How to Create a Three-Point Lighting Set Up

Filmmaking July 9, 2019 3 min read

The three-point lighting set up is the most used, basic, and effective way of lighting your subject. We’re talking about having one subject in front of your camera, such as an interview, with a static subject who stays roughly in the same place for the duration of the shot. 

We’ll go through exactly how to create your own three-point lighting set up in this tutorial. It’s quite simple, and you can get creative with what lights you use too. As long as they create the desired effect, you don’t even need fancy studio lights to achieve this! Let’s dive in!

Professionally Light a Subject with 3-Point Lighting

As its name suggests, this lighting set up is created using three lights. These are: 

  • The key light 
  • The fill light 
  • The back light (or hair light)

We’ll go through each of these in more detail, so you know exactly what function each one serves and where to position them in relation to your subject. 

1. Key Light 

The key light is the main light and will be doing most of the heavy lifting when lighting your subject. As the camera will be directly in front of your subject, this light will be positioned to one side of the camera. There are two main things to consider with the key light. 

Angle 

If your subject is facing head-on at the camera, you can decide what looks best for your scene in terms of where the key light should be. If your subject is facing to one side, the traditional way to light your subject is to have your key on the same side of the camera that your subject is facing. 

In this case, it’s as though the subject is looking directly into the key light instead of into the camera. You can also have the key on the opposite side of the face, but that’s simply a matter of personal opinion. 

Distance 

Bringing the key light close to the camera will give you more of a flat look. You’ll find the subject’s face is brighter and look closer to how a talk show would light their subject. Taking the light farther away from the camera, and more to the side of your subject, will give it more dramatic lighting. 

You’ll quickly see the difference in the number of shadows between various distances. The closer the light is, the fewer shadows you’ll have. While the farther away the key light is, more shadows will be present on your subject’s face. Use your discretion depending on the type of film look you’re going for. 

2. Fill Light 

As its name would suggest, the fill light fills in some of the shadows cast by the key light. You can really notice how the light removes some shadows around the nose, eyes, and chin. 

Place the fill light on the opposite side of the camera as your key light. You’ll also want to make sure that it’s not as strong as your key light. If you don’t have a light that can be dimmed, moving it further away from the subject works to make it less stronger. 

3. Back Light (or Hair Light)  

The back light is the final light in the three-point set up. You’ll notice this one creates a bit of a fringe of light around the back of your subject. This light should be placed behind the subject (making sure that it’s not in the shot), and angled so that it’s roughly pointed towards the key light. What the back light does is give a clear picture of the shape of your subject, acting as an outline. 

You can play around with this light if you want a character to look foreboding. Or, if you want to keep the subject’s identity a mystery but still have a pleasing, stylistic shot.  


The final result is a professional image that makes your subject look their best. Practice this lighting set up with whatever lighting you have at your disposal, and you’ll soon be able to light your subject perfectly with whatever you have around you at the time. 

If you have a couple of extra lights, don’t be afraid to add them in for extra depth. The three-point lighting set up is the most basic foundation of great lighting, but you can do more. Depending on your scene, you can get creative with both the types of lights you have and the placement of extras around your initial three lights.