How to use the 3 point lighting

Lighting. It´s a wide subject. In fact, dreded by many to be the most difficult aspect of 3D graphics. There´s a saying: Lighting will either make or break your render.

Since this subject is infinite, we´ll be better off staring with something simple. The 3 point lighting is the most used lighting set up by professional photographers. In fact, it´s a standard lighting set up and a good starting point for portrait renders. It can be further expanded into 4 point lighting or simply using unlimited lights to suit your various needs.

So, why three lights and where to put them? The three lights are called: Key Light, Fill Light and Back Light. The names suggests what they do, so let´s break them down:

– Key Light

Key means main. Its job is to cast the main light onto your chatacter. In the real world, we´re used to having lighting coming from above. If we go outside, the sun always comes from above and so does the sky, which acts as a secondary light source. Well, unless you live in China and everything is upside down! Seriously, the sun will always stay on top.

Indoors, we´re mostly having lights in the ceiling or at least higher up on the walls. This is to simply mimick to what we´re used to outdoors. So, this suggest that our Key Light should come from above. And it does! Now, having it completely above the character would not lit the face. So that´s the Key Light often is set at an 45 degree angle. Having that done, it would now come from behind and above the camera, hitting our characters straight in the face.

Not pretty! We want some variations in the face. Therefore, again – the poor Key Light is moved 45 degrees to one side of the character. The final position would be, above and on one side of the camera and 45 degrees on both the X and Y axis. The Key Light intensity is often 80-100%.

– Fill Light

Having the Key Light positioned on one side of the camera, creates some nice variations on the face, and some dark shadows as well. The Fill Light has only one job: Fill in the shadows! It´s placed on the opposite side of the Key Light. Often coming from a 45 degree angle above – sometimes midheight. So, both the Key Light and Fill Light are positioned behind, above and on each side of the camera. The Fill Light is often much weaker than the Key Light. Around 25%-50% is usually a good intensity.

– Back Light

The Back Light, is the final light in the 3-point lighting set up. It has a single job: To cast a strong light coming from behind and from the side of the character. Why from the side? Well, here´s the thing with the backlight. It separates the character from the background and craetes a silhuette effect. If we were to put it straight behind our character, it would not be visible on the caracter itself. So, again – 45 degrees behind and above the character. The backlight can often be a lot stronger than the Key Light, because of its steap angle. A value of 100-200% usualy works good.

And that´s it! You can add a 4th light to the mix – a secondary Back Light on the opposite side of the first one. So you would end up having two Back Lights – both from behind and above the caracter – coming from each side of the character.

If you like, you can also add a 5th light, a so called Bounce Light. I often add one to get a sense of light bouncing off the floor. This light is often placed at ground level, infront of the character facing up. Usually very weak in intensity, around 10-15%.

Now, get out there and have fun!

You can download a free Basic Light Set for DAZ Studio and Pose that uses the above techniques:

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