Hollywood lighting is well-known for creating dramatic and cinematic effects.
It has become a signature style of films and television shows, increasing their visual appeal and engagement.
Recreating Hollywood lighting may appear to be a difficult task, but with some basic knowledge and the right equipment, you can achieve similar results.
This post will go over how to replicate Hollywood lighting in your own productions even if you don’t have all of the same equipment.
Understanding the Basics
Before we dive into the specifics of recreating Hollywood lighting, it’s essential to understand the basics of lighting. Lighting is the art of creating shadows, highlights and contrasts to bring out the beauty and mood of a scene. We will be looking at three types of light: key light, fill light and backlight.
The key light is the primary light source in a scene. It’s the brightest and most directional light that illuminates the subject usually from one side. The key light is typically placed at a 45-degree angle to the subject, either to the left or right. It creates strong shadows and contrasts, emphasizing the shape and form of the subject.
The fill light is the secondary light source in a scene. It’s a softer, less directional light that illuminates the subject from the opposite side of the key light. The fill light reduces the harsh shadows created by the key light, creating a more balanced and natural look.
The backlight is a third light source that illuminates the subject from behind. It creates a rim of light around the subject, separating them from the background and adding depth to the scene.
Recreating Hollywood Lighting
Now that we’ve covered the basics of lighting let’s move on to recreating some Hollywood lighting. We recently did an Audrey Hepburn-inspired portrait session and created soft, yet dramatic and cinematic effects. Here are some tips to get you started.
Use hard light.
Hollywood lighting is known for its hard, directional light that creates strong shadows and contrasts. To achieve this effect, you could use a hard light source such as Fresnel lights. These lights have a concentrated beam of light that you can focus and direct precisely. You can also use speedlights or strobes without a diffuser.
Contrast is an essential element of Hollywood lighting. To create contrast, you need to use a key light that’s brighter than the fill light. The key light should be placed at a 45-degree angle to the subject, either to the left or right. Place the fill light on the opposite side of the key light to create a softer, less directional light. Again you can use a speedlight or strobe. Also consider Clamshell lighting to slightly soften the shadows.
Gobos are metal or glass patterns that can be used to create shadows and textures. Hollywood lighting often uses gobos to create a patterned or textured background. Gobos can be placed in front of the light source to create a specific pattern or texture. Don’t own a Gobo? That’s fine. I actually placed my pattern in the background in Photoshop while editing.
Use color gels.
Color gels are transparent colored filters that can be placed over the light source to create a colored light. Hollywood lighting often uses color gels to create a specific mood or atmosphere. For example, a blue gel can create a cool, moody effect, while a red gel can create a warm, passionate effect. Don’t have gels? You don’t have to use them at all, or add some color grading in post-production.
Use back light.
Backlight is a crucial element of Hollywood lighting. It creates a rim of light around the subject, separating them from the background and adding depth to the scene. To create backlight, you need to place a light source behind the subject, either slightly above, below or to the side. You can have this fairly soft or almost as a spotlight effect.
Use smoke or haze.
Smoke or haze can create a cinematic atmosphere, making the scene more visually engaging. Smoke or haze can be used to create a mysterious or dreamy effect, adding to the overall cinematic look. Again this becomes a personal choice and availability of gear. This step can be left out entirely (like I did) or added in Photoshop later.
To recreate Hollywood lighting, you need the right equipment. Here’s a list of what we used in our Audrey-inspired studio session:
Key Light — I used a Godox AD400 Pro, and added a 90 cm (36″) Octobox Diffuser
The key light often has a concentrated beam of light that can be focused and directed precisely. Using a softbox or diffuser to soften the light if you prefer a more natural look.
Fill Light — I used Godox AD400 Pro, and added a 40 cm (16.5″) Beauty Dish
Fill light will balance out the harsh shadows created by the key light. I used a clamshell setup for my session, as I find the light more flattering and softens harsh shadows under the chin. While not typical Hollywood, it still looks great.
Back Light — There are several options, I went for my Godox AD200Pro with the Godox AK-R1 Dome diffuser
This light should be placed behind the subject, slightly below her shoulders to create a rim of light around the subject. The dome diffuser dramatically softens the light. I also pointed my light directly up to the white ceiling above which then bounced even softer light back onto my subject’s head and shoulders.
Optional additional equipment like gobos, gels or smoke can be left out altogether, or added in post-production as I did. Alternatively, you could hire or borrow for the day from a camera equipment supply store. Check availability with your local retailer.
Recreating Hollywood lighting may seem like a daunting task. But with some basic knowledge and the right equipment, it’s possible to achieve similar results. By understanding the basics of lighting and using hard light sources, creating contrast, using backlight, using gobos and color gels, and adding smoke or haze, you can recreate Hollywood lighting in your own productions. Remember to experiment and have fun with your lighting setups to create your own signature style.
Don’t forget to start with the right hair, makeup and styling to really set your session apart.
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