face
  • Which side? Light on the side where their hair is parted good starting point
  • How far up in relation to model? Center of modifier 6” to foot above eye level of model
  • How far away from the model? Varies and should play with it. Connor likes it right there next to subject, light falls of faster that way.
  • “Quality” is the way the light transitions from bright to shadow. Smoother transition that doesn’t have harsh lines between the bright and the shadow is higher “quality” light.
  • What modifier? Softboxes over umbrellas because there is a lip to it. Stripboxes are long rectangular softboxes. Shoot through umbrella to start for sure, least expensive way to get into lighting.
  • Control is so much easier with a softbox vs an umbrella. Control means that the light just goes everywhere with an umbrella. A softbox or a strop box or other light modifiers like grids and snoots help you to control where the light goes better. The direction and the size.
  • To get that dark background (low key portrait), decrease the distance between the light and the model and stop down the aperture (increase the aperture number).
  • On camera flash less appealing because light on direct axis with the camera produces a shadow behind the model and on the background. Humans used to seeing light above people.

Fill Light?

  • Hesitate calling it a fill light vs fill. Can use a reflector to do this. Two lights may not actually work well.
  • There to soften the shadows a little.
  • Darkest points on the face aren’t really dark.
  • Reflector just barely outside of the shot. 90 degrees from keylight, make sure some of the light from the key light is hitting the reflector.
  • What kind of reflector? 5 in 1? Use white first, then silver. Don’t use gold!
  • How to hold the reflector up? Light stand with clamps, just plastic clamps. Clamps and stand closest to you instead of reflector closest to you to make it easier to move it around. Straight up and down. Square reflector
  • If using a light, what ratio? 2:1 usually. Relative power, factors like distance and modifiers play a role. Play around with it until you get the look you want until it looks the way you want it.


  • Purpose is to separate the subject from the background.
  • Traditionally placed directly behind the person above the head, less favorable now. Requires a boom arm, which is probably why not favored
  • Brighter than main/key light
  • Should be able to take a photo with just key light and see even lighting on top of head and shoulders.
  • Flash on a foot on the ground? Can use it but not exactly the same effect. Still worth doing it. Still creates some separation.
  • 1-2 feet behind model and high enough it is not in the photo
  • Modifier? Strip box is preferred here, helps to wrap around the shoulders.
  • Wrap around? Light comes out of modifier, equal directions of all modifiers. Some of the shoulders on the side will be lit.

How To Setup?

  • When you are setting this up, how do you get started? Do you setup your exposure without any lights on? What settings do you start with on the camera? Have heard that shutter speed does not affect the lighting, is that right?
    • No high speed sync on many flashes, so safe speed is 1/125 second. Just set it there and leave it.
    • Low ISO.
    • Don’t shoot wide open. Middle apertures look like studio. f/8
    • Use power of light to get the exposure.
    • If you know you can go faster with your camera shutter should you. Yes.
    • Faster shutter doesn’t mean more power on the flash.
  • Do you add one light at a time?
    • Recommend if you are starting out is to add one light at a time. Start with key light. Start at middle of power output. Maybe a step down from there to save power.
    • Use light meter for figuring out exposure. Histogram can be used if you zoom in on just the model’s face.
    • Turn of key and setup fill, looking for a little underexposed. Turn on both and validate it looks good. Turn on hair and leave the other two on. Just want to make sure the hair isn’t being blown.

High Key vs. Low Key Photo?

What is a high key vs. a low key photo? Do you do anything different with the lights or camera settings?

(Video) How To Set Up 3-Point Lighting for Film, Video and Photography

  • Key, except for the light in 3-point lighting, means background
  • High key is bright background, 2.5 stops brighter than model
  • Low key is a dark background, pretty much everything Connor shoots. Add in hair light is critical here.

Flash vs. Speedlight vs. Strobe?

  • flash/speedlight the same thing, usually battery powered and less power output
  • Strobe plugged in for power and capable of much more power
  • I have a Photo Taco episode called “Inexpensive Flash” where I outline the gear I recommend for photographers who would like to dip their toes into things like this that I will put a link to in the show notes (https://phototacopodcast.com/2017/10/09/inexpensive-flash/). Good place to mention that there is a great way to search for Photo Taco episodes on topics by going over to phototacopodcast.com and there is a search bar on the page that will search through all of the shows that I have done since 2015. I put the word “flash” into that search and came up with 3 different episodes where I talked about flash in different ways. Just a resource I wanted to make sure you listeners all knew about.
  • https://improvephotographypodcast.comWhether a beginning, advanced hobbyist, or a pro, improvephotography.com is a photography blog you need to make part of every day. With photography news, tips, reviews and other articles posted daily it is the best way to improve your photography!
  • www.Ude.my/IMRPOVE– The largest marketplace for online learning.Whether you want to learn something new or just sharpen your skills, Udemy has an extensive library of over 65,000 courses taught by expert instructors.Ever find yourself thinking “I wish I could do that?” With Udemy, you can.From web development to digital marketing to Japanese cooking courses, Udemy has something for everyone.While other online learning companies charge hundreds of dollars per class, Udemy courses start at just $11.99. Plus, each course comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee for risk-free learning.Every day, students around the world choose Udemy to discover new passions, expand their skills, and even change careers.Improve your life through learning.Download the Udemy app to learn anytime, anywhere or visit www.Ude.my/IMPROVE today.
(Video) Three Point Lighting Setup (Best Lighting for YouTube Videos Tutorial)


What are the three-point lighting solutions? ›

The three main light sources for any 3-point lighting setup include a key, a fill, and a back light. These three sources can vary in terms of angle, intensity and even color, but the principle use for each of these three lights always remains the same.

What is the 3-point lighting setup product photography? ›

Setting Up the Lights

All your three lights perform a specific function. The first one is the key light which supplies the most amount of light on your subject or your subject's face. The second is the fill light which gets rid of the shadows that the main light produces. And finally, there's the backlight.

What is the first light you should set up in a 3-point lighting set up? ›

The first and most important light in any three-point lighting setup is the key light. This key light is best thought of as your primary source of light on a subject as it will most often be the brightest and most crucial to your setup.

What is 3-point lighting and in what types of filming scenarios would you use it? ›

Three-point lighting is a standard method used in visual media. By using three separate positions, the cinematographer can illuminate the subject any way they want while also controlling shadows produced by direct lighting. It uses key lighting, backlighting, and fill lighting to accomplish all of that.

What is the most important light in 3-point lighting? ›

The first and most important light is the key light. Like the name suggests, this light is vital when establishing overall lighting for the scene. It should have the most intensity out of the three lights, and should highlight the form and dimension of the subject.

What are the 3 different lighting equipment tools used in photography? ›

The three basic types of photography lighting equipment are continuous lights, strobes, and modifiers.

What is the best lighting for product photography? ›

A. Fluorescent, LED, and tungsten lights can be used for product photography. It is recommended to use continuous lighting for best results.

What is the triangle rule of lighting? ›

The key in Rembrandt lighting is creating the triangle or diamond shape of light underneath the eye. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face uses the interaction of shadows and light, also known as chiaroscuro, to create this geometric form on the face.

How high should three-point lighting be? ›

You place this light about 45 degrees to the subject's right or left and about 45 degrees above, aimed straight at the face.

What is the basic rule for lighting a stage? ›

Illuminate the stage: The most basic objective for stage lighting is to illuminate the performers, sets and props so the audience can clearly see everything they're meant to see onstage. Inadequate lighting can take away from a production.

What are the benefits of 3-point lighting? ›

Three-point lighting helps to ensure that the subject (or you) is well lit. For example, if you are using a green screen or virtual background, this lighting setup will help make you look more professional when set against a virtual backdrop and create a better definition so that your scene looks more believable.

Which light is used in 3-point lighting to get rid of shadows behind the subject? ›

Three Point Lighting Adds Dimension

The Key Light - This is the main light used on your subject. The Fill Light - The purpose of this light is to fill in the shadows created by the key light, preventing them from getting too dark.

What is the 180 degree rule? ›

The 180-degree rule states that two characters (or more) in a scene should always have the same left/right relationship with each other. The rule dictates that you draw an imaginary line between these two characters (or subjects) and try to keep your camera(s) on the same side of this 180-degree line.

What is 3-point lighting and why is it important to a performer on the stage? ›

Three-point lighting is a technique that eliminates most shadows from the audience's perspective, which also makes it a great choice for keynote presentations and public speaking. Three-point stage lighting uses two lights out front, about 45˚ off-axis and 30˚ up.

What is the key to fill ratio? ›

Key to Fill is the most commonly used contrast ratio. This ratio describes the relationship between the amount of light falling on the key side of the subject compared to its fill. It is the most commonly used ratio due to its utility when lighting people.

What are the 4 categories of lighting? ›

There are four main types of lighting – ambient, task, accent, and decorative.

What does hue mean in photography? ›

Hue refers to the dominant wavelength of light that the human eye interprets as color, but you can think of it as the basic color on the color wheel. Saturation describes the intensity of the color. And lightness refers to how light or dark the color is.

What is lighting techniques in photography? ›

Photographic lighting refers to how a light source, artificial or natural, illuminates the scene or subject that is photographed.

What do professional photographers use for lighting? ›

Flash lighting, also known as strobe lighting, is a keystone of good photography. Strobes provide plenty of power and are available in many sizes. With the advent of built-in radio receivers, among a variety of alternate sync methods, these lights are especially flexible in a multi-light setup.

What is the best lighting angle for photography? ›

You should shoot directly next to your light source at a 90-degree angle, then reflect that light back onto the subject. This will give your image as much light as possible while also eliminating as much shadow as possible.

What is the best color light for photography? ›

2700-3000K is a soft warm light and suitable if you would like a healthy glow for photography and not make up application. 3500K-4100K is a neutral white light and its good for photography. 4800K-5000K is recommended for make up application and photography as it is not too warm or too cool.

How many watts is a 3 point light set? ›

This means your fill light should be between 750 and 1500 watts and your backlight should be around 500 watts depending on the look you are trying to achieve.

What are the three 3 general categories considered for the advanced lighting guidelines for the lighting design criteria? ›

The Appearance of the Space and Luminaires. Glare. The Appearance of Color. Lighting Control and Flexibility.

What are the three types of light producing sources select all 3 from the available options? ›

The three main Light Bulb Types are:
  • Incandescent Bulbs.
  • Fluorescent Bulbs.
  • LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes)

Which three sources of light make up the three point lighting system quizlet? ›

Also known as "three point lighting". Perhaps the best-known lighting convention in features filmmaking, a system that uses three sources of light - key light, fill light, and backlight - each aimed from a different direction and position in relation to the subject.

What are the 5 steps in lighting design? ›

The steps are: identifying the requirements, determining the method of lighting, selecting the lighting equipment, calculating the lighting parameters and adjusting the design, determining the light control system, checking the fittings and finally checking the installation when finished.

What is the most efficient lighting? ›

LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs are the most energy efficient lighting option available, and can therefore save you the most money on your electricity bills. They produce 40-80 lumens per watt, and offer several other benefits, including longevity and brightness.

What is the 3rd step in designing a lighting system? ›

3. Select the lighting equipment. Once the method of lighting has been selected, the most appropriate light source can then be chosen followed by the luminaire.

Which light separates the subject from the background in 3 point lighting? ›

The backlight (a.k.a. the rim, hair, or shoulder light) shines on the subject from behind, often (but not necessarily) to one side or the other. It gives the subject a rim of light, serving to separate the subject from the background and highlighting contours.


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6. Portrait Lighting in 10 Minutes: 1 Light - 5 Setups | Master Your Craft


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