Key Light: Where When and Why: Illumination Experience

INCLUDED IN THIS LESSON:  1:22 Hours of Video Instruction, lighting schematics, side by side light comparisons


IN THIS LESSON YOU WILL LEARN:  This is where it all starts, the key light and the human face. The window into your character’s soul, their emotions, and motivations. It is the most important subject you will ever light, and it all starts with where to place your key light. Shane takes what you think you knew were the basics and turns them on their head into one of the most elegant approaches to lighting you will ever find. He gives you 5 things to look for when lighting any face, and along with covering the classic key light positions, Shane shows you how moving the key light around the subject even just a few degrees can dramatically change the feeling of your shot.

This lesson is a master class in how to light a face for emotional impact.  I dive deep into showing you exactly what I am looking at when lighting a face.  What unique angles, what types of light positions deliver specific feelings.

  • 5 things to look for when lighting any face:
    • Drop shadow
    • The Wedge
    • Eye reflection
    • Nose shadow
    • Eye shadow
  • When to use certain types of diffusion
  • Where to place your diffusion
  • Secrets to organic looking bounce light
  • How to use color checkers to ensure rich accurate skin tones
  • How to know what side to light a subject from
  • Shane’s proprietary technique for testing how to light faces
  • The power of shaping light
  • Lighting in layers
  • Finding the emotion of a scene
  • Making the talents eyes “pop”
  • How angle of light can affect character perception/emotion/beauty


<<<Cory R>>> This Lesson changed the way I think about light. It was a game changer for sure.
<<<John RH>>> Worth every penny. 70 minutes of eye opening concept and why’s.
<<<Jorel>>> Just started shooting my second feature and after this Lesson I was 50/50-ing, and Rembranting, and eye-lighting, and assigning camera language to characters… And producers and directors were blown away. Couldn’t have done it without what I’ve learned from Shane.


We are directing all comments and questions to our New Forum, please find the related course in the forum’s categories to submit.

nathan 6 days ago

Hi Shane, I love the way you set up this first lesson and made it very easy to follow. I was wondering which light and what type of diffusion you are using as your key light for this study. Also, during this light study, is your fill light moving with the different key light positions? If it is not moving where do you have it positioned? Thanks again for making this amazing content free to watch!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    6 days ago

      @nathan Hi Nathan, That is a 750 Watt HPL Arri Open Face light bouncing into a 4 x 4 circle bounce. The fill light remains right above camera the whole time with a Kino Flo Celeb 400 bouncing into a 4 x 8' Bead Board (Polly) bounce. I only light from one side, back light, key light and fill light all from the same side, never cross over the 180 degrees

jstamets 20 days ago

Awesome as always, thanks Shane! Question – what is the advantage of a book light with 1/2 soft frost over a fresnel straight into a light grid cloth? When would you choose one over the other if the results are similar? Thanks!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    18 days ago

      @jstamets Hi jstamets, It is a whole different quality of light. When you start out, it is all about quantity, then you will soon with more experience you will move to quality of light, this is all part of the learning process. It takes time, experience cannot be shortcutted.

Alessandro 9 days ago

Hi Shane, thanks for sharing this amazing tutorials. Can I ask you something about what you said at minute 50? I don’t understand when you’d want to use the grid cloth instead of the half frost. Thanks!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    6 days ago

      @Alessandro Hi, Alessandro, I love gridcloth's because they add a slight warm yellow tone to skin tones. Half soft frost, 216, 250 are more neutral

lucas Pintos 11 days ago

Realy really good! easy to understand. Amazing dolly light Sahne! one little question. Do you actually build that dolly light on set? thanks so much!!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    11 days ago

      @lucas Pintos Hi Lucas, I built this rig for instructional purposes. I do a much lower budget version for all my camera tests with the actors so that I can find the best way to light their faces and see which color temps work the best for their complexion as well as light quality, etc.

NYC Michael 18 days ago

Hi Shane, thanks again for these tutorials! Love em! Question for you — With regard to close ups especially but also wides, do you have certain contrast ratios that you tend to go back to time and again for different types of dramatic scenarios/moods? If so, would you be willing to share them? Thank you!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    18 days ago

      @NYC Michael HI NYC Michael, Absolutely, for drama/comedy on female actor, 2.5 to 3 stops down on fill level, a man in a drama/comedy 3.5 to 4 stops down. Horror, I will go steeper by 1 to 1.5 stops increase in contrast ratio.

    • NYC Michael    18 days ago

      @NYC Michael Thanks Shane! Very helpful! If I understand you correctly, for a female actor, that would be like setting the key to f/2.8 and the fill to f/1.0.

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    18 days ago

      @NYC Michael Hi NYC Michael, That would be s 2 stops down. 2.5 stops would be .7 and 5/10 tenths

    • NYC Michael    18 days ago

      @NYC Michael Thanks Shane!

Oleg 23 days ago

Sorry, just just wrong “Enter” input. I want to say Thanks for your advice about perfect lighting setup and actors performance. It’s always the way to adjust something, but letting the story flown is the key. Just need to realize it from time to time )

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    22 days ago

      @Oleg HI Oleg, We are artists and we want it to be perfect, but that finesse needs to take a back seat sometimes and when the train has left the station you don't want to stop it, but give it fuel to transform and have the actors deliver that lightning in a bottle performance

    • Oleg    18 days ago

      @Oleg Great insight. And there's always good to have a mentor like you.

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    18 days ago

      @Oleg Hi Oleg, I will always be here for you all, this is what we live for. That and shooting movies. AH AH

Oleg 23 days ago

Hi, Shane!

moviesnlife1 26 days ago

Hi sir ,can you please share the details like how far is the book lighting setup is from the subject and where is the fill light placed when we saw we placed the key light at 3 30 ? And can you explain a bit more about the height of the diffusion ,thanks for the experience sir you have no idea how much you are contributing to soo many aspiring cinematographers across the globe

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    26 days ago

      @moviesnlife1 HI Moviesnlife1, A book light can be all different distances because it all depends on the size of your book light. A 4 meter by 4 meter book light should be about 3 to 4 meters away from your subject a 1.5 meter by 1.5 meter book light should be about one meter away from your subject. My fill light likes to be right over camera. I do not like filling from the opposite side of the key light, that does not shape the face well. So Key, back light and fill from the same side. The height of the diffusion is a big deal, because if the diffusion is too low, then the light wraps under your actors chin and you looks the shape on the face. So keeping the diffusion more at eye level is what you want to do. I am so glad this is challenging you to think differently, and thank you for those wonderful words of support

    • NYC Michael    25 days ago

      @moviesnlife1 Hi Shane, thanks for these amazing tutorials. They are incredibly helpful! I'm wondering if you would clarify your comment above that "key, back light and fill from the same side." Some of the setups in these tutorials had the back light opposite the key. Based on your comment, would you say that is not one of your preferred looks and if so, why? Thank you!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    25 days ago

      @moviesnlife1 HI, Moviesnlife1, I was showing the difference in the Dolly Light set up. I prefer all the light coming from one side, then you are able to use contrast in the background to silhouette the unlit side of the face.

    • NYC Michael    25 days ago

      @moviesnlife1 Thanks Shane!

moviesnlife1 26 days ago

Hi sir

Sam T. 28 days ago

Hey Shane thank you so much for the value here . i’ve tried to watch the video where i left it a few days ago, and all i see is a fixed image. i can only acces this spanish version which i don’t understand XD . would you know why? i am craving the rest of the knowledge.

    • Sam T.    28 days ago

      @Sam T. Thanks again.. from France!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    28 days ago

      @Sam T. Hi Sam T, We are having technical issues within our site right now, so please go to the Blog and you can continue to learn and kick ass.

    • Sam T.    24 days ago

      @Sam T. Shiver me timbers! Sure will do, thanks again for that Capt'n ;)!

Will 29 days ago

Hey Shane, really appreciate you putting this course out for free – I’m amazed how much I’ve learnt watching this so far. Just wondering in what circumstances you’d use a nose light (4:35 position) for a scene? (apologies for posting twice – I tried to type a seperate paragraph and couldn’t edit my mistake!)

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    28 days ago

      @Will Hi Will, Can you be more specific with your question my friend. I am not sure I mentioned anything about a nose light, but more a nose shadow and the Rembrandt lighting

    • Will    27 days ago

      @Will It's the light position after the Wedge/Rembrandt position in the video. The nose shadow position was what I meant to say.

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    27 days ago

      @Will Hi Will, can you give me a timeline on the video and I will watch, thank you

    • Will    26 days ago

      @Will 24:33

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    26 days ago

      @Will The nose shadow position is like a 3/4 front light. It fills the face in with light nicely and when diffusion is added, this is the perfect key Light angle for Women. It wraps their face but still has contrast because you have not gone to the Fashion light position. This is my go to angle on Female actresses

Will 29 days ago

Hey Shane, really appreciate you putting this course out for free – I’m amazed how much I’ve learnt watching this.

cavafis1979 30 days ago

I loved it! Awesome advice at the end of the lesson, i really like it.

ignacio Areal 1 days ago

Hi! I’m finishing editor from Brazil. Thanks to share your knowledge in this times.

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    1 days ago

      @ignacio Areal Hi Ignacio, You are very welcome my friend, just so you know I have a full Spanish version coming out this week for FREE

Linda Brown 2 days ago

I am the head of cinematography at USC and we are preparing to teach all our production classes remotely. I watched your Illumination Experience Workshop and will use portions in my upcoming lectures. I also notified the other cinematography instructors about this resource. Thank you for your generosity during these trying times.

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    1 days ago

      @Linda Brown HI Linda, You are so welcome, this is what we do share our knowledge and pass it on to the next gen of filmmakers, in good times and bad times. My wife Lydia and I created this resource after the DSLR revolution. So many filmmakers young and old could create without all the huge investments up front with Film back in the day. We saw a huge schizm, they had the camera in there hand, with all this passion, but did not necessarily have the foundation of knowledge of how to tell stories effectively. This is where we stepped in, to take it BEYOND FILM SCHOOL. I would love to collaborate with you in the future. You can reach out to me at Also if you would like any other lessons or courses unlocked to help during this time we can make that happen for you. We have a huge library that we have created. Peace, love, compassion and stay Safe.

Linda Brown 2 days ago


dislamedia 2 days ago

Started my own company less than six months ago, this information is invaluable to me! I can’t thank you enough for sharing this resource. I’ve been following your courses for the last few years!

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    2 days ago

      @dislamedia HI Dislamedia, You are so welcome and thank you for your support and take this and make a difference. Continue to challenge yourself.

Thierry 3 days ago

Great content, thank you!

Thierry 3 days ago

Film student here,

Ashley parsons 4 days ago

Fantastic lesson. I really enjoyed watching the practical side of this module. It really helps to see how crew should work together while lighting a subject. As a trainee I’ve been on sets and not fully understood what the grips were doing, or even what equipment the lighting team work with. This really has filled in a lot of information gaps for me. Thank you so much for this class.

Nicholas Wakley 5 days ago

Thank you for this!!

Jeff Anthony 5 days ago

AWESOME:… thx for this great opportunity

pauloleitejr Today

This lesson would be much easier to understand if within the “text book” there would be the light schemes, timecodes and stills of each setup.

pauloleitejr Today

Quick one: If Shanes always Keying and Filling from the same side, when the Key went over to the 6-9 side wasnt the fill commin from the opposite side?? Or was the fill exactly dead front?

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    28 days ago

      @pauloleitejr Hi Paul, yes it is frontal. That is the whole concept, when you move your key light, I am also moving the fill source so that it all stays on one side

fengyunjuan 16 days ago

hoping there would have subtitles

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    30 days ago

      @fengyunjuan Hi fengyunjuan, I will get on this, it is our mission to have all lessons and courses done by End of the year.

    • Gloriana Cocozza Garro    5 days ago

      @fengyunjuan Hi Shane, I can help with the transcriptions and subtitling of your lessons.

    • Shane Hurlbut, ASC    29 days ago

      @fengyunjuan Hi Gloriana, I would love that, how would you like to proceed?