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Tips & Tricks

Using Different Light Setups to Help You Tell a Story

By Hanssie on May 7th 2015

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred thousand times already, and it’s something you already know.Lighting is important. Lighting can make a person look fantastic, years younger and pounds thinner, or it could have the opposite effect. Case in point, this image from our Lighting 101 Workshop DVD:



Yes, light is important to make your subject look great (or not so great), but lighting can also be used to tell the story. Think about all the scary movies you’ve seen. Most, if not all of them are dark and shadowy, with eerie high-pitched music that builds the suspense until your heart is racing, and you want to cover your eyes. Suspenseful scenes are rarely set on the beach while the sun is shining, and birds are chirping (except for Jaws…and maybe Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’). Anyhow, light in cinematography and photography can be a powerful tool to enhance the story you’re trying to convey.

In the following tutorial, Lighting With Story In Mind, Simon Cade of DSLR Guide gives many techniques to help you tell a story using lighting. Though the video is geared for filmmakers, much of what he shares is applicable to photography as well. He discusses four aspects of lighting that are important to consider: placement, intensity, color and quality with examples from popular movies demonstrating each.


This 10-minute video is the second in a series called, ‘Storytelling with Cinematography.’ The first video covers framing and composition to help tell the story and is also worth a watch. Both videos can be applied to cinematography and photography to create better stories for your viewer.

Equipment Used:

Watch Lighting – Storytelling with Cinematography

You can see diagrams from the video above as well as the first video at DSLR Guide’s blog post here and make sure you check them out on their website, Twitter, and Instagram.

[Via No Film School]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    thanks for sharing this!

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  2. desmond chislom

    great article

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  3. Paul Empson

    Lighting is a dark art… :-D understand and learn how to control it and photos will improve massively…. so much cheaper than kit too..

    hmmm.. 20% discount on the Lighting 101 tutorial…. marketing & salesmanship 101 possibly ;-)

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    • Thomas Horton

      Since a lot of lighting in photography is about shadows, I think you are right in that it is a dark art. :)

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  4. Thomas Horton

    Lighting is definitely one of those areas in photography where it is true that it is not the equipment, but the photographer.

    I fear that too many photographers struggle with decisions about bodies and lenses, when perhaps they would be better served by learning about lighting.

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    • Raoni Franco

      This, a thousand times this!! And I would add that you need to actually experiment with different light conditions, sizes, positions, colors, on different subjects, different skin colors, different face structures, etc. to actually understand whatta hell this is all about. If you just read about how light works and how it can effect your subject, trust me, you don´t know how light works and how it can effect your subject.

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    • Thomas Horton

      I am still trying to get my brain to understand the book “Light Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting”.

      Light is complicated!

      Much easier to argue about Megapickles. LoL

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    • Michael LaNasa

      I agree completely. Early-on, I was so obsessed with the gear and the best glass possible. Now I spend a healthy amount of time planning the lighting more than so many other technical aspects.

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