The Three Point Lighting Technique is a standard method used in visual media such as video, film, still photography and computer-generated imagery. It is a simple but versatile system which forms the basis of most lighting.
The three lights used in this method are called the key light, the fill light and the back light.
You will need three lights to utilize the technique fully, but as a rule:
- If there is only one light available, it becomes the key light;
- If there are two lights, one is the key and the other is either the fill or the backlight.
The key light is the main light and it is usually placed on one side of the camera/subject, on the front right or on the front left, so that this side is well lit and the other side has some shadow. It can also be located directly in front of the subject, if it does not move a lot.
The main light should be placed above the subject facing downwards in an angle of about 45 degrees if possible, so that the eyes are shown properly.
The fill light is often symmetrically with the key light on the opposite side of the face. It is often softer and less bright than the key light. To achieve this, it can also be well below and further away or it can be softened with filters. An optimal brightness of the fill still leaves some soft shadows created by the key light that shape the person’s face naturally.
The backlight lights the subject from behind or diagonally from the rear. It needs to be placed quite high, so that the light hits the hair and the shoulders. It aims to provide definition and subtle highlights around the subject’s outlines and thus separate her/him from the background and provide a three-dimensional look.