How to Get a Perfectly Lit Black or White Background

Light is life.

Without light, cinematography simply would not exist. There are many techniques on how to achieve a certain mood or look using light and how to light a scene properly.

Unfortunately, exposing a stop less or more and pointing your light source in front of your subject is not enough.  In this post we’ll focus on a couple of techniques how to evenly light your subject in front of white or black background with two or three lights only. 

First, let’s summarize the so-called “The Three Point” lighting technique. This is a standard method used in still photography and cinematography where three light sources are used.

Key Light

This is the main light. It is usually the strongest light source and has the most influence on the look of the scene. It is placed to one side of the camera/subject so that this side is well-lit and the other side has shadows.

Fill Light

This is the secondary light and is placed on the opposite side of the key light. It is used to fill the shadows created by the key. The fill light will usually be softer and less bright than the key light. To achieve this, you could move the light further away or use some diffusion. You might also want to set the fill light to more of a flood than the key.

Back Light

The back light is placed behind the subject and lights it from the rear. Rather than providing direct lighting (like the key and fill), its purpose is to provide definition and subtle highlights around the subject’s outlines. This helps to separate the subject from the background and provides a three-dimensional look to the scene.

When you light your subject in front of a black background you can still use this classic set up. However, you need to prevent spilling of the key and the fill light over the black background. As a rule-of-thumb, you should place your subject as far away as possible from the black background.  You can also use two lights only – Key Light on the one side of your subject and a Back light behind your subject. Let’s see how those tips work in practice.

The lighting set up with a white background and a subject in front of it is a little bit different. You can still use the three-point lighting technique for your subject. However, you should use additional light source(es) to spread the light evenly your white background if you want to achieve professional results.

In this case if you want to use only two or three light sources you could still achieve the desired look, however the set up would be a little bit different.

In the next video produced by Adorama TV we’ll see how to evenly light a white background and a subject with three light sources only.

Ultimately, there is another important rule you should follow when you a are lighting a subject in front of a white background.

No matter how much light sources you use make sure that the exposure of the white background is only a stop brighter than the light hitting your subject, not more. This is how you will prevent undesirable artifacts caused by overexposing the background behind your subject.

[ via izzyvideo and Adorama TV]

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