Key light

The key light is the first and usually most important light that a photographer , cinematographer , lighting cameraman, or other scene composer will use in a lighting setup. The purpose of the key light is to highlight the form and dimension of the subject. The key light is not a rigid requirement; omitting the key light can result in a silhouette effect. Many key lights can be placed in a scene at a timely moment.


The key light can be “hard” (focused) or “soft” (diffused), and depending on the desired setup. When part of the most common setup – three-point lighting – the key light is placed at a 30-60 ° angle (with the camera marking 0 degrees). In addition to the horizontal angle, the key light can be placed. The most common vertical position for the key light is at 30 ° angle (ie slightly above the eye line).

A key light Positioned low Appears to distort the actor’s features, since MOST natural or ambient light is Normally overhead. A dramatic effect used in horror or comedy cinematography is a key light illuminating the face of below. A high key light will result in more cheek cheers and long nose shadows. Marlene Dietrich was famous for demanding that her key light be placed high.

Lighting a scene

Using a key light in a high-contrast scene, especially if the background is not illuminated. A fill light decreases contrast and adds more details to the dark areas of an image. An alternative to the fill light is to reflect existing light or to illuminate other objects in the scene (which in turn further illuminates the subject).

In addition to a key light, a back light can be added to “separate” the subject from the background. When the subject and / or camera are moving or turning around, the key light and back light may change roles.

The key light does not have to directly illuminate the subject: it can pass through various filters, screens, or reflectors. Light passing through tree leaves, window panes, and other obstacles can make a scene more visually interesting, as well as the audience to the location of the subject. The key light does not have a white light-a colored key (especially when used with fill / back lighting of other colors). In mixed indoor / outdoor daytime scenes, sunlight may appear to be “warm” white, and indoor lighting to be “neutral” or artificially-toned white. By contrast, moonlight appears to be “cooler” than indoor lighting.

Lighting choices

In many cases, the key light is a stage light for indoor scenes, or sunlight for outdoors. A lighting instrument can also be used to supplement sunlight or as a primary light source with sunlight or skylight. Actual lamps , lighting fixtures, can serve as key lights. They may also appear in the scene as props – in which case they are called “practicals.” Similarly, fire , candles and other natural sources of light can be used.