Lighting Concepts - dkmackinnon

Lighting Concepts

Back Lighting

Back lighting involves lighting from behind the model, causing the edges of the model to glow, leaving other areas partially or completely in shadow. The effect produces a halo of light around the model.

Creative Lighting

Playing with a variety of lighting concepts.

Digital Light Painting

This technique involves projecting images onto the model, who then creates uses costume, props and posing to match the projected image.

Because the projected image is a significant part of the artistic element of the final image, only public-domain images are used for digital projection except where the digital artist can be involved in the creation process. For a collection of images to be used for projection in upcoming projects, see this folder.

Golden Hour

The Golden Hour refers to the time just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is no more than about 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon. The long rays add a red tinge that colours sunlight golden, as well as providing less contrast so the shadows are not as dark as during the middle of the day.

High Key Lighting

High-key lighting consists of very few shadows. Taken to extreme, high-lighting can have portions bright enough to saturate the camera sensor. This effect produces very bright images that can be minimalist in form.

Low Key Lighting

Low-key lighting involves creating a strong contrast between light and dark areas (what is known as a chiaroscuro effect), such as in silhouettes or using back lighting. It is often created using a single light and possibly a reflector, although it can also be created using two lights. Low-key refers to any image in which there is a lot of shadow. The effect, though, can be a rich image with strong shadows while providing enough light for the model to play with.

Shadow Patterns

Natural lighting can be combined with patterned materials and gobos (go before optics) to create patterned lighting. The sun is the easiest light source for shadow patterns, but street lights or other highly directional light sources (not strobes) can also be used.


When backlighting is taken to the extreme (the background about 16 times brighter than the foreground) , the result is a silhouette. A silhouette consists of a lit background with the foreground so in shadow that it becomes a single colour. This can be posing challenge for the model in that the entire story must be told in contour.

Soft Lighting

Light can be soft or hard, the distinction being how quickly it transitions from bright to dark areas. Soft lighting happens when the "grey zone" between the brightest and darkest portions is broad. It lacks harsh shadows so is often used in portraiture to give a more pleasing appearance. The key is making the light big: it should come from a wide area, possibly all around the model. The result is light that wraps around the model, providing a pleasing and sometimes sensuous result.

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