Lighting Basics: Part 1 – The Art and the Craft

By: Andrew Seltz

Have you ever seen a production crew working on location? I lived in New York for 11 years and production crews were everywhere. My old neighborhood uptown was a favorate location for Law & Order – they frequently parked their trailers in front of my apartment building! One of the most surprising things you discover the first time you see a film set is how unnatural the lighting looks. Usually the set looks way too bright. But somehow, when the camera rolls, it comes out looking right – natural.

Lighting for film and video is both an art and a craft. Anyone can learn the craft – how to light a set to create a variety of different looks that can be recorded on film or video.

Craft is what this series of articles is focussed on. We will be learning about the nature of light, how specific lighting instruments work, how to choose the right tools for the task at hand, how to work with available light, and finally how to bring this all together to systematically light a scene.

In the world of film and video, there are as many ways to light a set as there are cinematographers. The lamp on your table can often light a set as well as a professional movie light. One well chosen light can work better than a truck full of the ‘wrong’ lights. These articles will explore ways to use both professional and home-made tools – and show you when it pays to spend a little money.

Teaching art is a whole different ballgame. The art of lighting film and video is not about getting proper exposure and putting the lights in the right places. Art is about the ‘why.’ Why you choose to light a set this way instead of another way. It’s about expressing the themes of a story through the placement of light and shadow.

I won’t try to teach you art, but along the way I’ll recommend films to watch and exercises to do to encourage your artistic development. If you have artistic talent, it will grow as you learn your craft without any help from me.

Next Up: The Qualities of Light.

Andrew Seltz

Andrew was born in Michigan, raised there and in Tennessee, and has since lived outside Orlando, in Chicago, New York City, and now Birmingham, Alabama. He produces videos and websites for a living and is married to a beautiful, generous, loving woman who also happens to be a talented actress and writer - They have two daughters.

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