Simple Cheat Sheet for Lighting a Subject for Photo or Video

If you’re just getting started with studio work, this lighting cheat sheet will come in handy when you’re shooting a subject for portraits or videos.

New to shooting in the studio and wondering how to do the lighting? It’s definitely an important part of studio work, but all the equipment and lighting techniques could be intimidating to every beginner. However, with this simple cheat sheet we spotted from r/coolguides, you’ll be on your way to getting started with learning how to light.

In the cheat sheet below, we are shown the 3 Point Lighting technique, a simple but effective way to arrange three light sources around your subject. It’s a traditional lighting technique used for both photos and videos, and a versatile system from which most lighting methods are based. It uses three lights: key light, fill light, and back light (also called hair light or rim light). Tubular Insights quickly explains what each of the lighting does in their article.

As indicated in the infographic, the key light is your primary light source, so it should directly illuminate your subject. However, it shouldn’t be placed directly in front — that’s where your camera should be — but slightly to the side.

On the opposite side is the fill light, which, as the term suggests, fills the dark side of your subject. It’s advised to include a fill light at all times when you’re shooting videos, but for photography, you might feel experimenting shooting without it (especially if you have a big, diffused light source) for a dramatic look. Use a dim fill light to get a little detail on the dark side of your subject while keeping the mood dramatic, or use a brighter one if you want a more even look.

Last is the back light or rim light, which is placed behind the subject and pointed at the back of their neck. This adds an extra definition to their outlines and help separate them from the background. It should also be high enough to keep it out of the frame. This light, however, shouldn’t be too bright.

There you have it, your quick guide and cheat sheet to lighting your subject for photos or videos in the studio. If you want more basic portrait lighting tips, check out this tutorial on five basic lighting setups to try in the studio.