Scene Lighting Tips

Shane Hurbut’s Illimination Experience Tour with MZed was a fantastic experience. You can technically describe how to light a scene. You can be very specific with cameras, lenses, locations, lights, distances, angles,… but nothing compares to being in the same space with Shane. To see how he tunes all of the aspects of camera and light to make the shot communicate before the director even yells action.

Shane Hurlbut illuminating the scene.
Shane Hurlbut illuminating the scene.

Below are a few, of the multitude, of tips he offered and other research to use as reference while preparing for your next film or motion graphics project.

Apps to Aide in Scene Lighting

  • The Grip App ($8, iTunes) – Dolly and crane stats on them to work out if they will fit while on location
  • Helios ($30, iTunes) – planning sun in scene
  • Set Lighting ($8) – pretty self explanatory, set lighting
  • Gobo (free, iTunes) a film dictionary app
  • Light Source Pro ($30, iTunes) – helps take the guesswork out of choosing the correct lamp for the job
Shane Hurlbut of Hurlbut Visuals, Francine Filsinger of San Diego Filmmakers, and Lauren O'Connell of O'Connell Design.
Shane Hurlbut of Hurlbut Visuals, Francine Filsinger of San Diego Filmmakers, and Lauren O’Connell of O’Connell Design.

A Few of the Essential Tools

Lighting TIP: Plop down the camera to see what the location holds. Determine the color temperature, exposure, and quality of existing light. Frequently you will discover something that adds to the mood.

5 Things to Remember for Close Ups

Lighting TIP: Keylight (square reflections give away while circular reflections are organic)

  1. Eye Shadow (when there is a shadow under the eye of the lit side of the face) makes the character look damaged or vulnerable.
  2. Half Light typically makes the character appear to have ulterior motives.
  3. Rembrandt Patch is a wedge of light under 2 eye (little light on the 2 eye) can be used to give the feeling of loss with hope.
  4. Nose Shadow (shadow under the nose, slight side cheek shadow) create a feeling of a clearer fate. This is a power position character.
  5. Set the light low enough to see the reflection in the eye

Lighting TIP: Do a light study while the actor is in makeup, prior to shooting. This allows you to work out idiosyncrasies with their face and improves communication, not to mention this might reveal something that will save your production time.

How to do a light study for an actor.
How to do a light study for an actor.

Discovery > Creation > Execution

  1. Figure out how a scene needs to look, feel, and be shot.
  2.  Embed the shotlist in the script. This gets everyone on the same page.
  3. Formulate look (describe the light) this will help the production designer (what colors are used in the scene paint on walls, materials used,…)
  4. Gather still photography for inspiration and to keep the production on track.
  5. Set keyframe for each scene. This is one shot to tell the emotion of the scene.
  6. Draw schematics

“It’s being obsessed with the light and heart of every single frame…”

A Few Miscellaneous Film and Motion Graphics Lighting Tips

  • Shane describes how he used lights, flags, and the camera to set the scene.
    Shane describes how he used lights, flags, and the camera to set the scene.

    Use Fill Light to set the mood.

  • Go into an interview with a point of view (mood, tone, visual references,…). The director wants to see what kind of collaborator you are
  • 33 Rule – The sole responsibility of the cinematographer is to follow the director’s vision. 33% to inspire the crew to kick a**, and 33% to work with the production to finish on time and on budget.
  • Frequently lighting is 1% of a film’s total budget.

For more information on Shane Hurlbut and his latest tips go to

O'Connell Design
O’Connell Design

O’Connell Design is a creative studio dedicated to film and motion, game cinematics, and engaging visuals. For more information on our studio and to view our portfolio go to