Skip to main content

Cinematic Lighting for Portraiture

Lesson 3 of 49

Motivated & Practical Lighting

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

3. Motivated & Practical Lighting


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

Motivated & Practical Lighting

Here is where we get into filmmaking and cinematography moving into a direction that is a bit more of what we know it to be today. And there are two main points that I'm gonna be focusing on over the course of the two shoots that we do, and this is the first of those, and this is is called motivated lighting. And motivated lighting is when your lighting that you are using, whether it's augmented or real, actually using the sources in the scene, it imitates the existing light. And so if you have like in the frame of Gilda, if you have that as as a scene, the lamps are what is casting the light, and you're creating a version of that, even if the lights are not on scene, they're off-camera, but it's creating the effect that looks driven or motivated by the scene, okay. This is a very early example of that. This is a still from Citizen Kane, and I mean, it's shot separately, but that environment down below him, would be bright because that's where the light is in the scene. So it's kicking...

the light up at his face, and it feels like it's lit from that direction. So it makes a little bit of sense even though it's completely fake. Alright, and this is a pretty early example of it. Here it is in the '80s. It's a little bit of probably a more polished modern example of it, and so you can see in this frame, the sun is coming in from the window. It's creating the rim light on the side of the face, and then when you look at it from the side view, again, it's motivated by what that light is doing in the window and it's not real. So this is that idea of motivated lighting. And this is, again, something that is supremely important to what we are going to be talking about over the course of this class. And there are instances, many instances in both of these environments, where I need things to show up and affect my image, that I cannot actively change. And so it's a very important consideration, for how you begin the process. What's happening? What do I need to show up? How do I control it and how do I manipulate it? And that's where the tools and the knowledge of what we're working with comes into play. Now one of the more important people, I think when it comes to talking about this kind of stuff, one of the most important people that we can talk about is Stanley Kubrick, and he emerged in the 1950s and he really hit his stride, probably by the '60s, and he directed films like The Shining in 2001, and Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket and many, many films that have changed the shape of cinema. And he wasn't necessarily the originator, of using motivated or what we call practical lighting. He was probably the one that popularized it the most significantly. And so what makes practical lighting a little bit different from motivated lighting, the methodology is very similar, right. It's you're lighting the subjects based on what is real, and what feels real. Kubrick was a really big fan of actually having the light in the scene be the thing that was lighting his subjects. One of my favorite examples of it is, he's in the space ship and he's crawling through the space and there's kind of, it's lit from all sides of the tunnel. And so that was a really good example of it. Obviously, you can see the lights in the background. And this took a bit of technological advancement for this to be a little bit more or a realistic thing to happen, because film needed to become a little bit more sensitive so that it could handle less light. You could use more unconventional lights, without having to throw up a 10K in the side of your frame, and throw just a bunch of light at your subjects. So you can be a little bit more creative. Technology, a lot of times evolves to the point that it gives us the ability to be creative. So, it's really amazing right now with what we can do with very little light. And you definitely utilize that a little bit in the first shoot that you're gonna see. So here's another example of it, Dr. Strangelove from 1964. And it's not just about the source of light, being the light for the actors. It's actually a huge compositional element on it's own. And he was really brilliant in incorporating the light into the composition. This is probably the most extreme example of practical lighting, in maybe his repertoire. It's one of the more famous examples. A lot of photographers know this story. He made this film called Barry Lyndon in 1975, and he wanted to be able to light scenes by candlelight, because it as more authentic to the period. And obviously that was an incredibly difficult thing to do in 1975. But he wanted the scenes to feel like how they actually were, how they would have been in real life. And, you know, not necessarily the most easy thing to do, but I'm a big fan of figuring out what you wanna do first, like deciding on the concept and then figuring out how you have to execute it. Like versus coming in and saying, "He's what I can do to execute it." You kind of pigeon hole yourself into a small box creatively. I like to say, "What's my concept? "What's my idea?, and I have to figure out something that I didn't know existed or do research to find out if a piece of gear exists or not. I come to that bridge when I cross it, and it's more about you make it happen. You figure out the solution to whatever the problem is you're trying to create. And so what he did was he bought three different lenses that were designed by Carl Zeiss for NASA, and they were made to be able to photograph on the dark side of the moon. And they were plain R50 millimeter 0.7 lenses. They we're f/0.7 lenses. And he had them modified so that they could mount cinematically, and he even modified them to give him like a couple of wider versions. So he developed something around a and something around a 24. Although I don't think he used the 24 all that much. But he bought these lenses that were originally made for NASA and they were 0.7, and it was so that he could shoot these scenes by candlelight in the 1970s. And the entire film is a little bit soft because of it it, for the most part. But when you compare it, 'cause he was heavily inspired by a lot of paintings and they're side-by-side with Barry Lyndon in paintings, and you can see how he would totally, you know, steal the compositions from something and use it with his actors in the frames in the movies. And so the whole thing feels of the period. It feels authentic and he was a crazy, crazy attention to details kind of a person. Now this concept of motivated lighting, or practical lighting, they're both used really extensively in filmmaking today. And even though you can look through the decades of the '70s and the '80s and the '90s, they're all gonna have like a different visual style and a different visual feel, but whether you're comparing like a grittier movie in the '70s or to like a John Hughes, '80s movie, or Spielbergian block buster from later on, you see motivated lighting, again and again and again. You see both motivated and you see practical lighting all the time, and so I am a big believer in using both of those, when you're trying to recreate cinematic lighting.

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.