What is a Three-point Lighting System?

What is a Three-point Lighting System?

One of the most crucial things to master when it comes to creating any kind of visual media is lighting. Light helps to set the mood, indicate temperature, add texture and colour, and has a huge influence on where people will focus their attention. You can even change whether a person is perceived as happy or sad, attractive or ugly, innocent or evil just by using different lighting techniques.

If you don’t provide video production services for a living, trying to understand how to use lighting might seem overwhelming. But it’s not as complex as you might think, and you don’t need a video production studio to make it work. Here, we take you through the basics of the three-point lighting system and how you can use it to get the effect you want from your videos.

Lighting Basics – The Three-point Lighting System

A good place to start for any introduction into the world of film lighting is the three-point lighting system. It’s easy to understand, and it’s really the foundation of most lighting setups. Once you understand this method, you’re well on your way to having a firm grasp on how lighting works.

If you want to see some real life examples of how lighting can effect the mood of a shot, check out our video on lighting:

The first thing you need to know is what the different lights are called, what they’re used for and how to position them.

Key Light

The key light is your main light source and will have the biggest impact on how a scene is going to look. It’s typically the brightest light and will be placed in front of the subject on either the right or left side, depending on which side you want to highlight.

It should be angled at about 30 degrees to the left or right of your subject and placed as high as possible to decrease the amount of shadow.

Fill Light

Your fill light is the secondary light source, and it’ll be placed in front of your subject, on the opposite side of your key light. The brightness of your fill light sets the contrast and determines how the shadows produced by your key light are going to look.

It should also be angled at 30 degrees but placed on the same height as your subject. For instance, if you’re doing an interview, it should be positioned at the subject’s eye level.

Back Light

Also known as a rim light, the back light is placed behind the subject, and its job is to separate the background from your subject and provide definition for the subject’s outline.

Place the light in a high position and angle it down so you can give your subject a sharp outline. Also, make sure it’s not shining directly into the lens of the camera. If you’re having trouble with this, change the angle you’re shooting from or place something between the light and the lens.

Using Three-point Lighting to Create the Right Effect

Now that you know the purpose of these three light sources and how to position them, next you need to know how to use this system to create the right effect.

Step 1: Turn out the lights.

To get a frame of reference for how you want to use each light source, start with all the lights out, and eliminate as much ambient light as you can.

Step 2: Switch on the key light.

As it’s going to be the most influential light, the first light you need to adjust is the key light. Fine-tune the brightness until you get the desired effect, and you’re good to go.

Step 3: Bring in the fill light.

Usually, your fill light will be about half as intense as the key light, so start with this. Then alter the brightness depending on the amount of shadow you want on the side of your subject that’s facing the fill light.

Step 4: Turn on the back light.

The intensity of your back light is determined by how dramatic you want your scene to be. If you’re filming an interrogation scene, you’d want the back light to be very dim, but if you’re filming a client testimonial, you’d want the back light to be about as bright as your key light.

Step 5: Look through the lens.

This might sound obvious, but things like this are easy to forget. Remember, the way your shot looks through the naked eye is probably not the same as how it looks through the camera lens. So, make sure to look at the monitor or through the viewfinder and check to see if you need to do any more tweaking.

Still struggling to shine the right light on your subjects? Check out our video production services or contact The Best Media for more information on our video production studio.

Rob Pacinelli

Roberto Pacinelli is the VP of The Best Media and Senior Digital Marketing Strategist with a career in digital marketing spanning over 19 years. Roberto and The Best Media have helped thousands of small, medium and large businesses succeed online across Canada, USA and the world with many business owners recognizing Roberto and his team as their Key to Success in helping their businesses earn millions of dollars as a result. Call Roberto Pacinelli at 416 253 0934 or email him at