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Film Lighting Wiki Manual

posted May 2, 2017, 7:45 AM by Shayne L. van Vlerken

Lighting Conventions

Broadcast, Video, and Film Productions share common lighting conventions. Due to the fact that most lighting tools were originally developed for film, with a few tools introduced for video, the equipment carries ratings and specifications are standardized for film. All the lighting tools found in a decently equipped video production studio have direct relatives (usually just larger, brighter and more expensive) in a film production studio.


Every lighting fixture uses electricity. How much it requires and in what form varies on the application of the light(s). The electrical description consists of Voltage, Amperage, and Wattage. Commonly, studio lights use 115± (plus or minus) 5 Volts (V) or "225±5 V". The amperages (amperes or amps) and wattages (Watts or W) vary depending on the fixture, bulb type, and light output. 115V lights range from 10W (LEDs) up to 2000W-2500W (Halogen-Quartz), 225V range also from 10W to 4500W-5000W.


Refers to the actual light source. Most bulbs consist of a filament, insulating gas, and a glass encasement. Also known as "lamps," or "globes."
The cases or enclosures that hold a bulb, and often serve the purpose of directing the light. Fixtures range from simple bulb holders (such as clamp lights), to elaborate mechanisms (such as Source Four). Also known as "heads," or "instruments."
A device that holds the light where you want it to be. Some clamp to overhead lighting grids, while others are stands.
Power (AC)
The power source or the power supply. Where the light is getting its electricity.

Lighting equipment

Lighting kit just after it's been loaded off the van. More production stills here.

Lighting equipment consists of a great deal more than just sockets with bulbs. Lighting equipment (briefly) consists of bulbs (usually called 'lamps'), fixtures, dimmers/power units, mounts, light control/quality.


Redheads are a specific type of open-faced light made by Ianiro. They usually offer tungsten 1000W. They are also known as Mickey-Moles (when made by Mole-Richardson). The term Redhead comes from the reddish color of the original fiber casing and is often used to loosely describe smaller, open-faced lights.


Blondes are a 2k open-faced light. Because they are open-faced, they tend to put out more light than a 2k Fresnel.

Bulb Types

Video/Film recording lights use many different bulb types. Some are standards from Edison (tungsten) but others are cutting edge of the 2000s (LED). Most bulb types use a filament-ignition process to produce light. A wire of some electrically excitable material is put under voltage in an oxygen-depleted environment, causing it to 'burn' without lighting afire. Fluorescent bulbs and LEDs function rather differently from filament bulbs.


A tungsten light is basically a more powerful version of a common household light bulb. While a household light bulb may only take a few hundred watts at most, lights that are used to light film sets are easily 1000 watts (1K) and often over 20,000 watts (20K). The tungsten light bulb naturally produces an orange hue, similar to indoor lights. Tungsten lights have a color temperature ranging from 3200 to 3400 Kelvin. One typically uses a CTB (''color temperature blue'') filter to balance the color temperature with outdoor or HMI light.


Halogen-Quartz bulbs, often known as "Halogens" or "Quartz" are a staple of lighting. Halogens rarely posses a color temperature outside of 3200°K. These same bulbs are often used in car headlights, portable work-lights, and recently in house-decor lighting. The bulbs come in wattages ranging from 15W-3500W. Additionally they are manufactured in a wide range of enclosures, bases, and connectors. Common are the "T", and bayonet base. Halogens emit significant amounts of heat during operation, so much so that oils on the glass surface of the bulb case lead to uneven heat distribution and rupturing (through thermal shock to the glass) or heat build-up and exploding gas within the bulb.


An HMI light is used very often to light film sets. One requires a ballast in order to power and creates a loud noise when turning on, so it is set protocol to yell "striking" in order to warn others on set to both ignore the noise and avoid looking at the light. The HMI light is a different type of light bulb than the more common tungsten. An HMI emits ultra-violet lights and emits a blue hue. HMI lights produce a color temperature around 5600 Kelvin. One typically use a CTO (''color temperature orange'') filter to balance the color temperature with indoor or tungsten light.


Fluorescent bulbs were not used for lighting film and video until recently. This was because of problems with flicker and a tendency to emit more of a greenish hue. The Fluorescent lights used in film now are made to be flicker-free and come in both daylight and tungsten balanced bulbs. "Kino-flo" is one of the major companies involved in making fluorescent bulbs and fixtures for film and video production. Fluorescent lights tend to be very soft, but do not put out much light in comparison to other lighting instruments.


Until the last five to ten years Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) have seen little implementation. Recent advances in production costs and chemical advances used in the diode junctions have led to inexpensive LED 'bulbs' as well as even color temperatures in multiple bulbs. LEDs are manufactured in all colors, and white comes in many color temperatures; 3200K being the most common, but ranging from 3000K to 5600K+. Diodes, due to their engineered design tend to have a very directional light. The front lens is parabolic, focusing the light to a small dot even several meters away.

Light Control, Quality, and Appearance

Lighting Shape/Area

There are a number of tools used to control where light falls. Often these are used to prevent light falling where it is not needed. In other circumstances a pattern created by the light is desired.

Barn Doors

Perhaps the most common form of lighting area shaping, barn doors are found around the front outside of the fixture. Most commonly there are four barn doors forming a square around the fixture, but the numbers vary for specialty applications.

Basically, barn doors block the light from hitting an area of the set or frame you don't want them to. They swing towards and away from the fixture opening.


Gobos shape the light. Many gobos appear to be shapes cut in a cookie sheet (and indeed many are) but they consist of a material able to withstand the heat put out by the fixture, with shapes cut out for the light to travel through.

Think of gobos as jack o' lanterns.

Flags & Cutters

A flag or cutter can be any item that blocks light. A standard flag on set can be of varying sizes. The standard flag is attached to a small metal handle and short rod that can be attached to a C-Stand and placed so that it blocks the light from hitting something in the shot. Flags can be used to prevent light from hitting background walls, for example, leaving only the central subject/s in the light.

Types of flags include singles & doubles to cut down hard light. Solids to block light. Silks, though similar, are translucent and used to diffuse, rather than block light.


Blackwrap is essentially aluminum foil, but covered in black paint. It is often used to block light and kill any spill from a light. Blackwrap can be shaped however you like to affect where the light falls. It is useful in narrowing larger lights to point lights or spots or making lights non-circular. It is very inexpensive, light weight and more flexible than barn doors. However, it will burn on too hot a light, so watch for smoke. Blackwrap(TM) is a product from the company, Gam Products Inc. A similar product, CineFoil(TM) is made by Rosco Laboratories Inc.

Lighting Intensity


Adjusting the focus on a focusable light changes the distance between the actual bulb and a lens at the end of the light. This affects how diffuse the light is. Closer to the lens spreads the light out more, whereas farther back makes it closer to a spot. Try to do this before the light gets too hot, so you can adjust it without burning yourself.

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density filters are a variety of gel (or camera filter) which reduces all colors of light equally, making a light less intense without altering its color. This can be added on top of color gels or used on its own to make a light less intense.

Lighting Quality


Gels are thin and translucent. They come in rolls that can be cut into a more manageable size when needed. While a gel can be any color, there are two main colors which are referred to as Color Temperature Orange (CTO) and Color Temperature Blue (CTB). These two types of gel are respectively orange and blue, with varying degrees of darkness broken up into 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and Full. Full is the darkest and 1/8 is the lightest. When asking for a gel, one may say "I'd like a quarter CTO put on this light."

Gels are attached to a light in order to alter their color temperature. Tungsten lights produce an orange hue, while HMI's produce a blue hue. If filming outside with tungsten lights, gels would be needed to match the color temperature of the daylight if the DP wanted all the light to be the same color temperature. Daylight produces a blue hue like an HMI light, so CTB would be needed to be placed on all the tungsten lights. Gels are attached to lights with clothespins, also called "C-47's."

Besides CTO and CTB, to work with fluorescent lights or a "kino flo", there are "plus green" and "minus green" gels. Since fluorescent lights produce a green hue, a minus green gel would remove the green hue from a fluorescent light and a plus green gel would help match a non-fluorescent light to a fluorescent.


Some lights have clips for attaching gels, but the most common method of attaching them is via wooden clothespins (also referred to as C47s, pegs, or bullets). These clothespins will begin to smoke before the gels, so you can prevent your gels from being ruined, and they also don't conduct heat, so they can be manipulated even on a very hot light. They can also be reversed to give them a longer mouth, allowing you to use them to pull scrims from hot fixtures. Once reversed, they often go by C-74's or "scrim pullers".

General Lighting

Here is the nitty-gritty of the page. Although different formats have varying needs in both quantity and quality of light, the underlying yet critical concepts of lighting are fairly applicable to any medium.

Lighting Digital Video

Dynamic range. There are many differences between DV and film, but one that particularily stands out regarding lighting is dynamic range.

Most DV and video cameras have a relatively low dynamic range. (I.ex. the Sony PD150 has about 4-5 stops, and Kodak's 50D film has up to 11). This means the range between the completely black and the whitest white is very low. One therefore has to keep this in mind while lighting. This has been an integral part of cinematography since the beginning. Controlling so one can see details in the darkest area of an image, and also in the brightest. One can always adjust the contrast in post (Colorgrading). This style of working is called shooting for post. (The DV standard has an ok light intensity resolution, so adjusting contrast in post is not as difficult as adjusting color.)

White balance. As the DV standard has a low color-resolution, it is important to control and know how to filter and white balance the image on set. It has been proved difficult to adjust color in post with a good result, although it has been done. Regarding lighting, be aware of the possibilities the white balance setting on the camera have, and use gels on the lamps, and sometimes on windows to create a neutral image.

In return for these shortcomings, DV-cameras can be more light-sensitive than most film stocks, and therefore require less light intensity, to give the same image. (PD150 is about 320ASA versus Kodak's 50D's 50ASA. One would need about 8 times more light, to get the same image at the same F-stop). Although high ASA film is available.

You just do what you have to do.