There are so many different types of lighting used in film and TV, but the key light is one you’ll find in just about every single shot set-up. From literally illuminating the subject of a shot to set the mood and ambiance, a key light truly plays a starring role in production lighting.
What is the Key Light?
The key light is the primary light used in film and photography to illuminate the subject of a scene. It is positioned in front of the subject and is often the brightest light in the scene.
The purpose of the key light is to provide a directional and dramatic light source that creates shadows and highlights on the subject.
How Does a Key Light Work?
While it typically serves as the brightest light source in the scene, there are no strict rules about the key light’s brightness or color. The key light can be diffused, angled, colored, or otherwise adjusted to match the tone of a scene, so you have plenty of creative freedom with just this single light.
In most cases, the key light is paired with a fill light and a backlight to create a three-point lighting setup. However, filmmakers often also use other lighting sources to create a more complex and dynamic effect. Sometimes, removing one of the additional fixtures is necessary to achieve a specific mood or look.
Why Key Lights are Important
Key lights are crucial for creating a cinematic atmosphere, providing depth and dimension to the subject, emphasizing features or creating a mood, and separating the subject from the background, thus creating contrast and drama in the scene.
Most Common Types of Key Lighting
There are three basic key lighting types:
Low-key lighting is a technique that uses a minimal amount of light to create dramatic and moody scenes. It is characterized by high contrast and deep shadows, with only a small amount of light illuminating the subject, and is often used in horror and film noir genres to create a sense of tension and suspense.
Medium-key lighting is a more balanced approach that uses a moderate amount of light to create a natural, realistic look. It’s characterized by a more even distribution of light, with fewer shadows and highlights, and is frequently used for dramas and comedies.
High-key lighting is a technique that uses a bright and even light source to create a soft and gentle look, characterized by a minimal amount of shadows and a bright, airy feel. High-key lighting is favored in romantic comedies and musicals to create a dreamy or romantic atmosphere.
Learn More About Professional Film & Video Lighting
If you want to successfully break into a highly competitive industry, you’ll need a strong foundation of skills, experience, and knowledge – and you can get all three from a professional training and education program like ours.
At the Beonair Network of Media Schools, with campuses located in Miami, Chicago, Colorado, and Ohio, students in our Film & Video Production program learn all of these crucial skills in the classroom and in the studio.
Start Your Film & Video Production Career Today!