top of page

Motivated Lighting in Film

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

The Complete Guide to understanding Motivated Lighting and Lighting in Film

Mitch & Anna from The Film Labs talk about Motivated Lighting
Mitch & Anna from The Film Labs talk about Motivated Lighting

Lights, camera, action! As the stage is set and the cameras roll, lighting takes center stage in shaping the mood, tone, and atmosphere of a cinematic masterpiece. In the intricate tapestry of lighting techniques, two gems stand out: practical lighting and motivated lighting.

Join us on a journey through the realm of light, where the magic of illumination meets the world of storytelling.

A Kaleidoscope of Light Techniques

Before we dive into the realm of practical and motivated lighting, let's take a brief tour of the diverse array of lighting techniques at a filmmaker's disposal:

  • Natural lighting

  • Key lighting

  • High key lighting

  • Low key lighting

  • Fill lighting

  • Back lighting

  • Side lighting

  • Practical lighting

  • Hard lighting

  • Soft lighting

  • Bounce lighting

  • Motivated lighting

  • Ambient lighting

This dazzling collection of techniques empowers filmmakers to orchestrate visual symphonies that resonate with audiences on profound levels. While each technique serves a unique purpose, today, we're turning the spotlight onto practical and motivated lighting.

Three Point Lighting: The Classic Ensemble

Picture a scene framed by a camera, with characters poised to bring their stories to life. In this setup, the camera, the subject, and three primary sources of light create a harmonious dance:

  1. Key Light: The luminary protagonist of the scene, it casts an intense, direct light on the subject, setting the tone and mood.

  2. Backlight: This light emerges from behind the subject, creating a halo effect that separates the character from the background, adding depth.

  3. Fill Light: By softening the shadows created by the key light, the fill light ensures that no harsh contrasts mar the scene.

Three Point Lighting Set-Up

Motivated Lighting: Crafting Cinematic Reality

In the realm of lighting, motivated lighting stands as a technique that blurs the line between reality and artistry. It's the cinematic equivalent of a natural extension, where light sources within the scene replicate the illumination one would expect in that context. Imagine a table lamp casting a warm, inviting glow or sunlight streaming through a window to caress a character's face. These light sources, known as practicals, create a tapestry of authenticity within the cinematic frame.

Practical Lighting: Bridging the Real and Imagined

Practicals are the unsung heroes of cinematic lighting, encompassing light sources that exist within the scene itself. The flicker of a candle, the gentle radiance of a table lamp, or the neon buzz of a street sign—all of these elements bring a sense of realism to the screen. Practical lighting doesn't always have to be visible within the frame, but it guides the lighting decisions, seamlessly fusing the imaginary world with tangible authenticity.

Motivated lighting brings a touch of realism into filmmaking by enhancing naturally occurring light sources within the scene. These 'practicals' can range from the gentle glow of a window to the intimate warmth of a candle. While practicals may not always be visible, their influence shapes the lighting decisions, forging a connection between the viewer and the illuminated world. It's a dance between reality and artistry, where light becomes a storyteller.

Crafting Atmospheric Illusions

In the realm of film, the interplay of light and shadow isn't just a technicality—it's a language. Practical and motivated lighting stand as beacons of this language, artfully weaving stories that captivate, intrigue, and transport. So, the next time you find yourself immersed in a scene illuminated by a lamp's glow or a sunbeam's touch, remember that beyond the frame lies a world where lighting becomes an integral character, shaping the narrative's very essence.

Check out more of The Film Labs on YouTube.

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page