Skip to main content

Cinematic Lighting for Portraiture

Lesson 4 of 49

5 Cinematic Lighting Tips

Chris Knight

Cinematic Lighting for Portraiture

Chris Knight

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

4. 5 Cinematic Lighting Tips


Class Trailer
1 Class Introduction 04:29 2 What is Cinematic Lighting? 06:42 3 Motivated & Practical Lighting 07:41 4 5 Cinematic Lighting Tips 04:53 5 Low-Key & Upstage Lighting 06:26 6 Control Your Fill Lighting 05:18 7 Show Depth In Your Image 13:24 8 Pre-Production for Cinematic Lighting 22:42
9 Grip Tools: Clamps 08:41 10 Grip Tools: Apple Boxes, C-Stands & Grip Heads 10:53 11 Grip Tools: Pins & Portable Gear 04:50 12 Grip Tools: Scrims, Silks, Flags & Tape 13:52 13 Grip Tools: Wind and Haze Machines 04:07 14 Grip Tools: Unusual Tools 04:47 15 Grip Tools: Filters 11:05 16 Grip Tools: Q&A 15:04 17 Theater Shoot: Concept 08:03 18 Theater Shoot: Pre-Production Considerations 08:48 19 Theater Shoot: Lighting Gear 04:27 20 Theater Shoot: Motivated Lighting Considerations 26:47 21 Theater Shoot: Lighting Walkthrough 20:45 22 Theater Shoot: Capturing The 1st Shot 27:37 23 Theater Shoot: Hero Shot 21:47 24 Theater Shoot: Capturing In The Seats 21:48 25 Airstrip Shoot: Concept 05:49 26 Airstrip Shoot: Pre-Production Considerations 19:31 27 The Haircut: Location Specifics and Motivated Lighting 13:17 28 Working With Scrims On Location 06:34 29 The Haircut: Getting the Shot 24:28 30 The Haircut: Shooting Plates 08:21 31 Staggered Planes: Location Specifics and Motivated Lighting 08:10 32 Staggered Planes: Getting The Shot 08:23 33 Capturing Plates With Talent In Background 16:26 34 Airstrip: Environmental Portraits 07:01 35 Airstrip: Location Shooting Q&A 22:05 36 Using Plates to Create a Pano in Lightroom® 16:08 37 Transform Tool 04:50 38 Post-Processing 1st Theater Shot 09:48 39 Retouching Details in Photoshop® 13:09 40 Color Grading in Alien Skin Exposure X3 06:27 41 Post-Processing Theater Hero Shot in Photoshop® 08:11 42 Creating a Spotlight in Photoshop® 05:31 43 Adjusting Color for Cinematic Lighting 12:28 44 Post-Processing: The Haircut 12:08 45 Coloring the Sky and Removing Modern Building 05:10 46 Creating a Pano Using Plates in Photoshop® 17:12 47 Developing Cinematic Portraits in Lightroom® 07:29 48 Retouching Cinematic Portraits in Photoshop® 08:57 49 Color Grading Cinematic Portraits in Alien Skin 13:20

Lesson Info

5 Cinematic Lighting Tips

As I mentioned a minute ago, I said, "I'm a big believer in making sure concept feeds execution, "not the other way around." Concept is the important thing, the story is the important thing. What the shot is about, what's the purpose of the photograph? And then how do you fulfill that purpose with the techniques that you are using? Kubrick was obviously an extreme perfectionist, but it's his techniques. They were motivated by what he was trying to create. He figured out the idea, then he figured out how to execute it. This class is not about formulas. It is not about saying, "Here's how I did something, I want you to go out and do the exact same thing." That is not what this is about. This is going to be really different from a lot of other lighting classes. This is about me showing you how to address a scene, how to create lighting, think critically for what is happening in an environment. What is the shot about? How do you critically think about it? How do you creatively think about ...

it? And how do you make light that is for what you are working on? The entire idea here is not to say, "Hey, here's a couple of cool shots, "go out and do the same thing." It's to show you how to think about lighting in a much broader way. Both the shoots that we have done, I have not shot anything exactly like it. But my approach to the scenes is how I would approach anything. What does the environment look like, how do I make the environment look like how I want to make it look, and then what does that shot look like? How am I communicating my ideas most effectively, right? I want you to be able to look at any environment, or any situation, and go, "How can I apply these principles, these guiding principles of light, to what it is I am doing?" And we're gonna start pretty broad with that. We're eventually gonna work ourselves to a much more specific way about it. But I'm gonna give you some of those generalizations I mentioned a little bit ago. These are my like simple tips for creating cinematic lighting. And these are not absolutes by any stretch of the imagination, they're just things that I find to be helpful when thinking about cinematic, cinematic lighting. And so the first thing is, dark and low key. I understand that there are all different kinds of movies, and some are bright, and some are happy. But when we think about cinematic lighting in regards to photography, usually one of the, its one of the main things is just dark. It's a little bit darker, there's lots of shadow. THat's how we think about things that are cinematic, and so we just make it darker, and we use a little bit more of a low key image. Building upon that, remember that shadows are your friend. You're not necessarily gonna wanna think about lighting things really straight on to the front, or really broad and really soft. Again, not that there's not a place for that, but you know, if for our purposes, we're over-generalizing and we're gonna embrace those shadows. But it's not about the absolutes of the shadows. We still have to control the fill. So you start darker, utilize the shadows, but then you have to utilize and control how dark those shadows are. Or how bright they are. And again, this depends upon the mood you're trying to create. Separate the subject from the background. In a very dark environment, you don't want to lose track of your subject. You want to make sure you are able to clearly express who the subject is. And so we separate the subject from the background. And there's a lot of different ways you can do that. You can do that with depth of field, you can do it with rim lights, hair lights, environmental factors, so framing them up in a doorway, or creating figure-ground relationships. Basic compositional things. And then lastly, show depth. I mentioned this a little bit ago, but film like photography, film-making like photography, it is trying to create depth. Three dimensions on a two-dimensional plane. How do you do that? And again, we can use perspective, we can use depth of field, we can use lighting, highlights, shadow. We can stagger lighting. A lot of different ways we can do that. And so this is my like quick tips and tricks for things to remember when it comes to cinematic lighting. I'm gonna show you what that looks like in practice now, when I approach a scene.

Class Description

Most photographers get comfortable with the lighting setups they use, and tend to shy away from trying new or different ones. Pushing yourself to incorporate new lighting techniques can help to expand your photographic style. You don’t need to buy more lighting equipment to start thinking about how the light is appropriate for what you’re shooting. Learning to see and light a location or scene and bring it to life in your images takes an in-depth understanding of lighting, direction, and creative vision. Join Chris Knight, well-known photographer, instructor, and author, to learn how to create cinematic lighting that allows you to be more innovative for your clients and yourself.

Chris will explain:

  • How to think like a filmmaker but apply those ideas to a single image
  • Motivated lighting and how to incorporate the techniques into your creative vision
  • Framing and layering for your images
  • How to use direction and guidance to achieve a cinematic look
  • How to enhance the cinematic lighting you achieved in-camera through post production processes

In this class, Chris takes you through his creative process during two cinematic style shoots at two different locations to share with you his behind-the-scenes thoughts, motivations, and scenarios. Chris also takes you through an in-studio shoot to explain the importance of prop placement, intentional set design, and light. You’ll learn the confidence to develop and incorporate new thought processes and get out of your everyday routines when lighting your subjects.


Bruce Walker

This course is simply terrific, and I highly recommend it. Firstly it arrived at the perfect time for me as I am soon to do a studio shoot very much in keeping with a cinematic or theatrical aesthetic. Secondly it's taught by Chris Knight who I swear is like a long-lost twin brother. :-) There are so many parallels in the way he thinks and works to my own style. So I avidly watched this as soon as it was available for anytime streaming. This is the first time I have made extensive use of the CL iPhone app, btw, and I love how it pretty much enabled me to seamlessly switch back and forth from desktop viewing to my iPad that I carry around the house during the day. I was able to make coffee and still carry on taking in the course, uninterrupted. The content is fantastic, delivered succinctly yet entertainingly. Some material and ideas are already in my repertoire and were reinforced and validated by Chris' demonstrations. But he also introduced a lot of ideas and methods new to me and very welcome. I was particularly glad to see how practical it is to stitch a series of tripod shots into a wide pano. I have been afraid to try that but I will now be using that in my next shoot, for sure. As alway, his post production practices revealed all kinds of tips about Lightroom and Photoshop I didn't know. Negatives. The volume level mastering is iffy. It started out at a decent level then midway through one of the early lessons dropped so much I had to turn up my sound system to compensate. And as I write this one lesson (34) is missing and in its place was a duplicate of the next lesson (35). I expect CL will have that fixed shortly though (I sent support a note).

Jeph DeLorme

One of the best classes I have viewed at Creative Live. Definitely worth the investment of time and money. The pace of the class allows you to learn extra tips and tricks throughout the process. Great instructor, highly recommend this class to anyone looking to step up their creative game.

a Creativelive Student

excellent class in all regards. outstanding instructor with experience in complicated cinematic shoots but who also is willing to thoroughly cover the basic nuts and bolts. i wish all creative live classes were of this quality.