Need to create some dramatic or cinematic looks for your next shoot? Take a look at these 10 simple light setups that you can create in minutes.

Top image by contributor Africa Studio.

Photographers and cinematographers not only rely on their cameras to capture stellar images, they must manipulate light to create a truly stunning look. If you don’t have a big budget, you can create most of these looks using only two lights. Check out these two tutorials from our friends at Aputure and Cinecom so you can start lighting like a master.

5 Dramatic Looks Using Only Two Lights

This first tutorial video comes from the A Team at Aputure. In this video, you will learn how to create 5 different looks using two lights.

As this comes from the Aputure team, the video uses Aputure lights. Specifically the Aputure 120d with Light Dome attachment. I’ve got the same setup, and it’s honestly one of the easiest to transport, most versatile, and best-looking LED lights. That said, you can use any lights you already have available. These setups work with nearly any type of fixture.

In the video, Nerris Nassiri briefly talks about the standard three-point light setups, and goes on to show you how to do even more using only two lights. Here are the setups, including the Aputure lighting diagrams.


1. Double Back Lighting

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Bounce
Diagram via Aputure.

The double back is a look standard to many sports photo shoots. It creates an epic and imposing look. Simply place the two light fixtures behind your subject, each at about a 45-degree angle.

To increase your contrast, dial the lights up  — but make sure you have a bounce in front of your subject to avoid creating a silhouette. In the example shown in the video, they use two Aputure 120d lights with Light Dome attachments.

2. Soft Key, Hard Back Lighting

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Soft Key
Diagram via Aputure.

Take your key light and angle it towards your subject from the front. Dial the brightness down to keep a “soft key.” Now take a second light and place it directly behind your subject and turn the brightness up to create a “hard back.” This is essentially three-point lighting without a fill light.

This setup once again uses the Aputure 120d as a key light, and it uses the Aputure TRI-8C LED panel as the hard back. Keep in mind that you can use any type of light fixtures here; you just want the more powerful source behind your subject.

3. Key, Fill Lighting

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Key
Diagram via Aputure.

This is another classic adjustment to three-point lighting — this time removing the background light. The key/fill is a very basic setup, and it essentially just places two lights in front of your subject, one on each side around a 45-degree angle. The key light is traditionally a little more powerful than the fill light.

Since there isn’t a light to separate your subject from the background, make sure you either have some depth or have your subject wear colors that are a high contrast against the background.

4. Accent Lighting

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Accent Lighting
Diagram via Aputure.

If you only have one frontal light and need to separate your subject from the background, use a space light to light up the area in front of and around your subject, then use your second light to accent the background. Accent lights often look best when you use color gels to create an atmosphere.

In the video, they use the new Aputure 300d with the space light attachment. If you don’t have a space light, you can use a china ball or build a DIY diffuser with a frosted shower curtain.

5. Hard Top, Eye Light

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Hard Top
Diagram via Aputure.

The final two-light setup places a strong key light directly above your subject and uses a second light to enhance their eyes. This creates a very powerful look — again often seen in sports photography and video.

In this video, the Aputure team hangs a 120d and Light Dome above their subject and uses the Aputure M9 pocket-sized LED light to light the subject’s eyes.


5 Creative and Cinematic Lighting Hacks

In this video tutorial from Cinecom, you will learn 5 more lighting setups that will help you achieve a more cinematic look.

1. Silhouette Lighting

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Silhouette
Image via Cinecom.

For this look, you will need a white backdrop and a hard light source. Place the white backdrop, in this case a diffuser on C-stands, in front of the camera. Position your subject stand behind the panel, and then place a hard light directly behind your subject.

2. Horror Lighting with Deep Shadows and Lightning

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Horror Lighting
Image via Cinecom.

Inspired by horror films, this look gives your subject dark eyes by placing a hard light source directly above your camera, angled at your subject. Aim the light at your subject, and cut the light using barn doors, flags, or cinefoil. By positioning it high above your subject, you get nice, dark shadows under their eyes.

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Light Cutting
Image via Cinecom.

For an additional horror aesthetic, they added lightning flashes by putting an LED panel behind their subject and a reflector on the opposite side in front of the subject. There is also a neat trick using aluminum foil — for those who don’t have a reflector. For the lighting, they used the Aputure TRI-8C since they could quickly turn the light off and on with the remote control.

3. Emerging from Darkness

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Darkness
Image via Cinecom.

This trick has your subject walk or turn into the frame from black. You’ll need a black background and a single light that you can cut and direct. For this look, hard lights and soft lights work. In the video, they use a soft light look by attaching a grid to the light fixture.

Place the light above and off to the side of your subject, but not high enough to get the horror look from before. You’ll want to flag off any spill of the light, making sure you only light your subject when they enter the frame.

4. Two-Color Lighting with Gels

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Gels
Image via Cinecom.

This is one of the hottest looks right now in film and music videos. With the rise of quasars and the adjustable color temperature of light fixtures, as we see on the ARRI SkyPanel, countless cinematographers and photographers use this look. That said, you don’t need expensive lights to pull of this look. You can easily do it the old-fashioned way with gels.

The trick to making this look great is picking complementary colors that work well with your subject’s skin tone. You’ll often see combinations like pink and purple, green and yellow, or red and blue — like in this tutorial.

Place a light on each side of your subject, and then put different color gels on each light. You’ll often see lights that have the same output and distance, but this isn’t a necessity — it just create a more even look. Add a soft fill if you need to even out the look even more.

5. Hacker Lighting

10 Cheap and Simple Light Setups for Filmmakers and Photographers — Hacker Lighting
Image via Cinecom.

This is a look often seen in hacker photos and high-tech television dramas. The trick is to place a light behind your subject and off to the side. You’ll almost always see this with a green gel. For added value, use a small light panel or a cell phone flashlight hidden behind the computer screen. This will lend a more powerful look to the computer monitor. You can also add a blue gel to the small light to sell the look even more.


Think you will use any of these in your next shoot? Let us know what you want to try in the comments below.