Production: 5 Tips for Lighting Backgrounds

Lighting backgrounds can be a very interesting part of your shooting experience. Normally, you cannot do much to change the light on the subject without it becoming weird. But, with backgrounds, the options are infinite.

1. Keep the Subject Bright

The number one rule of thumb is that you always want your subject to be the brightest thing in frame. The human eye is naturally drawn in by light and by focus. Though you will do a marvelous job lighting the background, you still want the audience to look at the character. There are exceptions that can be argued, but generally speaking, keep the background darker than the subject.

2. Give Your Background Shape

Much like your subject, the background will look flat and ugly if you simply front light it. Texture looks great on camera. You have a room full of furniture and art that needs to look as dynamic as the person in it. Try side lighting or back lighting the objects in the background. Everything will look much more shapely and glamorous. This does not need to be done with hard sources; broad soft lights will do fine. But, the angle of light is important.

3. Use Practical Light Sources

To fully incorporate the set into your lighting scheme, use practical light sources. A dimly lit lamp is an aesthetic way to complete your frame. A gentle glow from a fish tank could look very serene. Even in daytime scenes, these unobtrusive sources can add just the right amount of sparkle to the scene. Put these sources on a dimmer so that you can bring down the intensity to the perfect level.

4. Highlight Certain Objects

Still remembering that you are trying to keep the background exposure below the subjects exposure, you may want to highlight certain pieces of the set. It can be hard to make these highlights look natural. Sometimes a soft pool over a vase is all you need. Other times you may want to overstep your reservations about motivation and do something crazy. A slash of light on the wall can be very artistic when done right. Place these embellishments carefully. A painting or a shelf would seem more relevant than a blank wall.

5. Create Shadows When Needed

Along with highlights come shadows. Creating texture with light is a great way to enhance you scene. A venetian blind pattern from a nearby window can make a boring wall interesting. If you want to get a bit more dynamic, you can look into a cookaloris, which will cut out a strange pattern from the light. A more natural approach is to use a "branchaloris" or a tree branch in front of the light. You can also steer away from patterns and use the shadows of individual objects of note. Try using a low angle with the light to create unnaturally tall shadows.

The background is where you can really stretch your creative legs. These are only a few suggestions to get your ideas flowing.

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