What exactly is motivated lighting in film? The term refers to the idea that light should be used to add depth and meaning to a scene. Lighting is not just about giving an image visual interest; it’s also a way of adding emotion, context and symbolism.

What Is Motivated Lighting In Film?

Tone is important in photography and it’s even more vital to use the appropriate tone when you’re creating film. Motivated lighting can be extremely effective when done correctly.

What Is motivated lighting

What Is motivated lighting in film?

Motivated lighting is a lighting technique meant to imitate natural light sources in the film scene such as the sun.

Motivated lighting is when the director of photography or the director of the film uses a source of light that is not natural but they use it because it serves a purpose to help tell the story.

The primary goal is to create a mood. When the setting is perfect, it adds more emotion to the scene. That wasn’t always the case.

Early films were often difficult to watch because they didn’t have good lighting that matched the mood of the scene.



Motivated lighting is a technique where your choice of lighting builds upon the emotional content of the scene that you are shooting. For example, if you have a serious scene with an actor who is distraught, you may choose to shoot them in a pool of light to really emphasize their sadness.

Or if you’re trying to capture a moment of heightened drama or tension, you mayuse dark colors and deep shadows to make the viewer feel uneasy or frightened. The main thing that makes motivated lighting effective is its motivation or logic—it has to make sense within the given context of your shot.

If there’s no logical reason for you to use deep shadows in one situation, then don’t do it! This doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment with motivated lighting.

Roger Deakins On Motivated Lighting

In a recent interview with the American Society of Cinematographers, legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins shared some illuminating thoughts on how to light motivated scenes. Motivated lighting occurs when there is one key source of light that reveals an interior space.

In these situations, which are common in low-budget films and TV shows, the source of light itself can often be masked or hidden by a character to create a dramatic effect.

Deakins explained:

“There’s no reason why you need to see a lamp in the corner, or a window—or whatever it is that’s putting light into the room—when you’re looking at two people having a conversation. That said, I always get nervous when someone says ‘Oh, let’s hide this light.’ That’s when I think something is wrong. If it looks like there is a lamp over there putting light on this person and I don’t see it—I think that’s great.”

Here are some more examples from movies and TV shows where motivated lighting works beautifully:In the shot from Miller’s Crossing above, we don’t actually see the motive light (a lamp in the far left corner).


The Main Lighting Techniques In Film

Lights are a crucial factor in any type of photography. They are an important part of photography that can really make or break your pictures. While there are many different types of lights and different ways to use them, this post is going to focus on the 3 main lighting techniques used in film.


Tungsten is a popular choice because it resembles natural light. It’s also very common in household lamps and light bulbs, which is why tungsten is used in household lighting. Since it is a type of incandescent light, it produces yellow/orange light that has a high color temperature.

This gives a very warm tone that mimics natural sunlight. But this type of lighting can be difficult to control since the light source is so close. It’s best to use this when you want to mimic natural sunlight (during the day).


Fluorescent lights have a cool, green tint that gives off a more modern vibe than tungsten. They’re often found in office buildings and schools since they produce relatively little heat and are energy efficient.

Fluorescent lights are perfect for shooting indoors during the day because they create fewer shadows than tungsten lighting. They’re also ideal for shooting when you need a clean white background.

Cinematic Lighting Setups

Tungsten lighting is often the go-to when trying to achieve a cinematic look. It’s not the only way to light a scene and it’s certainly not the best all the time but for me, it’s always worth experimenting with.

Description: To start, you’ll need some diffusion on your light(s). This will soften the shadows and help eliminate hot spots. You can use anything from thin sheer fabric or muslin to full-on diffusion sheets which are basically a white sheet of material that is semi-see-through.

I typically use a 4×4 sheet of diffusion (a little bigger than the softbox) but have also used smaller sheets in situations where I wanted to control more of my shadows. You can also buy premade diffusers for your head(s) but I’ve found this to be an unnecessary expense if you’re willing to take a few minutes and DIY.

If you’re going for a super soft light, you can also add a silk sock (you can buy these pre-made as well) over your speedlight head or bare bulb.  I often use this along with my diffusion sheet to further soften my light as silk doesn’t diffuse as much as muslin or some other fabrics.


What Are Motivated Light Sources Used For In Film?

When you are trying to figure out what motivated light sources are used for in a film, you might want to think about how the director wants you to feel about the characters. Sometimes it will be as simple as showing a character at home where there is soft light and not showing that same character in the harsh light of day.

Other times, the director will use lighting to show that there is something wrong with a character or that they could be dangerous. What are motivated light sources used for in film?

Motivated light sources can be used for different things but when it comes down to it, motivated light is all about telling the story through visuals. It’s all about making sure that you get across what you want your audience to feel through the visual choices that you make, which is why it’s so important to use motivated lighting whenever possible.

One way to do this is by having a character who is supposed to be good use soft, warm tones while portraying a bad person or one who has an evil agenda. A good example of this is Norman Bates in Psycho.

We know right off the bat that he’s supposed to be bad because of his dimly lit house and his mother’s constant presence throughout the film.

Cinematic Types Of Lighting In Film

These five types of lighting are often used to create mood and atmosphere in films. Each of them has a specific purpose, and each is capable of creating a unique aesthetic and tone. Just by swapping out one type of lighting for another, you can completely transform the look and feel of your film.


Exterior Day

Exterior Day lighting is intended to mimic a natural day-like light found outside. It tends to be very soft and subtle, with a higher yellow/orange cast, as it’s reflecting off of all the particles in the air during this time of day.

This type of natural daylighting is great for establishing shot compositions, as it provides an even light across the frame that doesn’t have too much variation (hard or blocked light) or too little variation (flat lighting).

Exterior Dusk

Exterior dusk lighting is intended to mimic a natural dusk-like light found outside. It’s similar to exterior day, but will usually have slightly more color variation in the scene due to more shadows being present at this time of day.

This type of natural daylighting is great for creating deep shadows on faces/subjects (which can be nice for character driven films), as well as adding some movement with natural light sources like street lights or headlights from cars driving.

Purpose Of Lighting In Film

Lighting is one of the most important elements in filmmaking, and it’s an art form unto itself. It can make a terrible script seem brilliant, or a brilliant script seem ordinary. In short, lighting can make or break your film.

Tungsten lights are the most common type of artificial light used in film production. These lights provide a lot of warmth and are ideal for filling in shadows on faces. However, tungsten lights cannot be placed too close to the subject because they can create unwanted shadows on the background objects as well as on the subject’s face.

The purpose of lighting in filmmaking is to focus attention on the subject while maintaining consistency within the scene, and to produce a desired mood or effect. Lighting also helps viewers interpret the content of a film. For example, dark scenes will have very little detail while bright ones will have more detail.

Filmmakers use three different types of lighting: hard lights, soft lights, and natural light.

  • Hard-light sources include lamps, reflectors, and flashlights.
  • Soft lights are diffused light sources that come from windows or translucent fabrics like silk.
  • Natural light is sunlight or moonlight.

Each type of light has its own characteristics and uses.

Motivated Lighting Tips

Hey guys! It’s John and today, I’m going to share with you some tips that maybe you didn’t know about motivated lighting.


Motivated Lighting is all about the placement of your light. When shooting motivated images, we want to highlight certain areas of the body. For example: If your subject has a great set of abs and you want to bring out the definition in their abs, have the light hit them from underneath. It will pull out the definition in their abs.


If your subject has a nice set of legs and you want to make them look even better, have the light coming from above and hitting them from the top down. It will create shadows on their legs which will give them more shape and make their legs look even better than they do already.


Now sometimes you’re shooting motivated images and you don’t really know where to put your lights at. You just kind of throw them up there, but what I’ve started doing is I’ve started putting my lights all over the place, I’ve put them high, low and all around my subject to start blocking it out.

Once I have all my lights in place that are in position, then I start moving them around until I’m happy.

How To Create Motivated Light In Cinematography

It’s a common challenge for filmmakers to create motivated light. Motivated light is created by using the light source within a scene as a visual element. A practical example of this is a strong backlight in an outdoor scene.


This could be created by placing the sun behind the actors, or by using a powerful, high wattage lamp to illuminate them from behind. It’s an easy way to make the background of a shot fall away and draw focus to your subject.

Tungsten (man-made) light sources are most commonly used in film production due to their relative cheapness and high output compared to other types of artificial lighting. Tungsten lights are often used in environments where there is no access to daylight such as interior sets.

However, they can give off an orange/yellow colour which can be detrimental to achieving blue skies or green grass in an exterior scene. Fortunately with some clever camera work and lighting tricks tungsten can be made to look like natural daylight.

What Is Practical Lighting In Cinematography?

Lighting is a major aspect of cinematography and practical lighting refers to the lights that exist in a scene. Practical lighting is also called natural lighting and is not necessarily dependent on artificial sources of light, like lamps or spotlights.

The other type of lighting is known as non-practical or non-natural lighting which refers to the artificial sources of light such as lamps or spotlights. The practical natural light is one of the most important aspects of cinematography. For example, light from outside entering through a window can be used to illuminate a room.

Moreover, opening up curtains during the daytime can fill a place with natural light. Thus, it is possible to produce good quality videos without using any artificial source of light. However, there are some occasions where artificial sources of light are required such as when shooting indoors at night or in a dark room.

In indoor locations such as halls and rooms with windows, it is possible to use the natural sunlight and hence it becomes unnecessary to install artificial sources of light there. In outdoor locations such as open fields or gardens, it can be difficult to keep the settings neutral so that they do not appear as unnatural.

What Is Motivated Lighting In Film – Wrap Up

There is more than one way to create dramatic lighting in filmmaking, and the look and feel of your film will be greatly affected by your choice. For example, if you want a dramatic close-up of someone, you can put light on their face or backlight them to give the shot a very different look.

When lighting a subject’s face, it’s usually best to have the key light (the main light) coming from either the left or right side of the frame .This creates shadows that make the subject’s face more interesting and gives an overall 3D look to the shot.

This is also known as ‘side lighting’. The angle of the key light relative to the camera determines where the shadows fall on their face. A backlight can be used to add depth and drama to a shot by separating your subject from the background with a rim of light.

A backlight can also be used to separate your subject from another person or object . You can use a backlight for an interview or when you need to separate your subject from their background for other reasons.


Backlighting is also great for silhouette shots when you are shooting something that has no texture such as water or clouds.*