“If you want to make films, make films.”

In this post I’ll teach you about key terms and techniques we use when we shoot our video productions here at Sparksight. These terms are not only to inform you of videography jargon, but can help break down specific setups that nearly all feature films use and can really take your budget filmmaking to the next level. All it takes is a little patience to learn and create!

1. Let there be light!
Light is key to your production. Lighting can convey mood, energy, suspense etc. so here are some key terms we use for lighting that can help you in the future to light your subjects based on what kind of mood you’d like to set. Even if you don’t have the budget to buy professional lighting equipment, nearly anything emitting light can be used to create your scene. Everything from lamps, car lights, flood lights to even a computer monitor can help set the mood you’re trying to achieve.

Here is a birds-eye view of 3-point lighting in detail:


Sample 3-Light Setups


Key light

The key is your primary source of light. It is the light that changes where shadows fall on faces. Shadow is your main tool for conveying mood. In traditional 3-point lighting, this is usually your biggest light pointed at your subject to get exposure. The key light can come from any angle, and should be flexible when you need to decide which side light should come from. Oftentimes, it is put at the subject’s 45*, raised and tilted down 45*.

Fill Light

The fill light is what controls your contrast ratio. A lot of times, your key will be really powerful and the shadows create a really dark side on the subjects face. Fill helps bring up this side so you can not only see it, but you can control how dramatic it is. The more your fill approaches your key, the less dramatic it will be. Also, depending on where the fill is placed, you can make a light look like it’s “wrapping” around your subject, creating a nice gentle fall off into shadow.

Back/Hair Light

This lights up the subjects hair or back. It’s used to help separate the subject from the background. It is especially helpful when your subject has black hair on a dark background. If the light is offset to 45* at eye level, you get something called a “kicker”. This is where the light creates more than just a little edge. It starts creating a much hotter “zone”. This is generally favorable on men because most women’s hair will block the light from hitting their faces.


The background light exposes anything in the background you would like to see. It’s also used to create contrast in the rest of your frame.

Eye/Catch Light

The eye light is the little sparkle in your subject’s eye. Often times, it will naturally be there as a result of your key light. Setting up a specific catch light can easily draw attention to the subjects eyes and help initiate a mood or feeling towards your actor. Here’s an example of lighting in action. This image features the same scene, just with a dramatic lighting setup. You can transform any scene from ‘co-worker lunch-break’ to ‘super-hero happy hour’ just by lighting alone…


2. Cinematic Filming Techniques

Now, let’s talk a bit more advanced than key terms here. Once you’ve figured out your lighting style and camera shot, it’s time to talk about the psychology of filmmaking techniques. These are little techniques that I’ve learned over the years about how to really capture the best scene from any location you’re shooting from. Take these with a grain of salt, but keep them in mind next time you’re making a film.

Building the frame and creating depth within your scene.

One of the greatest limitations I’ve encountered over the years is the shooting space I had to work with. Most low-budget films find themselves struggling to create expansive space in their films. It’s pretty hard to lock down the Library of Congress when you need a good background of bookcases. The first and most basic tool for increasing depth in a frame is to move your subjects away from walls or backgrounds. It will be simpler to light and give you great advances on different shooting angles and create an illusion of depth when you’re tight for space.


Using corners

Taking on that idea of creating depth and removing the “flatness” of a room or space, is to shoot towards the corner of the room. It’s a great trick we see all the time in movies, and really provides an illusion of space when we’re watching it on the big screen


Through the looking glass

Shooting inside is great, and gives us control of lighting and elements, but sometimes it’s even better to bring the outside in. Really take advantage of lighting the scene so the viewers can see the outside world, as well as the action inside. It really helps create a sense of espial realism and gives some depth to the scene.


Hopefully these terms + tricks will help get the ball rolling on your next production. Filmmaking should be fun no matter what you intend on shooting.

5 responses to “Take Your Budget Filmmaking to the Next Level

  1. Have you ever considered writing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

    1. Hi Vurtil,

      We haven’t really considered writing an e-book because we like to share information through our YouTub channel. We share tips on how to make video easy. Check it out – youtube.com/sparksight

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