Lighting Technique – Distance of KeyLight for Cinematic Results

Lighting with control

I think its safe to say that we all would love to be able to master lighting and in particular, we would love to master dramatic and cinematic lighting. I would characterize lighting in such a way as the ability to play with light and shadow and having complete control over what areas of your image receive light and what areas of your image purposefully fall into black.

The more a scene has lots of play with areas of the frame that are in light and in shadow the more you appreciate the areas that are visibility lit and the more your eyes are drawn to specific parts of the frame. This style of lighting creates depth – a three dimensionality – to your work and draws a person into a scene; unlike a flatly lit scene where everything is evenly exposed.

Distance of Light

Listen Below to a small highlight of August Bradley’s CineSummit presentation where he discusses how varying the distance of a light in relation to your subject can create depth and drama due to varying degrees of “falloff” the light will have. I’ll let him do the talking . . . Check it out below.

A visual representation

In the image on the left, notice how the difference in light between number 1 and number 4 is f22 and f11, respectively . . . a Two stop difference. And a very similar similar distance between the number 4 and number 8 is f11 and f8 respectively . . . only a One stop difference. If you could imagine a profile face placed between numbers 1 and 4 with number 1 being the tip of the nose and number 4 being the ears, then the tip of the nose would be 2 stops brighter than the ears. Truly a dramatic image! Put that same profile’s face between numbers 4 and 8 and the difference between nose and ear would only be about a 1 stops difference. What a difference in drama the distance of the light makes due to the falloff of light on your subject!



  • Jason Prisk

    The principle here is correct. The terminology is not. There is a one stop difference between f8 and f11. There is a two stop difference between f11 and f22.

    • Aviv Vana

      Thanks Jason. Just caught the mistake and corrected it.

  • ivanguar

    what most still photographers and all videographers don’t understand is that lighting is not about light, but about flagging, netting, screemming and framing

  • ivanguar

    the day all you guys understand how to use all the “shapping” tools for lighting, that day you will start understanding lighting.

    • Aviv Vana

      I think your point is right on Ivan!

  • Aviv Vana

    Thanks for the kind words Aaron!