July, 12, 2022
Hey, did you know that Hollywood uses shadow side lighting techniques to make their footage cinematic? For our “Quick Tip of the Day” we’ll quickly show you what is shadow side lighting, and how to use it.
Once you see this technique that Hollywood uses, you won’t be able to un-see it. Hollywood and most professional videographers or cinematographers use this technique nearly all of the time. This lighting method changed my videography career, ever since I learned about it. It’s singlehandedly one of the most vital discoveries I made for my video career.
So what is this special Hollywood lighting technique? It’s actually super simple: the lighting method is known as shooting “shadow side.”
Shooting shadow side, also known as back lighting or off lighting, is achieved by placing the light source on the opposite side of the camera. You can see this in the picture on the right. The camera is aimed at the side profile of the face while the light is coming from the opposite side and lighting my face. This in turn is creating a shadow on the part of the face that is closest to the camera.
This technique of shooting “shadow side” is one the foundations of cinematic lighting. It creates interest in the frame and helps draw your eye to the subject. It creates a lot of depth in the video and this helps people feel like they are in the video themselves and watching it from inside.
The number one advantage to filming shadow side is that you can separate your subject from the background because it naturally creates a rim light. Many times to add even more depth to the video, videographers will add a strong rim light to a subject to make them “pop” in the frame.
If you want to try this yourself, all you have to do is to place your subject in frame with the lights you cannot control on the opposite side of the subject/camera. As you can see on the far left image below, the sun (which we couldn’t control) is directly behind the subject creating a rim of light around our subject; which for this examples sake is me.
Now this isn’t the lighting we want, because I am nearly a silhouette. So what we did is added another light on the same side as the window, to act as the window light. In the picture in the middle it looks natural, as if it was actually the window lighting my face. Lastly, we added a sharper rim light around the top of my head and matched the color temperature of the lamp in the room to make it look like the lamp was adding an orange glow to my face. This is what you’d expect because you see the lamp in the frame. Lighting this way creates a natural look because no one is trying to figure out where the light is coming from.
As a bonus, you can add practical lights to make things look even more realistic and dynamic. A practical light is simply: a light that’s present in a scene and is visible to the camera. When you use practical lights on your scene it’s best to put them in a position that influences the lighting you want to use in the frame.
We took out the practical lights in this shot to show you the difference it makes when you have lights on the scene in order to add interest, realism and to use them to influence where the light falls on your subject. In the scene on the right it just looks like a dark room and somewhere in that room there’s a light. What’s lighting the subject, no one can tell.
By adding the practical lights on this scene we create plenty of visual interest and also subconsciously we think that the window is lighting my face and that the lamp is causing the orange glow on my head. When in reality, the light from the window and lamp is actually barely effecting my face, instead we used our own controlled lighting to add light to my scene, properly expose my subject, and add depth by separating the subject from the background.
By using the shadow side lighting method in your next video and adding practical lights to your scene, whether it’s for YouTube, Instagram or your next short film, will make your work look a lot more professional and will set you on the trajectory of having great looking shots in all of your videos.