Glossary of Lighting Terminology

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Absorption of Light
The fate of non-Reflected, non-Scattered light. The reason why black suits are difficult to light (and hot to wear) is that they absorb most of the light and convert it into heat. Surfaces that absorb only parts of the Spectrum appear pink, purple, green, or some other color.

Accent Light
Any Source from almost any direction which is used in addition to more basic lights to call attention to an object or area – not the Lighting.

A subject, scene, or Image without color.

Aims of Lighting
To enhance mood, atmosphere, and drama; to illuminate the story; to separate planes; to suggest depth; to direct attention; to reveal character; to convey time of day; to enrich and, occasionally, bedazzle. Minimum aim: to stimulate microchips and silver halides.

Ambient Light
The general (and often undesirable) Illumination surrounding the shooting or projection area; not exactly the same as Available Light or Natural Light.
Angle of Light
The angle formed between the light/subject axis and camera/subject axis is probably the most important aspect of light in determining mood, modeling, and “message.” Both the horizontal and the vertical angle should be indicated. Examples: true Rim Light 180 degrees for both; Key Light commonly 15 to 45 degrees for both.
Angle of Reflection see Glare Angle

Angle of View
The angle accepted , which depends upon its Focal Length and theAperture (commonly, the horizontal angle).
Aperture (light and camera)
The camera, projector, or printer opening that controls the size and proportions of the recorded image – the Frame. See: Aspect Ratio. The area from which light is emitted from a Fixture is also an aperture and the size, among other factors, influences the Quality of the light.

Arc Light
A very large, near-daylight, carbon-arc source that was used to shoot Hollywood blockbusters – now rivaled by HMI and MSR Lights.

Artificial Light
An ambiguous term that refers to light produced by electricity as opposed to a Natural source.

Axial or Axis Lighting
Illumination from the lens axis using light reflected from a partially mirrored glass angled 45 degrees in front of the lens. Used primarily for medical and scientific recording where access or shadows are a problem. Also see: Ring Flash.


B Lights*, The Two Bs *
Back Light and Background Light are frequently confused. Both begin with “back,” both are used to Separate Planes and imply Depth, and both are tricky to Motivate so that they appear realistic. Each, however, points in a different direction. Tip: Discretion may dictate that only one or, on occasion, neither is really needed.To paraphrase Shakespeare, in a rather different context: Two B or not two B, that is the question.

Baby (spot)
A 500-to-1,000w Fresnel light.

Backdrop Lighting
The even illumination of a painted or photographic background or backing, seen through the windows or doors beyond a set.

Background Light, Set Light
Reveals the character of the background and helps separate it from the subject. Angle: toward the back-ground, usually from the side and high enough to avoid Glare and subject or microphone shadows. Tip: Avoid overlit backgrounds except for High Key, limbo, and special effects.

Back Light
Back Light separates subject from background, saints from sinners, and one pro from another. Angle: toward the lens from above and behind the subject, or above, behind, and slightly to the side of it, high enough to cut lens Flare. It is especially helpful for video images that may suffer loss-of-edge contrast. Sins: confusing this source withBackground Light, and, for Motivation purists, using it at all. Tip: Smoke, steam, and other Translucent subjects adore Back Light of almost any color.

Back Light Addiction *
The uncontrollable urge to smother subjects under deadly doses of Back Light.

Back Light Phobia *
The unreasonable fear of violating the Motivation principle by using even tiny quantities of the substance.

Ballasts are electrical devices used with fluorescent or high intensity discharge (HID) lamps to supply sufficient voltage to start and operate the lamp but then to limit the current during operation. They can be either magnetic or electronic.

Batten and trunking systems
These are generally fitted with fluorescent lamps and are primarily used in commercial and industrial environments. Designed either as surface-mounted or pendant units, they are generally simple to install and can be used singly or as strip lighting. Suitable housings ensure that the light is directed as required and that glare is kept to a minimum.

Several lights grouped together to create a larger or more powerful source. Tip: use soft lights or heavy Diffusion to avoid Multiple Shadows.

A front-of-the-light device having two or more pivotable black panels used to shape the Beam and shade the camera lens or scene.

Base Light
Diffuse, overall set Illumination intended to keep video electronics quiet. This characterless illumination has been going out of style thanks to improved camera performance and skillful Lighting Directors – at least on single-camera sets.

A pipe, pole, or wooden strip used to support lights. See: Grid.

A cone of light emitted by a Luminaire.

Beam Angle
If you’re into reading light-performance data, beam angle is the point at which the Intensity of a source drops to 50% of maximum (center reading) measured in degrees of the full angle. Simply: How wide?

Beam Pattern
Includes Beam Angle, beam shape, and any realistic or abstract patterns introduced into the beam. See: Finesse.

Best Boy
The Gaffer’s first assistant on large film crews. Origin: may have come from the Merchant Marine, as did many other film terms.

Big nose/small ears Syndrome*
The “comic,” and mostly unattractive, appearance of a face shot from extremely close through a wide-angle lens. See: Distortion and Perspective.

Black and White (B&W)
B&W film offers opportunities and challenges. Foreground and background may merge in the absence of color separation. Tips: use more Back Light or Background Light. View the scene with a B&W viewing glass. Other differences: Color Temperature complications disappear and all those long-abandoned filters that turn blue skies black and trees white can be used again. Last tip: While many of the black and white Masters aren’t around, their masterpieces are. Quote: The most difficult task for today’s director of photography is to “think” in black and white again. He must become mentally color-blind, imagining what each scene will look like on the screen when it loses the colors it has in reality. – Nestor Almendros [AMWAC]

Black Light see Ultraviolet

Blade see Finger

Setting actor and camera positions and move-ments which are intimately related to lighting.

The spreading of strong Highlights into surrounding areas of the image.

Blue Process (film), Chroma Key (tape)
Shooting action in front of a deep blue or other color Cyc becomes a separation matte for a background scene that will be added later. Tips: Try to see the background scene before you light, avoid any blue – or whatever color is used – elsewhere in the scene, light the Cyc evenly, keep shadows off it, and consult an expert.

An adjustable arm, usually positioned on top of a stand, that extends a light or microphone over a subject.

Boom or Mike Shadow
A frequent and unwelcome (especially when it moves) part of early television which is still with us on occasion. Solutions: a large, soft Key or Bounce Light; a high-angle Key that is sharply Cut with a Flag at the top of the subject’s head. The sound-man may be able to boom-in from the opposite side or raise the mike slightly without sacrificing sound quality. Other types of microphones can be used which do not create shadow problems – only sound problems. Still photographers, count your technological blessings.

Booster Blue
Various blue gels or rarely, glass, used to increase the Kelvin of a source – such as: 1/8, 1/4, or 1/2 daylight blue.

Booster Light
The fixture or illumination that helps to balance out-of-balance Exterior light.

Bounce Card, Bounce Board
A white reflecting panel used for Fill or subtle Kicks. See: Show card.

Bounce Light
A super-soft source produced by reflecting lights off white (or at least color-neutral) panels or walls. Also, the terminal treatment of lighting kits by belligerent or under-tipped baggage handlers.

Photographers shooting tricky jobs may make safety Exposures above and below the “right” one, generally at 1/2- or 2/3-Stop intervals.

Breaking the Motion Barrier*
The challenge still photographers face when they cross over into video and film and deal with time and movement as they affect lighting. See: Consistency of lighting; Moving Lights; and Moving Subjects.

Brightness, Luminance
A measure of a surface’s or subject’s reflectivity in a given direction.

Brightness Ratio, Contrast Ratio
The all-too-often awful truth about a subject or scene that has inappropriate or excessive Contrast. Meter reading procedure: Take two reflected-light readings: 1) the lightest significant area of the subject or scene and 2) the darkest. Divide 1) by 2). Each medium or method of reproduction has different brightness ratio limits. Movie theaters can project a maximum of about 125:1 (7 stops plus); modern, well-adjusted video cameras 30 or, some pros suggest, 40:1. Also see: Lighting Ratio and Contrast.

Broad, Broad Light
Typically, a semi-hard, non-focusing light with a wide Beam Angle. Unlike a true Soft Light, direct illumination from the Lamp is not blocked and the Aperture is usually smaller.

The “glass” part only of a photo Lamp.

Burning Up
Overly bright, washed-out parts of a scene or subject, often as a result of subjects moving too close to an intense source. See: Moving Subjects, Graduated Scrim, and Floater for remedies.

Butterfly, Overhead
A large frame with a fabric diffuser or net to soften or reduce harsh sun or light. A miracle-worker when you have a calm day, a stand (two for an Over-head), weights, and the crew to Rig it or a studio to hang it.

Butterfly Lighting
A slightly high-angle, slightly Diffused source, cen-tered on a (frequently female) subject’s face to minimize nose shadow, skin texture,

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and double chins and emphasize cheekbones and beauty. See also: On-the-nose Key*


“C” Clamp
One of several ways to attach a light to a ladder, for example.

Camera-top Light, On-board Light
The flat-light look of on-board lights for news-type shoots can be improved. Tips: Use heavy Diffusion or aim the light at a wall or use a low-wattage lamp in order not to overwhelm any face-saving Available Light.

Candle Power
One of several ways to measure and compare Incident Light levels. More common photo/video ones: Foot Candles, Lux, and Lumens.

Carbon Arc Lights see Arc Lights

Century Stand, C-Stand
This studio-standard commonly has a Grip Head with articulating arms to position light control devices such as Flags and Nets.

If lights cast subject or microphone shadows on the background and your Back Light is only Top Light, it’s time to pull people and furniture away from the walls, cyc, or seamless paper. Thanks to the two-dimensional nature of our business, there are many other such ways to cheat, if you have a Cinematic License.

The arrangement of light and dark areas in a Composition. A term infrequently invoked on the job.

Chicken Coop
A six-lamp fixture, with or without Diffusion, hung over a set for broad, down illumination.

Chip Chart (video)
A chart of gray tones ranging from black to white used to set up electronic cameras.

Chroma Key see Blue Process

Chromatic Adaptation
The eye’s ability to compensate, after a few minutes, for variations – sometimes drastic ones – in the color of light sources so that everything appears normal. Tip: Since the film doesn’t compensate, you may want to use a Color-Temperature Meter.

CID see Discharge Lamp

Cinematic License
Allows holder to use unmotivated Back Light, elevate short actors, and transform day into night.

Close-up, CU (film & video)
A composition in which a subject’s head more or less fills the frame. In an extreme or very close shot (ECU, VCU) only part of the subject is included, frequently just eyes, nose, and mouth.

Close-up (stills)
A shot requiring a supplementary lens, bellows, extension tubes, or macro lens to bring the subject into focus.

Clothes Light
Any off-the-face fixture used to lighten dark clothing or emphasize its texture. Angle: often from the side or 3/4 back.

The sun’s not-always-cooperative Reflector and Diffuser.

Coffin Light
A rectangular Soft Light, often with an adjustable black skirt used to control Spill. Like the Chicken Coop and Space Light, it is hung over the set.

Color (moods and emotions)
Color plays a role in affecting viewer’s moods and appetites. Tip: use a Light Hand.

Some films, copiers, and human eyes are not sensitive to portions of the visible Spectrum.

Color Conversion, Color Correction
Matching the daylight or Tungsten balance of the film and lights through filtration or, with video, White Balance. Color can also be corrected during printing. Tip: Neutralizing “off-color” sources, such as dusk, is a technical and aesthetic call – not necessarily appropriate. See: Style and Consistency of Lighting.

Color-Correction Filters, CC Filters
A series of camera and printer filters available in gradual steps which can be used to correct color balance or to distort it for special effects. Range 1: red to blue; Range 2: magenta to green. Consult Kodak.

Color Distortion, Coloring Light
Gels not only correct the color of light sources relative to one another or the film, they can also be used to distort light for dramatic or artistic purposes. Thus far, no permit is required. Video tip, see: White Balance.

Color Media see Gel

Color Reference
The eye/brain shifts an “abnormal” color scene (say blue light) toward “normal” (White Light). To minimize the shift, include a source of contrasting color (amber or red) so the eye has a color reference. See: Chromatic Adaptation.

Color Rendering Index (CRI)
A numeric evaluation of the accuracy (in relation to “daylight” at 100) of various types of light sources. Example: HMI is about 90.

Color Shift
Color distortion or inaccuracy caused by problems with film or processing, White Balance or transfer, light sources, Reciprocity Failure, projection, or viewing sources, and, painfully, much more.

Color Temperature, Kelvin Scale, K
Briefly: how red, blue and green the “white” light is. Films are “white balanced” by choosing the correct color-temperature source (daylight, about 5,600K; tungsten,

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usually 3,200K) or by filtering. Tip: Exotic, kinky-spectrum light sources are difficult to read accurately with portable color meters. Options once you determine the problem: use camera filters, Gel lights and/or windows; White Balance and/or filter a video camera, re-light with photographic sources, or opt for off-color scenes.

Color-Temperature Meter
A device used to measure the color of a source and provide recommendations for correction. Sometimes you should just say no. See: Color Temperature.

Complementary Colors
Yellow, cyan, and magenta, which are complementary to the Primary Colors.

Composition, Mise-en-scene
An arrangement of visual elements in the Frame; the path followed by the eye while viewing an image. Film and video composition exists in time and may change during the shot as well as through the cut or dissolve between shots. Composition and lighting are interdependent. See: Framing.

Consistency of Lighting, Matching
With film and video it

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is important that scenes used together match in Mood and spirit. This can be challenging when parts of a sequence are shot days – or sometimes months – apart, or when exterior light changes in mid-sequence. Also, the relative brightness of the subject, walls, and any windows should be constant unless the angle changes drastically. Quote: I have the assistant keep a shot-to-shot logbook which gives the f-stop, the filtration, whether there were any [camera] nets, the focal length of the lens, etc. . . . [in case] you have to come back and finish it three weeks later but you want everything to match. – John Bailey [ML]

The difference between one tone and another or between the darkest and lightest parts of a scene or processed film. High contrast involves not only an extreme Brightness Ratio but also few gray tones. Low contrast has an expanded range of intermediate tones with limited pure blacks and whites. Tip: What is too Contrasty for one medium or emulsion may not be so for another. See: Brightness Ratio; and Fall-off (on a surface).

Contrast (Viewing) Glass
A filter that darkens the scene to help the new and old pro evaluate contrast and shadow areas.

Contrast Range (light) see Brightness Ratio

A scene or image with high Contrast.

Cookie, Cucoloris, Cucaloris
A device almost as strange as its names. Placed in front of a Hard Light, it throws realistic or abstract shadows, or dappled light, on bland walls or areas of the scene.

Light, gels, or subjects in the blue-green region of the Spectrum.

Copy Art
Shooting and lighting relatively flat art – artfully, whenever possible. Tips: lights must be set beyond the Glare Angle; small focusing lights or Broads are usually preferable to Soft Lights; with reflective subjects, hide the camera, people, and any windows behind a large black cloth. Don’t bake the art.

The gradual, curved transition between adjacent walls of a Cyc.

All the shots and angles needed to capture a scene effectively and edit it well. Quote: Planning scene coverage in advance is the most essential element in an effective lighting design. – Kris Malkiewicz [FL]

Coming up with the ultimate image, a lot of electricity, or a good cup of coffee on a late night shoot, just when all seems lost. Quote: “Creativity” describes a state of grace in which commerce, ego, and, lastly, taste, are all sufficiently served. – Tom McDonough [LY]

CRI see Color Rendering Index

Cross Key see Multiple Key

Cross Light
The illumination of a subject from both sides. Also see: Multiple Key.

CSI see Discharge Lamp

To remove light from the scene, scenes from the film, money from the budget, or terms from an interminable glossary.

Cutter see Flag

Cyc, Cyclorama
The ultimate Limbo background, found in many studios. The wall(s) and floor are joined in a gradual curve. Tip: simulate it with a Seamless Paper sweep. See: Cove and Limbo.

Cyc Strip, Strip Light
A row of connected Broads used to light a Cyclorama or wall.


Dark Adaptation
Optical and chemical changes in the eye which, over a period of about 20 minutes, enable people to “see in the dark.” It makes Exposure judgments by eye doubly difficult when light levels change. Tip: at such times, color perception is minimal or non-existent.

Dark Backgrounds
One way to focus attention on the subject is to use a dark background, especially with backlit and Translucent subjects.

Since ours is the Art of Illusion, it doesn’t have to be night, it only has to look like it. Tip: shoot late in the day with the sun, if any, as Back Light and use little fill; avoid the sky; underexpose 1 or 2 stops; some subtle-blue helps convey the effect. If you want to see the moon, street lights, or store lights in the scene, shoot during late dusk or real night.

Daylight Film
A film color-balanced for average daylight and flash illumination – approximately 5,500K.

Daylight Filter see 85 Filter

Daylight Variations *
The color, direction and quality of daylight goes through stunning changes between dawn and dusk. Exploring and exploiting those permutations is one of the challenges and rewards of the craft.

Decibels (dB, db)
A unit used to express differences in electrical or acoustical signals including, for example, how noisy a motion picture camera or airplane is, or how much Gain a dark location requires. Formula: Equal to 10 times the logarithm of the two levels. Also see: Gain; and White Balance.

Definition, Sharpness
The perception of a well-defined, sharp image depends on a complex combination of factors some of which are: Focus, Depth of Field, Contrast, and maximum potential detail inherent in the recording media or emulsion. The degree of image enlargement along with viewing distance and how many generations removed from the original the image is, will also affect definition. If you can remember all of that, you’ll at least sound sharp. The opposite of . . .

Degradation, Image Quality Loss
Loss of image quality or Definition for any number of reasons including intentional ones. Quote: I don’t like forced development and flashing. Because I do like a fairly rich negative with good blacks, I’m not keen on the strong use of fog filters, although on occasion I use them. I don’t like the effect they produce. [Also] you’re going to have to make a dupe negative. So you’re into a degradation with the dupe. Then any opticals . . . give you further degradation. Then . . . the projector is not so good; it hasn’t got a very sharp lens or there’s not enough light. At every stage along the line, the picture’s going to deteriorate . . . so I’m very reluctant to have a degraded negative in the first instance. I think you’re cheating your audience. They’ve got a right to see what’s on the screen. – Billy Williams [ML].

An overexposed negative or portion of it; the opposite of Thin. See: Overexposure.

Depth (Apparent)
The illusion of a third dimension on a flat screen or print through various techniques, among them effective lighting that emphasizes planes. See: Foreground; Modeling (Relief); and Sculptural Lighting.

Depth of Field
The area in front of and behind the plane of focus in the scene which is acceptably sharp (for intended enlargement). Tip: a little more depth requires a lot more light (for smaller Stop) or a wider-angle lens. Don’t call it depth of focus, a related but different matter.

Diaphragm, Iris, Aperture (camera lens)
The adjustable opening of a camera lens which controls the quantity of light reaching the film. See: Stop. Some lights also have an iris.

A vapor-deposited coating (usually on glass or metal) that reflects unwanted portions of the light spectrum. A filter with such a coating, typically one that converts tungsten light to match daylight sources or films.

Diffusion, Diffuser
A Translucent material placed in front of a Light to soften Highlights and Shadows, reduce Contrast and increase Beam Angle.

Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI)
A lighting control protocol set out in the technical standard IEC 929

An electric or electronic device that can reduce a fixture’s brightness, usually with some loss of Color Temperature. Optical dimming mechanisms maintain Color Temperature.

DIN Standard
The German system (Deutsche industrie normal) for rating film sensitivity. Every 3 degrees doubles the film speed. See: EI/ASA; and ISO.

Direction or Function of a Light
The big four*: Key, Fill, Back Light and Background Lights are the cornerstones of traditional lighting. Used without regard to the needs of the subject and scene, they become millstones. The small six*: Kicker, Side Light, Eyelight, Top Light, Rim Light, and Accent Light. Tip: learn to use all ten effectively, then forget about them and just light.

Directional Light
A loose term for light that is not loose, and does not spill. Hard Light is directional, Soft Light can be made fairly directional with an Eggcrate.

Director of Photography, DP, Cinematographer, Cameraperson
The individual on a film production responsible for lighting, Composition (except in the UK) and, to a large extent, crew performance. The full list is much longer.

Director’s Finder
An optical device that helps you select a lens of appropriate Focal Length and a Frame.

Discharge Lamp
HID (High Intensity Discharger) CID (Compact Indium Discharge), CSI (Compact Source Iodide), xenon and most importantly for shooting purposes, HMI (Hydrargyrum, Medium Arc-length Iodide), are lamps containing special gases under pressure (some high, some low pressure) through which an electric arc is discharged to produce a highly efficient light source. They require a Ballast and starter. Their Color Rendering Index and Hot Restrike Time vary. Lamps may require individual Color Correction with gels. Also see: HMI.

Discontinuous Spectrum
Fluorescent lights and, to varying degrees many Discharge Lamps, have spectrums with gaps or excessive amounts of some colors such as too much green or too little red. They emit light not suited for precise color reproduction. See: Color Temperature; and Color Rendering Index.

Dispersion, Light Dispersion
A process whereby White Light is separated into a Spectrum of rainbowlike component wavelengths by, for example, a prism or raindrops.

The light-subject distance not only controls Fall-off, but also shadow quality and the effective Size of the light. See: Throw.

Distortion (lens)
An optical aberration of a lens. Extreme example: a fish-eye lens. The term is often misused to describe the exaggerated Perspective effect of any lens when used too close to a subject, resulting in Big-nose-small-ears Syndrome.*

A mobile camera platform from simple to sophisticated.

Dollying vs. Truck
Dolly shots move toward or away from the subject or set (lens 0 degrees to travel); trucking shots are more or less parallel to the subject’s line of movement (lens 90 degrees to travel).

If several sources are needed, one of them (or one Direction of Light) usually should dominate.

Dot, Target
Round devices used to shadow areas of the scene to control Contrast or improve lighting.

Double Exposure
The re-exposing of film, intentionally or not, to a second image.

A great enhancer of atmosphere with a little wind and Back Light and considerable care to protect the camera.


Ear-side Key*
Occasionally the main source lights a model from the camera-side of her face, sometimes from behind her ear which will leave the front of her face in partial shadow. Also see: Far-side Key;* and On-the-Nose Key.*

Edge Light
A separation light somewhere between a Kicker, and a Rim Light.

Electronic Field Production as distinguished from ENG video shooting.

A frame made up of crossed strips used in front of a soft source to reduce Spill light.

EI/ASA, Exposure Index
A numerical designation of a film’s sensitivity to light. The current US standard for film speed. See: ISO; and DIN.

18% Assumption,* Middle Grey, Zone 5
Light meters “expect” subjects and scenes to reflect 18% of the Incident Light. Mostly they do. Tip: what you do when they don’t will affect your image in more ways than one. See: Gray Card and Zone System.

85 Filter
A salmon-colored filter that enables standard Tungsten Film stock to take on average daylight without turning blue in the face. Some labs are prepared to compensate for shots made without the 85 filter.

Electromagnetic Spectrum see Spectrum

Electronic Flash, Strobe (stills)
An electronic source that produces a burst of light capable of freezing motion. Its Color Temperature approximates daylight. Strictly speaking, the term “strobe” refers to a light or effect consisting of repeated bursts, often used to capture multiple, overlapping images of a moving object.

Electronic Flash vs. Hot Lights (for stills)
Quote: In fast action work such as fashion, strobes offer an undeniable combination of advantages. . . . The primary logic of constant source lighting is the combination of control and superior visualization . . . Lets face facts. Modeling lamps are dim, period. – Michael Chiusano [LN].

Ellipsoidal, Focal or Projection Spot Light
A special-purpose light that projects a well-defined, easy to shape Beam; often used to project patterns onto backgrounds. A theater staple.

Electronic News Gathering as distinguished from EFP.

Enveloping Light,* Super-soft
A source such as overcast sky; a Soft Light or Bounce Light that is sufficiently large or close enough to the subject to partially surround or Wrap it.

Emergency lighting
Lighting provided for use when the mains lighting fails for whatever reason.
EV, Exposure Value
A system of light measurement in which each whole number is 1 Stop more or less than its neighbors; used by many meter makers.

The result of light that reaches any recording surface through the combination of time (Shutter Speed) and quantity (lens Diaphragm size).

Exposure Latitude
The range, above or below optimum exposure, within which a given film can reproduce acceptable results. Negative films have the widest latitude for decent exposure.

Exposure Meter, Light Meter see Incident Meter, Reflected Meter, and Spot Meter

Exterior Lighting
The use of Natural, Artificial, and Reflected Light, as well as the blocking, diffusing, and manipulation of daylight and night light. If you’re stuck with Top Light sun, here are a few Tips: Use Reflectors, a Butterfly, or lights. No electricity? Use batteries (even vehicular) with matching-voltage lamps, connectors, and daylight correction. Or shoot in the Shade.

One of two serious threats to the new pro’s equanimity in portrait matters. The other: noses.

Eye Light, Catch Light
A little Eye Light goes a long way; use a Light Hand. Tip: A small, diffused, doored-down Hard Light near the camera gives Kicks in the center of the eyes and teeth (unless your subject is tight-lipped). Placed off to the side, the whites of the eyes glow lovingly, tragically, or threateningly, depending upon the music.

Eye Line
Where the subject looks: Profile, close to the lens, at the lens, up, down or anywhere else, affects the Intensity, Mood, and credibility of the scene and the lighting. An area of considerable Cheating.


f-stop see Stop

Fall-off (Light on a surface)
The size of the area on a surface where light and shadows merge. Soft sources produce a gradual transition, a subtle gradation of tones. Hard sources, without Fill Light, change abruptly. See: Wrap and Contrast.

Fall-off (source) see Inverse Square Law.

False Ceiling
A Translucent material stretched above a Set which Transmits light, but which appears solid from below.

Far-side Key *
In relation to the camera, the main light is set on the far side of a model’s nose which leaves the camera-side of her face in partial shadow. Far-side Key*, Ear-side Key*, and On-the-Nose Key* are terms which, if they don’t exist, should, because they are fast descriptions of dramatically different lighting-looks.

Fast Action, Undercranking see Time Lapse and Frame Rate

Fast, High-Speed
A confusingly general term that includes film, lenses that require little light for Exposure, and Shutter Speeds capable of stopping fast action. Also, people who have a reputation for lighting quickly; more highly valued by some producers than “good.” See: Speed.

Fay Lamp, Fay Light
A sealed-beam daylight PAR lamp or the fixture that uses several such lamps connected mechanically and electrically.

Feather the Light, Feathering
To reduce the light level to near 0 at the edges of the beam; to pan or tilt the light so that its dim edge is used. Fixtures, such as fresnels, that are feathered by design are easy to overlap. Tip: The edge of the Beam on most fixtures produces the sharpest shadows.

Fiber Optics
A flexible bundle of light-transmitting fibers used for medical, scientific, and difficult-access situations.

Fill Light, Filler
Fill is used to lighten shadows and control Contrast and Lighting Ratios. Tip: Avoid Hard Light fill and Over-kill Fill*. Angle: usually close to the lens, on the side opposite the Key. Time allowing, try a fill-angle better suited to your subject. Quote: I used to light very strictly by ratios because I wanted consistency. . . . Now I just fill by eye. I’ve had that much more experience. – John Bailey [ML]

A flexible base supporting an emulsion – light-sensitive in the case of movies and stills and magnetic in the case of video. Also, informally, motion pictures. Erick Sommers insists that since both are film according to physicists, video-taping can technically be referred to as “filming.”

Film Fog see Fog (on Film – Unintentional)

Film Look
Various claims by video manufacturers and pros that their tape images resemble film quality.

Film Sensitivity (Speed) see EI/ASA, ISO and DIN

Filter (camera)
Any light-transmitting medium that absorbs, reflects, or diffuses light when placed in front of or behind a lens.

Filter (for a light)
Any light-transmitting medium that, when placed in front of the fixture, absorbs, reflects, or diffuses part or all of the beam. “Filter” may imply glass as opposed to Gel materials. Also see: Dichroic.

Filter Factor
The Exposure correction needed to compensate for light losses due to a filter. Through-the-Lens Meter-ing automatically compensates for most filters.

Finessing Light
The black art of refining White Light by using focusing knobs, Barndoors, fancy Scrims, Butter-flies, gels, and anything handy that won’t melt.

Finger, Blade
A long, narrow Flag or cutter used to shadow part of the Subject or scene.

Fixture see Lights

Flag, Cutter, Gobo
An Opaque panel used to block light and shadow the subject, background, or camera lens. It can also hide lights in the dark recesses of a scene. Which term you use depends upon the device’s size and what part of the country you alight in.

Flair, Style
Knowing just when (and with whom) to use Flare – among other talents. See: Style.

Flare, unlike Flair, is not in one’s head but in one’s lens or camera. Tip: Keep bright lights, sun, and strong Reflections out of the lens; or turn flare’s image-eating tendencies into image-enriching ones by telling your client: “. . . it’s artistic.” Just don’t call it “Glare.”

Flash Duration
The discharge time of an electric flash unit which determines its motion-freezing and Kelvin (the shorter, the Cooler) characteristics.

Flashing Film
Exposing film to low levels of even illumination primarily to decrease Contrast; controlled Fogging.

Flat (sets)
One section of a Set traditionally made of canvas stretched over a wood frame.

Flat Light, Flat
The results of low-Contrast or close-to-the-lens light-ing or Over-kill Fill*. Tip: While Soft Light is, by its nature, flatter than Hard Light, even a soft source, above or to the subject’s side, is not flat. Proof: Vermeer.

Flat-Light Syndrome *
Symptom: pale faces drained of life. Cure: Modeling.

Flicker (Intentional)
The attempt to suggest sources such as fire. It is easy to overdo the effect and undermine the reality. One reality: TV sets don’t flicker.

Flicker (Unintentional)
The disastrous effects of a Discharge Lamp that is out of Sync with a film camera – among other causes.

The mid-shot adjustment of a flag, typically to reduce light when an actor moves too close to a light source.

To increase the Beam size of a focusing light, which, like it or not, decreases its Intensity.

Floodlight, Flood
A wide, semi-soft source often used for general illumination or to bounce light. Also see: Broad.

Fluorescent Filters
Filters designed to compensate for weak red and excessive green wavelengths in typical fluorescent light sources. FLD and FLB filters can tame some of the more commonly used tube types. Tip: For the new pro, tests are advisable.

Fluorescent Phobia *
The paralyzing dread (sometimes justifiable) of using fluorescent ceiling fixtures to shoot with.

4′ X 8′ panels of white board which are reason-ably rigid and reusable if not too abused. They are often used to reflect light onto a Subject without casting new shadows.

Focal Length (camera lens)
The lens-to-focal-plane distance at the infinity setting. Focal length affects shooting distance, which affects Perspective. See: Angle of View.

Focus (camera)
To adjust the Distance setting on a lens or let an automatic focus device do it for you.

Focus (light)
To vary a Spot Light’s Beam size and Intensity. See: Flood, Spot, Focus Range, and Beam Angle.

Focus (Yours)
To ignore the pandemonium around you while you light.

Focus Range
The ratio of Spot to Flood for a given light. Example: 800 fc to 100 fc = 8:1. The more the better, if it’s also smooth.

Fog (on Film – Unintentional)
An accidental “image veiling” through light leaks or chemical action. One of the more serious technical nightmares that help to make film insurance nearly prohibitive.

Fog, Mist, Haze, Steam, Smoke
Translucent vapors add a little magic to images. Tip: Use some Back Light.

Fog Filter
One of many special camera filters that introduce image Diffusion, smearing of Highlights, and light-ening of dark areas. The “fog,” however, neither moves nor increases with distance. For those, use a . . .

Fog Machine, Fog Maker
For the right scene, rolling fog is easily one of the most beautiful effects available. Portable fog machines generally require electricity, dry-ice (for low-lying effects) and chemicals (non-toxic types, please!). They are, otherwise, fairly easy to use – in small areas with little or no wind – but experience helps. Large areas typically require several machines and operators.

Foot Candle (fc)
A unit of incident illumination, theoretically unaffected by subject Brightness. Also see: Lux.

Dark foregrounds help hold the eye within the Frame and increase the illusion of Depth. Bright foreground objects, especially out-of-focus or moving ones, can be distracting. Tip: Back or Side-Light the foreground using little or no Fill. Also see: Frame.

Formula (of sorts)
For uncontrollable or 360-degree action in a room (weddings, for example) try mounting three Broad Lights high up, in two different corners, and on the opposite wall. Favor Motivated positions. Resist the temptation to use a fourth source, but not the one to Bounce or Diffuse – light level allowing.

Formula Lighting
A sensitive eye and a little imagination are worth far more than a lot of lighting formulas, since every formula fails to acknowledge that every scene is different.

Any one of the series of pictures that make up exposed rolls of still or movie film. Also, the outer limits of an image, especially when it sits on a piano. See: Framing and Aspect Ratio.

Frame Rate, Frames Per Second, FPS (film and stills)
The speed with which film moves past the gate. For movies, 24 is normal in the USA. Higher rates produce Slow Motion (by providing more frames during projection). Slowing down the rate speeds up the action. Tip: Don’t forget to compensate for Exposure changes caused by altered Shutter Speed. For stills, motorized cameras offer rates of several frames per second; if Flash is used, Synchronization is critical.

Framing, To Frame a Shot
To adjust the size or position of the outer limits of the image before or during shooting. An aspect of Composition. A term loosely used, instead of composition, to refer to the arrangement of visual elements. Also, to use Foreground shapes (such as arches and tree branches) to suggest Depth, to direct the viewer’s eye, or to soften the edges of the picture.

French Flag
A small black panel on an adjustable arm used on a camera to block Flare from lights.

A thinner, lighter, “stepped” version of a Plano-convex Lens. Also, a Spot Light with such a lens. Tip: silent “s,” sil vous plait.

Frost Gel see Diffusion


The chief electrician on a motion picture production, responsible, ideally, to the Director of Photography.

Gaffer’s Tape, Gaffer Tape
Introduced by Ross Lowel in 1959 to support Lowel-lights on vertical surfaces.

Gain, Gain Control (video)
The boosting of a video camera’s sensitivity to light when light levels are low (at the cost of some increased electronic Noise); also, changing its color balance. The amount of gain is measured in Decibels. See: White Balance.

Gel, Gelatin, Media
As used with photographic lights, a strong, flexible, fade-resistant material that changes the color, amount, or quality of light. Tip: Some colors, like blue, fade fairly fast and need to be checked.

Generator, Jenny
A device that converts liquid fuel into electricity so you can operate lights and Wind and Fog Machines on-Location – all at once if it’s a big one. Tip: For sound, you want a “silent” one.

Gilding the Lighting *
Using more lights, effects, or color than the lily needs.

Light reflected toward the camera from shiny or even relatively Matte surfaces. In moderation, it is one of the most useful ways to add life to drab subjects. If excessive, tame it by: moving the glaring object, the light, or camera angle; using softer light, a polarizing camera Filter (not on bare metal), or dulling-type spray (not on bald heads). Also see: Kicks and . . .

Glare Angle, Angle of Reflection
The law-of-the-light states: “The angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence.” Simply: Light is reflected at the same angle it came from, but in the opposite direction. Pool players understand. Tip: As soon as this law becomes intuitive, lighting will be easier.

Glare Zone *
The angle within which lights will produce glare on a surface; beyond which, the Glare-free Zone*, it will be absent. See: Glare and Copy Art.

A Flag; also a disk with a cutout pattern that casts shadows when used in an Ellipsoidal Spot Light.

Good Eye
Useful for good lighting results, essential for outstanding ones. Tips: To help develop sensitivity to light and Composition: study good films, paintings, and photographs; keep an image file; and observe the subtleties of light and shadow all around you when you’re not shooting.

Graduated Filter, Grad
A filter with modulated-color or gray areas which can be oriented in front of the camera to control Contrast or add color to part of a scene. Also see: Attenuator.

Graduated Scrim
A Hard Light scrim with a degree of subtlety in modulating the brightness of areas of the subject or scene. A fast fix for subjects Burning Up as they approach a strong light. See: Moving Subjects.

Silver particles that remain on the film after processing to form an image. Usually, the faster the film, the coarser the grain, the less the Definition.

Gray Card
A Matte 18% reflectance card used instead of a subject for a Reflected Light Meter reading. Tips: Exposure corrections for unusually light or dark subjects are the same as for an ILM – not an RLM. Angle the card for typical but glare-free light. See: 18% Assumption*.

Gray Scale (film)
A chart of gray tones ranging from black to white used to help conscientious lab technicians print the scene accurately. Tip: Shoot a couple of feet of film with the chart in the Foreground, at the beginning of scenes or sequences.

An overhead system of pipes or tracks used to support lights and cables, sometimes with side, front, and back adjustability of fixtures.

Traditionally, the crew member who hangs lights, pushes dollies, hefts cases, and, on the West Coast, handles Reflectors. Also, a clamp to mount lights.

Grip Head
A clamping and positioning mechanism usually mounted on a Century Stand. It holds Flags, Nets, Diffusers, and Butterflies.

Guide Number (Flash)
Guide numbers proclaim the light output of Electronic Flash units more realistically than Watt/seconds do, but still ignore such essentials as reflector design. The guide number divided by subject Distance represents the theoretical f-stop, but since you spent so much for that meter – exercise it.


A lighting opportunity when it’s on someone’s head; a disaster when it’s in the camera Aperture.

Hair light
An Accent Light presumably limited to the top of the head. Sometimes only a Back Light with delusions of grandeur and fancy-colored gels.

An operation likely to complicate your life whether performed with a light, camera, client, or model.

A light-support device that you attach to a Grid.

Hard Light
A relatively small, direct, usually focusable source, with or without lens, that produces strong High-lights and dark shadows. The quality is more dramatic and controllable, but generally less flattering, than Soft Light. Tip: Cheapest hard source with least Fall-off: the sun. See: Spot Light.

Haze, Ultraviolet, UV, Skylight Filters
Film, unlike the human eye, is sensitive to some UV which adds blue and reduces visibility on distant landscapes. These filters should not be confused with Fog Filters, which are supposed to add “Fog.” A Polarizing Filter can also cut haze. For B&W films, orange or red filters are effective.

Heat Filter (lights)
A Transparent filter that removes much of the Infrared (heat) from a light source.

Heat Waves
Extreme heat eventually causes some surfaces to radiate “shimmering” waves that are emphasized by long lenses. They decrease Definition but in-crease drama – as in Lawrence of Arabia, brilliantly lit by Freddie Young.

HID see Discharge Lamps.

High bay
As the term implies, these are for use when mounting heights of around 8-10m or above are encountered.
High Key
Lighting that results in predominantly middle-gray to white tones. Tip: Use white or light sets, wardrobe, and Makeup; also, soft Flat Light, Back Light, and possibly camera-lens Diffusion.

High frequency electronic control gear (HF)
Most artificial light sources other than incandescent lamps require special control gear to start the lamp and control the current after starting. HF electronic gear operates fluorescent tube(s) at high frequency (typically at 30-60 kHz) instead of the mains frequency of 50 Hz offering benefits of higher quality lighting, reduced running costs and ease of use, combined with safe reliable operation. Dimmable versions available. They may also be used with high intensity discharge lamps.
The bright areas of a subject or scene, often the result of gentle Reflections of lights. Strong reflections are called “Kicks” or “hot spots.” The size and intensity of highlights are determined in part by the hard or soft nature of the light and the subject texture. Tip: Diffusion enlarges and softens highlights. See: Fall-off (light on a surface).

High-speed, Overcranking (film)
see Frame Rate and Slow Motion.

HMI, Metal Halogen
HMI (hydrargyrum medium-arc-length plus iodide) lamps are at this time one of the best of the Discharge Lamps for shooting. They are daylight-balanced, 5,600-to-6,000K, with a 3,200K option, relatively low pressure and short Hot Restrike Time with high output and high CRI. HMI (still sometimes called “Metal Halogen”) performs minor miracles, especially when balancing strong daylight for color shooting. Tip: Test Color Temperature at frequent intervals and keep Color-Correction gels handy.

Hot Lights
Still photographer’s lingo for constant-source as opposed to Electronic Flash.

Hot Restrike Time
The time required after turning off a Discharge Lamp such as an HMI before it can be turned on again. Slow restrike does not mix well with quick tempers.

Hot Spots see Kicks

The perception of a color as the result of the miraculous combination of optical, physical, chemical, neural, and psychological phenomena. See: Spectrum, White Light, and Absorption.


Idle-fixture Phobia *
The obsessive fear, most commonly suffered by producers on distant locations, of being surrounded by unused lights. Also rampant among camera-persons who see virtue in quantity rather than quality.

A component that provides high-voltage electric current needed to start a Discharge Lamp.

Illuminant see Source

Lighting minus craft. Also, someone else’s setup.

ILM see Incident Light Meter

A representation of a subject or scene, often through optical, chemical, and electronic means.

Incandescent Lamp or Light
A lamp that produces White Light when electric current excites the filament. See: Tungsten Filament and Tungsten Halogen Lamp.

Incident Light
The light that “makes it to the scene” after roughly 82% of it is Absorbed and Scattered.

Incident Light Meter (ILM)
A meter designed to read Incident Light. Compensation is needed for unusually dark or light subjects, Back Light, silhouettes, and special Exposure effects. The tool for measuring Lighting Ratio. The Translucent, light-averaging, usually hemispheric part of this meter is aimed toward the camera, or, on occasion, between the camera and the Key, from the subject.

Indecent Exposure * (film and stills)
The result of any number of miscalculations and minor errors that do not cancel each other out. See: Exposure and Exposure Latitude.

“Indoor” Film
A term guaranteed to trip up the new pro and the literal-minded when they’re loading the camera for window-light shots. Tip: Call it Tungsten or 3,200K film.

A portion of the Electromagnetic Spectrum to which the human eye is not sensitive but which can be used with infrared film and Filter to record images of unusual tonal balance. Infrared rays produce heat when they strike objects. See: Heat Filter.

Ingress protection (IP)
Denotes the protection against entry of dust/solid objects and moisture/water, provided by the luminaire enclosure.

Inky, Inky-dink
A small Fresnel Spot Light.

What effective outer lights can reveal about a subject’s character, especially if the eyes are well lit.

Insert Stage
A small studio, generally without soundproofing, designed to light and shoot close-ups or product shots.

One of many terms for a Light, heard mostly in the theater. See: Lights.

Intensity, Light Level, Light Output
The “strength” of the Incident Light independent of subject reflectivity, commonly measured in Foot Candles or Lux. High levels allow for increased Depth of Field (not always desirable) or faster shutter speeds (stills or high-speed filming). Optimum levels are what one strives for. Realistic levels are what one settles for.

Indoor sets and locations or where you shoot when it rains on your Exterior parade.

Internal Reflector
A Lamp with an integral reflector such as the MR-16 and R-40.

Interpretive Exposure *
Intervention in the meter-diaphragm-shutter conspiracy in order to achieve a special look such as High-Key, Low-Key and Silhouette.

Inverse-square Law, Fall-off
Light from a point source falls-off inversely to the square of the distance. Move the light from 10-feet-away to 20-feet-away and you have only 1/4 of the intensity; 40-feet, 1/16 th. Reflectors and lenses reduce fall-off; Diffusion increases it. Tip: to minimize fall-off within a scene, use hard lights as far away as practical.

Iris see Diaphragm

ISO (International Standards Organization)
A European rating of film sensitivity to light.


Joule see Watt-second

The popular way to refer to electricity and eliminate four syllables.

Junior, Deuce, 2kW
A 2,000-watt focusing Fresnel Spot. Junior can also refer to (ah, the utter confusion) a 1,000-watt Spot.


Kelvin see Color Temperature

Key Light, Main Light
The key may determine the character of the lighting, but often a strong Back Light for example, sets the Mood. The key should usually be Motivated by a source like the sun or a window. Tips: Several key lights may be needed when lighting Moving Subjects or several people facing in different directions. A former Kicker or Back Light may become the key when the camera angle changes.

The apparent “unparalleling” of parallel lines as a result of not shooting a building or framed picture at a perpendicular (90°) angle. The same phenomenon can occur with projected images.

Kicker, Liner, Glow Light
A low-angle, side-back light that adds honest glare (the kind that helps elect Presidents) to the side of faces. Tip: Try a white card or small reflector when you run out of lights or crave subtlety. Also see: Glare.

Kicks, Hot Spots, Specular Reflections
Small, bright, light reflections that add sparkle (and, with a Star Filter, radiating lines of light). However, if too bright, they are likely to add Flare. See: Glare Angle for control. Use Hard Light – just for kicks.

To turn off one or more of your lights. Or clients.

Kilowatt (kW)
Electricity equivalent to 1,000 watts; thus a 10kW light = 10,000 watts. Tip: use kW not K, which is also the abbreviation for Kelvin.


Lamps are artificial sources of light. There are many types, distinguished by the way they generate light, their light output or luminous flux, their power consumption, their luminous efficiency, their geometry,the spectral composition of the radiation emitted, their luminance and their beam characteristics.

Cautions: If anyone calls it a Bulb his or her Cinematic License will be revoked, but not his theatrical one. If anyone touches it (bare-fingered) when cold, the lamp will be damaged. If anyone touches it when hot, their fingers will be damaged.

The number of hours at which half of the test lamps fail. Tip: Shock, vibration, frequent on-off cycles, overvolting, power surges, obstructed ventilation, defective lamps, and other longevity-threats are not factored in.

LED / light-emitting diode
An LED or light-emitting diode is a small semiconductor device which emits light, usually coloured, when an electric current passes through it. LEDs are energy saving and have a long service life. LED light engines can generate any colour by mixing the individual spectral

Lens Shade, Sun Shade
A minimal flare-control device. For more effective ways to prevent light rays from reaching the lens and filter, see: Matte Box and French Flag.

Light see Spectrum

Light, Fixture, Luminaire, Instrument, Fitting (UK)
The contraption, regardless of name and shape, that surrounds a Lamp. “Instrument” has theatrical overtones.

Light Change
To dim, Kill, or turn on your Lights while shooting.

Light Control see Finessing

Light Grid see Grid

Light Hand
Its use is recommended for most lighting, color choices, and effects.

Light Level see Intensity

Light Meter, Exposure Meter see Incident Meter, Reflected Meter, and Spot Meter

Lighting control system
Lighting control systems are used to actively change the lighting situation. Such changes can take place automatically or as a result of intervention by a user. Lighting control systems often include operating equipment. Lighting can automatically respond to the level of daylight, it can be controlled by presence sensors to switch on or off depending whether people are in the room or can also progress through a sequence of changing scenarios.

Lighting Energy Numeric Indicator (LENI)
Defined in the European standard for assessing the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD), EN 15193 as the measure for the annual lighting energy requirement for the building per square metre.The quick method of calculation being:

W is the total annual energy used for lighting {kWh/year}
A is the total useful floor area of the building {m²}
Lighting management
Lighting management covers the entire concept of a controlled or regulated lighting system including emergency lighting and its use. As well as permitting efficient, user-focused operation of the lighting system, it also allows it to be monitored, thus facilitating maintenance.Light Output Ratio (LOR)
The ratio of the total light output of the luminaire to the output of the lamp(s), under stated conditions.

Light Plan, Light Plot
A plan view of the Set or location showing some or all of the following: the position, height, type, and Size of the lights, their intensities, accessories, gels, beam shapes, etc.

Light Quality see Attributes of Light (though not synonymous)

Light Reading, Meter Reading
Gathering Exposure and Contrast information with a light meter requires a light reading; learning to use the meter effectively requires heavy reading. Skillful meter use will tell you everything you want to know about the lighting, except whether it’s any good.

Light Surgery *
Delicate operations performed on subjects to improve faulty or out-of-fashion features using a little light, a little shadow, and a lot of Finesse.

Lighter’s Block *
The frightful sensation of facing an unlit Set with no notion where to start. The paralysis can be conquered by Plane Lighting and Motivated Lighting methods. Quote from an Academy Award-winning Cinematographer: “The first day I come on a set, I usually don’t know what I want to do; I feel like I’ve just graduated from USC [film school] . . . It takes me a little while to get my courage and spirit up.” – Conrad Hall [ML]

Lighting (for Image Recording)
The subject is so large it could fill several books.

Lighting Director, LD
The person responsible for lighting video productions. Also see: Director of Photography.

Lighting Planes
Visualize your subject, or the entire scene, as a series of planes at various angles to the lens. Position lights to reveal or conceal those planes effectively.

Lighting Ratio
The ratio of Key Light plus Fill vs. Fill Light only, using an Incident Light Meter. If the first is 200 Foot Candles and the second 50, the ratio is 4:1, or a 2-stop difference. Optimum and maximum lighting ratios depend upon Subject, Mood, medium, and type of reproduction, as well as on personal taste. In television, a timid ratio is 2:1, a dramatic one 8:1 or more. Film and slides can handle higher ratios than video and printed photos. Also see: Brightness Ratio. Consolation: if it were less confusing, imagine how crowded our craft would be. Tip: Many experienced pros use their eye in addition to, or instead of, a meter.

Lighting With Paint *
A pail of oil paint on a drab Location and an ounce of grease paint on a pale face (see: Makeup) may work better and faster than Painting with Light. Also, what some artists do on canvas.

Film that has been exposed to stray light prior to processing. See: Film Fog. Also, this craft’s equivalent of stage-struck.

A series of color chips sometimes recorded at the head of a film scene or on the edge of a transparency when accurate color reproduction is crucial.

A photographic background that appears to disappear, usually accomplished with a white or black Cyc or a Seamless Paper sweep, plus Limbo Lighting. Also, the period between freelance jobs which tests your confidence and credit.

Limbo Lighting *
The illumination of a background, such as two walls and a ceiling, so that they appear seamless or single-planed.

Liner see Kicker

An area used for shooting, or considered for use, other than a studio. And other than a place previously used by an inconsiderate crew.

Long (Focal Length) Lens, Telephoto
A lens with an Angle of View narrower than that of the human eye and a “normal” lens. (Normal, Long, and Wide Angle are relative terms and depend on film or Aperture size.) 50mm is wide for a 4 x 5 view camera, normal for a 35mm still camera, and long for a video camera. Telephotos are long lenses in the optical sense, but are by design shorter in the physical sense. See: Perspective.

Low Contrast see Contrast

Low-Contrast Filter
A camera filter that reduces contrast by adding subtle fog in dark areas.

Low-angle Light
The ideal Key, especially when Motivated, for villains, monsters and nymphs bathed by sun reflected from limpid pools.

Low bay
Luminaires housing high intensity discharge lamps mounted horizontally at low heights 4-8m, typically in industrial, sporting and public concourses.Lumen (lm)
The unit of luminous flux or the rate of flow of light from a source or received by a surface. When a ray of light hits a solid surface, the process is known as illumination.

Low Key
Lighting that results in predominantly gray to middle-black tones with few light areas. Tip: Use dark sets and wardrobes, hard lights, lots of flags, and don’t let the lab or video engineer “save” you.

A unit of measurement of Incident light. Lumens, like Lux, flux, candela, Foot Candles, foot lamberts, and Watt/seconds, were created by scientists and engineers to confuse artists.
Modern term for “light fitting” or “fixture”. A complete lighting unit that controls the distribution of light given by a lamp(s) and includes components for fixing and protecting the lamp(s) and for connecting them to the supply circuit. Luminaires for road lighting are often known as lanterns.

Luminaire-lumens per circuit watt
Is the luminaire efficiency factor given by LOR x (total bare lamp flux in the luminaire/circuit Watts).

The measured brightness of a surface. The unit is cd/m².

Luminous intensity (candelas)
The amount of light that a small light source at the tip of a cone emits through a narrow cone in a given direction.

A unit of measure of Incident Light. The video and European version of Foot Candles. Conversion Formula: fc x 10.8 = Lux.
The unit of illuminance, equal to one lumen per square metre.


Magic Hour
That supremely beautiful time of day (dusk or dawn) when almost everyone would shoot almost everything, if only it lasted longer. Tip: Use little or no Fill, underexpose 1 or 2 stops, “drop” the 85 Filter if you like blue or need more exposure.

Main Light see Key Light

Makeup, Grease Paint
A little makeup may do what a lot of lights can’t; too much, especially on close-ups, is worse than none. Tip: Examine makeup under your lights.

Positions where actors pause as determined during Blocking. Marks are often indicated on the floor with chalk or bits of tape and are helpful for con-trolled lighting and focusing. They can be distracting for actors, hopeless for non-actors.

Matching see Consistency of Lighting

A non-reflective, dull subject or surface. Tip: Even black, semi-matte surfaces will glow, given some soft glare-light, but there’s little hope for totally dull subjects. See: Scattering. The term also refers to various optical and printing effects beyond the scope of this book.

Matte Box
A fancy Lens Shade that disposes of all but the most determined rays of potential Flare and holds one or more filters of various sizes. The best ones also allow Graduated Filters to be rotated and positioned precisely.

Metal Halogen see HMI

Meter Reading see Light Reading

Middle Gray see Gray Card and 18% Assumption*

Mid-light Crisis *
The stage between Lighter’s Block* and Terminal Trauma* when you would turn everything off and start all over again if the producer were not staring at his watch and muttering.

A variation on Color Temperature measurements which is proportional throughout the two scales. Currently used mostly with filters. Conversion Formula: divide 1,000,000 by the Kelvin degrees. Also, mired is that feeling of walking into a dingy, cavernous “No-Problem Location” with one tiny light.

Mirror (for lighting)
An ancient and honorable way to stretch your lighting resources and the sun’s reach. For table-top shots keep a few shaving mirrors handy for accents and Kicks. A little tape applied to the mirror can shape the reflected light beam; dulling-type spray can diffuse it.

Mirror (for shooting) see Reflections

Mise-en-scene see Composition

The use of light to bring out the form of three-dimensional objects, structures or spaces.

Modeling, Relief
The hint of three-dimensionality resulting from light placed well away from the lens/subject axis – the opposite of Flat Light. Also see: Sculptural Lighting and Texture.

Modeling Light (Flash)
The Hot Light in many Electronic Flash units which helps you to “see” the lighting. Tip: Modeling lights are not universally proportional to the Intensity of the flash tube. A truly “proportional” halogen model-ing light must be centered, diffused, and modulated to the various power levels of the flash. Even so, it is not proportional to daylight and other Ambient sources, so Test Shots may be required.

Money Matters
The engine that propels the craft, and on occasion, even the art. Quote 1: . . . the principal movie-making tool is not lenses or lights or stars or words or even Winnebagos. The principle moviemaking tool is money – the dispersal of expensive materials in a manner so grand as to be matched only by the military. – Tom McDonough [LY]; Quote 2: The schedule is always hanging over your head and it is a constant battle for the creative person to try to do the best he can under the restrictions of time. – Mario Tosi [ML]; Quote 3: The trick you have to turn in this business is, given the time, to light the set and light it beautifully. It takes twice the effort to make it just a little bit better. . . . It doesn’t get twice as good. – Bill Butler [ML]

A subject or image consisting of only one color in addition to any black, white, and gray tones. Tip: The subtlety of the effect can be surprisingly powerful.

Mood, Atmosphere
Stereotypically: romance, comedy, mystery, fantasy, or horror. Mood is one of the prime considerations in determining the lighting-look; another is . . .

Motivated Lighting, Source Lighting
When the lighting appears to come from actual sources established in the scene or sequence, such as a window or desk lamp, you can increase audience allegiance and “artistic integrity.” Fantasy images? Anything goes. Quote: Shadows falling toward a lit desk lamp are a sure sign of the novice or student. – Eric Somers

One of the keys to movie/video magic is subject and camera movement, as well as the movement potential inherent in editing. It is intimately related to Composition and lighting. See: Breaking the Motion Barrier.*

Moving Image Media
The convenient, if not yet familiar, term that includes both film and video.

Moving Lights (video/film)
Effective when justified by the action, baffling most other times. Exceptions: diffused sources moving with the talent and camera, outdoors, or where background shadows are not a problem. Or when used symbolically.

Moving Subjects (video/film)
Lighting moving subjects is one of the most challenging aspects of the craft, especially for still photographers Breaking the Motion Barrier*. Tips: If you can rehearse the action, do it before you light, and note where people pause. Don’t attempt to light large areas totally evenly since movement is enhanced by light Intensity changes. (Eric Somers points out that absolutely even illumination is the sin of Televangelist shows; perhaps they will see the light.) It may be necessary to use several Key Lights, one for each area. If movements are not predictable, set the lights far away and high, with half scrims or Graduated Scrims on the bottom to prevent subjects’ Burning-up as they approach lights.

MSR see Discharge Lamps

Multiple (Double) Key, X lighting, Cross Key
The use of more than one Key Light, such as when two people face each other and each needs to be lit from a different direction. Tip: Each key can provide the Back Light for the other subject, after a little Finessing.

Multiple Shadows
Few things expose the novice and the artifice of our craft faster than multiple shadows of a subject – unless they are Motivated or done with a lot of Style.


A measure of Wavelength. Formula: Nanometer = a millionth mm.

Natural Light
Nature’s illumination: daylight, even on interiors. The term implies that the source is not artificial.

Net, Open Net, Scrim
A flaglike device used to reduce light locally; the open net has one side without a frame to avoid a hard shadow.

Neutral Density, ND (Gel)
Those .3, .6, and .9 ND gels reduce light Intensity by 1, 2, or 3 stops respectively, without a change in color or quality of the light. Camera filters are also available when you want to shoot wider open than high-speed film and high light levels allow.

New Pro *
Someone who is more than a serious amateur but less than an experienced professional; someone attempting the transition from Stills to Video or Film, or the reverse.

Shooting night scenes during real night. Alternatives: Day-for-Night and dusk-for-night.

Noise (video image)
The Degradation of image quality and Definition as a result of such problems as low light levels and what David Eisendrath liked to call “gremlins.”

“No Problem Location”*
The producer’s term for a location he couldn’t afford to have you Scout. Too often synonymous with a no-Amps, no-access, no-cooperation location.

Normal Lens
A lens that, for a specific camera Aperture, produces an Angle of View approximating that of the human eye, or about 25 degrees. See: Angle of View and Perspective.

Nose Lighting, Nose Shadow
Where you want, or don’t want, the nose shadow largely determines where you put your Key Light. Tip: off the lips, when possible.


Obie Light, Basher (UK)
A special Camera-top source first used, it is said, on Merle Oberon, which lightens otherwise dark eyes and faces, especially as the camera dollies-in for a Close-up. A good obie can be Dimmed without a Color Temperature change.

1kW, Ace A 1,000-watt Spot Light.

One-Light, Untimed Workprint
Less expensive and usually preferable to a Timed Print in that your carefully underexposed scenes are more likely to stay that way. The best way to appraise your work is to keep the printing lights constant from day to day.

On-the-Nose Key *
When the subject’s nose is aimed at the main light source, his nose shadow will be minimized. This Key position is part of Butterfly Lighting. Also see: Far-side Key* and Ear-side Key.*

An object or material that does not transmit light. Also, a dense client.

Open-face Light
A vague term that seems to refer to a Hard Light (perhaps others) without a focusing lens, although (Safety Tip) not necessarily without a protective glass or screen in the front.

Open Up
To enlarge the lens Diaphragm in order to increase Exposure or decrease Depth of Field.

The reflector and/or refractor system that directs the light emission from the lamp in the luminaire into required directions.Spill Light
Stray light from a luminaire that incidentally illuminates nearby objects or surfaces within the public environment. Can be a cause of ‘light trespass’.

Optical Axis, Lens Axis
The imaginary line that extends straight out from a lens.

Overexposure, Overexpose
Overexposed images have Highlights without details. Causes: faulty meters, readings, or interpretations, or the conviction that if a little light is good, a lot is better. Intentional, controlled overexposure, sometimes with underdevelopment, may be used to try to desaturate color or for other effects.

Overhead see Butterfly

Overhead-sun Syndrome *
Symptoms: Subjects lose their eyes and develop noses that need Light Surgery.

Over-kill Fill *
Wishy-washy lighting as a result of the tendency to play it safe in the Contrast and Lighting Ratio departments. Also see: Flat Light.


Painting With Light (Film)
A phrase implying that the fine art of film needs Fine Art to refine it.

Painting With Light (Stills)
The use of “light hose” systems to caress the scene selectively. Also, swinging any constant-source light (or swinging a Flash while firing it frequently) to illuminate vast dark areas economically. Tips: Use time exposure and a steady tripod; dress in black, keep light and cables moving; block all daylight and pray. Burr Lee suggests: Using Figure 8 and vertical movements of the light with 2/3 of the light coming from one side of the camera and 1/3 coming from the other side; always using the same Stop; and never wearing white shoes ? unless you like to retouch. [LN] Another secret: lots of practice.

To arc a light or camera horizontally. Also, to review the results unfavorably.

Pan-itis *
An aggravated condition of viewer’s eyes caused by relentless, rapid video and film camera swings.

A scissors-like mechanism used for raising and lowering studio lights. Other devices can also perform the same function, sometimes better.

PAR (parabolic aluminized reflector)
An automobile headlight-like Lamp that is used in special, non-focusing fixtures.

Parabolic Reflector
A reflector shape used with some focusing fixtures to provide efficient output, especially in Spot setting.

The disparity between viewing and imaging angles when they are not identical, as with sports finders or twin-lens cameras.

Persistence of Vision (Movies)
The seventh-of-a-second image retention of the human eye without which motion pictures wouldn’t work. Also, the Orson Wellesian compulsion to create Art in an industry that mistrusts it.

Perspective (lens)
The effect of Focal Length and distance on spatial relationships or relative size of objects at varying distances; apparent depth and any movement toward or away from the lens.

Photo Flood
Primarily 3,400K, short-life, Incandescent, medium-screw-base lamps; good for extremely well-ventilated Practicals.

Pipe Clamp
A light support that attaches to a Grid or pipe.

Surface irregularities that may develop on Lamp pins, bases, and sockets which affect Lamp-life and socket operation. Tip: Replace pitted lamps and sockets ASAP.

Plano-convex Lens
A lens used to focus light rays. It is flat one side, convex (curved outward) on the other. Also see: Fresnel.

Plug Ground Pin (on a light)
Quote: Your childhood education warns that you’ll probably burn in hell for cutting off that third prong. – Tom Sadowski [LN]

Polarizing Filter (Camera)
Polarizing camera filters can be set to reduce most non-metallic Glare as well as to darken blue skies. Most effective angle: 90 degrees to the source. Light loss: a little over 2 stops.

Polarizing Filter (Fixture)
Polarizing gels can cut Glare, but will be damaged if used too close to high-wattage tungsten lamps. Light loss: a little over 2 stops.

Polaroid Test Shots (for stills)
The standard way to appraise lighting, especially with Flash when Modeling Lights are not proportional.

Practical Light
A prop light seen in the shot which can be operated by the talent; sometimes doctored to control brightness, color, or coverage.

Primary Colors
The Additive Colors: red, blue, and green; Subtractive Colors: yellow, magenta, and cyan.

Profile (Portraits)
A one-eye-only sideview of a person.

Objects used to “dress” a set or still life.

Pushing, Forced Development, Upgrading (UK)
Compensating through overdevelopment for inten-tional or unavoidable Underexposure. Cost: a little money and a lot of Grain gain.


Quality of Light see Attributes

Quantity Versus Quality
Like so much in life, lighting is often compromised when you must, or imagine you must, go for the most instead of the best. Also see: Style.

Quartz Lamp
The original, and still commonly used, name for the renamed Tungsten-Halogen Lamp.


Radio Remote (Flash)
A wireless device used to trigger Flash or motor-driven cameras. Jon Falk cautions: “They can be made inoperative by random communication frequencies, certain phases of the moon, and a negative cash flow; best powered by AC, not batteries.” [AL]

Reciprocity Law (Exposure)
Exposure = Intensity x Time. When you cut either the intensity or the time (shutter speed) in half you have only to double the other to keep your meter happy, up and down the exposure scale, except at the far ends, where the law is not enforced.

Reciprocity Law Failure (mostly stills)
The lack of reciprocity at both extremes (very long and very short exposures). Solution: increased Exposure and, if necessary, additional compensation for the reciprocity failure of the first compensation. Video/film folk normally need not fret.

The red-retina reflection seen in the center of the eyes when portraits are lit by a flash positioned too close to the lens axis.

Reflected Light
Various surfaces in a scene reflect between 1% and 95% of the Incident Light. Specular surfaces will reflect it narrowly. Diffuse (rough, irregular, or Matte) surfaces Scatter it. Also see: Glare and Bounce Light for further reflections.

Reflected Light Meter (RLM)
An RLM reads Light that is reflected from a scene. Aim these meters at the subject or scene or a Gray Card from the direction of the camera. Also See: Spot Meter and 18% Assumption*.

Out-of-control reflections can hurt your image; controlled ones can enrich it. Tips: Keep the subject in full sun, the reflecting surface, such as water, in shade. Reflections on water are most pronounced when the lens is at a low angle. Most mirrors add a greenish cast to the image. Normal mirrors add a “ghost reflection” to the main reflection; use a first surface mirror for critical images.

Reflections (unwanted color)
Avoid large brightly lit areas that will reflect their color onto the subject unless the effect is desired and Motivated.

Reflector Flood
An incandescent, Internal-reflector Lamp (Flood, Spot, or medium Beam). The diameter is indicated in 1/8-inch units, thus an R-40 = 5 inches across the front.

Reflectors (inside Lights)
Variously shaped “bowls” (Parabolic, ellipsoidal, spherical, etc.) that shape and intensify a lamp’s Beam.

Reflectors (to redirect light)
Flat devices, mostly white, silver, or gold, that redirect the sun’s and other source’s rays. Lighting with reflectors is like lighting with lights – except no cables. Just cloud and wind worries.

The directional shift or “bending” of light rays as they leave one density medium and enter a different one. Or why your legs are short in water when viewed from the air.

Rembrandt Lighting
The dramatic emphasis of a few planes or features of the subject by using Accent Lights or shadowing devices that keep the rest of the scene very dark.

Positioning lights without stands, often from overhead Grids.

Improvised or official assemblies that support lights, backgrounds, and paraphernalia of all persuasions.

Rim Light, Rimmer
Subjects appear to have seen the light, then turned their back on it. Angle: The source looks down the barrel of your lens when the subject moves; sometimes several sources

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are aimed at the subject from wherever they can be hidden, more or less behind the subject.

Ring Flash
The ring-around-the-lens electronic flash that provides an image without shadows or Modeling – if that’s what you want. A light saver with deeply recessed subjects. Also see: Axial Lighting.

A pole that can be added to the top of a substantial stand to extend its height. Safety tip: weight the Stand and check its stability.

RLM see Reflected Light Meter


The cumulative craft wisdom that beginners need to learn so they can anticipate the consequences of breaking them when appropriate. Not the same as Formulas. Quote: Lighting is really common sense and personal observation. This is applied to a few rules of photography which cannot be broken and to others which I tend to bend a little. . . – Paul Beeson [TL]


The dangers of our craft range from “mere” finger-scorching to electrocution. Don’t take chances with your epidermis, or anyone else’s.

A weight used to stabilize unstable Stands, Rigs, and much else. Substitutes: heavy cables, cases, or rocks.

The degree of intensity of a Hue. Also, the result of hanging a hot light under an automatic sprinkler head.

Scattering (of Light)
The effect an irregular or Matte surface has upon Incident Light – broadly Reflecting it.

Scissor Clamp, Scissor Mount
Supports a light from a dropped ceiling Grid. Caution: Beware of automatic sprinklers.

A large, semi-soft studio unit used for general set Illumination.

Searching for a Location. Also, checking one out prior to shooting to determine equipment, noise, electrical and lighting needs, and problems. Tip: Saving money by not scouting can be expensive; and finding someone who is knowledgeable and reliable and who lives near the location can be challenging. Quote: Three rules apply to filming on-location: 1) Scout before shooting to help save time and money; 2) Expect the unexpected – it is sure to happen; 3) Trust no one, especially the weather forecaster. – Jon Fauer [LN]

Commonly, a screen-like metal mesh used in front of a light to reduce intensity, not to diffuse it. But thanks to the mystery and magic of show biz, other devices that do diffuse are sometimes called scrims, especially in the world of theater. Tip: If you can see a clear image through the material, there’s no Diffusion and no confusion. Also see: Net.

Sculptural Lighting *
Modeling with lights to emphasize planes and Texture. Consider using the term to describe a subject/background relationship in which the bright edge of the subject (key side) stands out against a dark part of the background, and the shadow side of the subject separates from a light area of the background. The result is about as close as 2D can get to looking like 3D.

Seamless Paper
Wide rolls of background paper used to make Sweeps. These add background color and create Limbo.

Senior, 5kW
A 5,000-watt Fresnel Spot Light.

Separation of Planes
The craft of suggesting a non-existent third dimension through the use of lights positioned to emphasize Modeling. Tips: Keep subjects well away from backgrounds; Back Light, Rim Light, and Background Light will usually do the job; so will a good Dolly shot. Quote: I like to rely on tonal separation rather than just relying on the color to separate it . . . if you can incorporate the right use of color with tonal separation, you get a greater perspective in composition, a greater depth. – Billy Williams [ML]

A construction or arrangement of walls, scenery, and Props designed for the convenient lighting and shooting of scenes and, except for stills, sound recording.

Set Light
The term some Lighting Directors use to refer to Background Light, and others may use instead of “Base Light.” Obviously, part of a vast conspiracy to confound beginners.

Set Up
All the activities of placing lights, accessories, cameras, and, if needed, microphones, prior to shooting.

Shade (exterior)
Consider all the subtleties of shade: wide-open, dappled, flat, side, kicker, and back-lit varieties. Keep eyes and options open, Reflectors handy.

Shadow Detail
Extremely dark areas (either in actual shadows or in unlit and underlit parts of the scene) in which some texture or detail has been captured. Tip: Careful Exposure readings, a Good Eye, and experience help with such details.

The power of shadows is in their potential to reveal as well as to conceal. Tip: Back Lights and Low-angle Lights can exaggerate shadows for dramatic or stylistic purposes. Poorly placed or Multiple Sha-dows usually add unwelcome clutter and confusion to the Composition.

Sharp (image) see Definition

Sharp (shadows)
Shadows that have a hard, clean edge. Tip: The farther away subjects, Snoots, and Flags are from a Light, and the closer they are to the background, the sharper their shadows will be. The edge of a spot beam produces sharper shadows than the center; the sun, ellipsoidal Spot Light, and, to a lesser degree, Fresnel lights, cast sharp shadows.

Show Card
A large sheet of cardboard, Matte-white on one side, preferably black on the other, used to reflect or block light, to add or subtract Highlights.

Shower Curtain
A large, Translucent plastic sheet used to diffuse lights. See: Bank.

Shutter (Light)
A venetian blind-like device attached to a light to adjust Intensity without affecting Color Temperature; a mechanical Dimmer.

Shutter Speed
Half of an Exposure equation; the time that light is permitted to strike the light-sensitive surface within a camera. Motion picture shutter speed is approxi-mately 1/50 of a second when the camera runs at 24 fps.

Side Light
This half key/half kicker hits subjects at an angle of about 90 degrees. Also see: Cross Light.

Dark shapes and figures that are set against a light background. Silhouettes have both simplicity and impact, even on small screens. Tips: Keep the subject dark, the background light; underexpose 2-to-3 stops from the Incident Light Meter’s “recommendation”; and don’t let the lab or Video Engineer “save” you.

Diffusers of various sizes which scatter and soften artificial light or sunlight. Synthetics (which don’t yellow as fast or blow the budget) have tended to replace the labor of silkworms. But large silks on exteriors (see: Butterfly) allow some air to escape, reducing the fabric’s tendency to become a sail on windy days.

Don’t use more Directions of Light, lights, or colors than needed for a subject or mood. Quote: . . . We are not shooting at a space, but at part of it, a sense which is rather subtle and easily distorted by resorting to queer angles, exaggerated composition, forced perspective, and overly dramatic lighting. – Ezra Stoller [LN]

Size and Distance of a Source
The larger the light, the softer its Quality. However, the effective size of a source also depends upon subject size and distance. A large, distant source is, in effect, small and hard (behold the sun). A 4-square-foot Soft Light covering a car is small, but if lighting a watch, it’s enormous.

A large, high-wattage studio light used to flood Cycs and such.

Slave Unit (Electronic Flash)
A unit that, like a perfect assistant, responds in a flash to the Master.

Slow Motion (video and film)
The stretching of real time for technical or lyrical reasons. See: Frame Rate.

Snoots are front-of-the-light “tubes” that project a circle of light on a subject or background. They also reduce Spill. Tip: To turn the circle into an ellipse, decrease the light-background angle.

Soft Light
Diffused, Bounced, indirect light; the opposite of Hard Light. The soft shadows and subtle highlights produced are so luscious one wonders why this light isn’t used for everything. At times it seems to be. The difficulty of hiding and controlling a soft source, however, especially when shooting reverse angles, and its reluctance to “go the distance,” limits its use. So does fickle fashion. Tip: The largest, cheapest soft source is an overcast sky.

Source, Illuminant
Anything that produces light, whether Natural, Artificial, Incandescent, Discharge, Flash, Constant-Source, lightning, or a firefly.

Source Lighting see Motivated Lighting

Space Blanket
A camping item, sometimes attached to Location walls or ceilings to reflect light. Caution: Check for flammability.

Space Light
A large cylinder containing several broad lights that is hung from ceilings to provide soft top light. A black “skirt” can be lowered to limit Spill on surrounding walls. Used mostly on features and commercials.

Spectrum (Visible & Electromagnetic)
The full range of electromagnetic wavelengths extends from the shortest gamma rays of 1 millionth mm to radio waves of 6 miles. Buried in the middle is the visible spectrum, the tiny portion to which the human eye is sensitive. The spectrum can be “seen” when White Light is intercepted by a prism or rain-drops. Tip: It does not fully match what film “sees” and therein lie occasional surprises.

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See: Ultraviolet and Infrared.

Specular (subject)
A highly reflective, mirror-like surface. Tip: If your subject is specular and small, stick it in a Translucent tent, cut a hole for your lens, and douse it with light. Or surround it with white panels.

Speed (Film Sensitivity)
The higher the ISO/ASA number, the more sensitive (faster) and usually the grainier the film. See: Gain, for the video equivalent of sensitivity and Background Noise as the parallel to grain.

Speed (lens)
The largest Stop (smallest number!) a lens can provide. Tip: High-speed lenses are great for low-level illumination but limited in terms of Depth of Field when wide open.

Speed (light)
186,000 miles per second.

Speed (your lighting)
Slower than Light. Often lighting speed is the critical element in whether you capture the shot, the spirit of the performance or, despite even a dazzlingly successful image, the next job.

Spider Box, Junction Box
An electrical distribution box used for plugging in lights, fans, and such.

See batten

Spill, like glare and weeds, suggests something unwelcome and unloved. But spill does cut contrast – if that’s what you need. Tip: Flags, Snoots, and Barndoors provide a little relief with Hard lights, little relief with Soft Lights. See: Egg Crates.

To adjust a focusing light toward maximum Intensity and minimum Beam Angle.

Spot Light
A focusing Hard Light. Traditional types: Inky – up to 250 watts; Baby – 500-to-1,000 watts; Junior, Deuce or 2kW – 2,000 watts; Senior, 5K – 5,000 watts; Tenner or 10kW – 10,000 watts. See: Hard Light.

Spot Meter
Spot meters let you select and see the area they read – typically about 1 degree. They are indispensable for distant, unapproachable, and tricky (inside-furnace-type) metering and can be used to determine Brightness Ratio; not appropriate for Averaging.

Squinting (subject)
Usually the result of lights or Reflectors placed too close to the subject’s line-of-sight, especially if surrounding areas are much darker. Tip: Add light to the walls and objects your Subject looks at and/or increase the angle of the key.

Stage plug
A large, heavy-duty electrical connector requiring caution in use.

Stand, Light Stand
While lights may find themselves mounted on a camera or Grid, Hand-held, or clamped virtually anywhere, commonly they are supported, elevated, and positioned by stands. Tip: Only amateurs call stands “Tripods.” Quote: I am always surprised at the large number of TV studios that do not have light stands in their inventory. Stands are extremely valuable when you need to add a source quickly – like at one minute to air. – E. Carlton Winckler

The look-alike who stands in for the principal actor/actress during lighting sessions and, rarely, during Blocking. Not a Double.

Star Filter
A clear glass filter with engraved lines that turn tiny Kicks into star-like streaks. There are many options and sizes when you wish upon a star filter.

Stop, Lens Stop, f-stop, t-stop
An adjustable iris Diaphragm that controls, in part, how much light reaches the film or video tube. Once you grasp the logarithmic progression, and the idea that the larger the number the smaller the opening (therefore less light) – it’s a piece of cake. F-stops are the theoretical amount of light transmitted by the lens; t-stops, the actual amount. The difference is about 1/3 stop, often more with zooms.

Stop Down
To reduce the size of the Diaphragm in order to decrease Exposure or increase Depth of Field. The opposite of Open Up.

Stop Pull
A manual, therefore potentially subtle, change of stop as the camera moves or pans from bright to dark areas; or the reverse. See: Automatic Exposure.

Strobe Light (film)
Special strobes can be used with motion pictures to freeze action frame by frame for scientific and other purposes. The lack-of-motion blur in each frame produces an unusual effect when the film is projected.

Strobe Light (stills)
Flash used sequentially for Edgerton-like effects; otherwise, as Ben Sobin, among others, reminds us, it should be called Electronic Flash.

Stud, spud
The projection at the top of a stand or on a clamp which allows a light to be attached and rotated.

Studio, Stage
An area dedicated to convenient lighting, shooting, and often set-building and recording of films, videos, and stills. Large, soundproof ones with Grids and Cycs tend to be popular on high-budget shoots. “Studio” also refers to a large pro-duction company that may or may not have its own stages.

That hard-to-define quality that may distinguish the work of two equally good lighters – or equally bad ones. Quote: “. . . you have to keep the whole movie in your head all the time. . . . You can see stylistically if you are not dealing with it appropriately. Directors can’t always see that because they become overburdened with the major problem of dealing with actors and telling the story.” -Gordon Willis [ML]; Also see: Flair.

A wonderfully vague term that covers: an entire film, the things and people lenses are aimed at, and this author’s need for a genderless word to avoid countless “he or she” constructions.

Sun Shade see Lens Shade

A continuous Seamless Paper background with a gradual curve where wall and floor join. The Poor Man’s Cyc. Well-equipped photographic studios have a mechanism for raising and lowering rolls of seamless paper.

Symmetrical Lighting
Lights placed at more or less equal heights and equal-but-opposite angles and set at equal intensities. Because such lighting violates the principal of Dominance, it looks unnatural, confusing, or boring.

Sync, Synchronization
Having things happen at precisely the same time: your Electronic Flash and Shutter, or a desirable job and available time.

Sync Voltage
The camera flash contact voltage at the time it is fired.


A waist-level platform useful so that you don’t waste your energy bending over while lighting and composing small objects. Also, the type of shooting associated with such subjects.

Take (film and video)
An uninterrupted recording of a scene, as in “Take 1” or, with some commercials, “Take 101.” When you shoot a lot of takes the one that looks the best is always the last one, or the first one, or they all look the same.

Talent, Actor, Performer, Cast, Star
The professional who may or may not be talented. Also see: Subject, which may or may not be an actor and may or may not be an object.

A round Gobo or a large Dot used to reduce or block light.

An extremely large Flag.

Tenner, 10kW
A 10,000-watt Fresnel Spot Light.

Tent, Tenting
Translucent contraptions of various sizes, shapes, and materials which help to hide lights, cameras, and crews when you’re shooting highly reflective objects.

Terminal Trauma *
Not knowing when to stop adding “just one more light.”

Skillful lighting from an off-lens-axis angle can make texture appear to be so real, so 3D, it seems like you can touch it. See: Modeling and Sculptural Lighting*.

An underexposed image or area; the opposite of Dense.

Through-the-Lens Meter (TTLM)
An in-the-camera meter that can, in the case of video, adjust the iris as you shoot. It performs sophisticated readings of virtually everything except your mind. See: Automatic Exposure.

The distance light travels from Source to Subject, as in “a long throw.” See: Distance.

Connecting electrical cables directly to a live circuit box, dangerous even for an experienced, licensed electrician; illegal and suicidal for others. Quote: Deep down in your heart you know that someday you’ll meet face to face with the Grim Gaffer while you are doing a solo tie-in at a fuse box in some old lady’s damp basement. – Tom Sadowski [LN]

Vertical arcing of the light or camera on an axis as close as possible to the lens. The opposite of Pan.

Time Lapse (film)
When a very slow Frame Rate is used, flowers appear to open in seconds and buildings seem to be constructed in minutes. Tip: Since time-lapse shots may span hours, days, or even months, unchang-ing or gradually changing lighting is important. Systems for reducing or killing the light between frames should be considered. Another requirement: careful calculation of exposure (slow shutter speeds mean low levels of light) and tests so there won’t be unpleasant surprises at the end of a three-week shot.

Timed Print
A motion picture workprint that has received Timing to compensate for Exposure and color variations.

Timing, Grading (UK)
Adjustments of the motion picture printing lights to compensate for exposure and color variations, or to achieve special effects. Tip: Good timing makes champions.

Titan Arc
The granddaddy, 350-amp carbon arc that provided “sunlight,” fill, and lots of jobs on countless feature films.

TLC, Tender Lighting Care
Something every Subject wants, most deserve, few get.

Top Light
Angle: directly over the subject. Tip: If you want to light eyes, not nose-tops, save this one for non-human subjects or horizontal ones. However, soft top-front light is ideal for some faces; top-back light for some food shots.

A linear bus bar system providing one to three main circuits or a low voltage supply to which display lighting (spotlights) can be connected and disconnected at will along the length of the system.

An object, material or vapor that transmits and diffuses light but not clear images. Examples: Frost Gel and dense smoke. Tip: Use some Rim Light or Back Light.

Transmitted Light
Light that has passed through a Transparent or Translucent material.

Slides or other images that are viewed by Transmitted Light or are projected.

Transformers reduce the line voltage (for instance 230 V) to the lower voltage required for operating low-voltage halogen lamps. This will generally be 12 V.

An object or material that transmits both light and undiffused images. Tip: Try lighting a plain back-ground directly behind the object, not the object.

The three-legged device that is almost always topped with a tripod head (for panning and tilting) which supports cameras of various types. Tips: A tripod or Dolly is recommended not only to steady and move the camera (especially with long lenses and long shooting sessions) but also to make Framing and composing the shot simpler. Tip: Never lean a closed tripod against the wall: gravity always wins and heads will roll. See: Hand-holding.

Truck see Dolly

Trunking usually provides mechanical fixings for the luminaires as well as electrical connection.

t-stop see Stop

Tungsten Filament
A lamp coil that emits light (and heat) when electricity flows through it. See: Incandescent Lamp and Tungsten-Halogen Lamp.

Tungsten Film
Film balanced for 3,200K lamps and requiring color correction when shot with other sources unless Color Distortion is desired.

Tungsten-Halogen Lamp
A tungsten filament coil set in a regenerative halogen gas atmosphere that eliminates premature lamp blackening. Useful lamp-life is extended, lamp size decreased. Earlier name: Quartz Iodine.

Two-dimensional Translation *
Part of developing a Good Eye involves anticipating what surprises await you when the three-dimensional world ends up on a flat screen, tube or print, minus one dimension. Tips: View the scene with one eye closed or through the lens of a camera; images on a ground-glass seem more 2D-ish than aerial images. Polaroid Test Shots can also help.

Tyranny of Terms *
The tendency of terms to turn into dogma. New pros needn’t use “Base Light” or “Back Light,” for example, unless they really need them. Tip: It matters less what a tool or technique is called than whether it performs the job efficiently and that you know how to use it effectively. However, as Gill McDowell points out, coming to terms with the jargon makes intracraft communication easier.


Ultraviolet (UV)
A portion of the Spectrum to which film and bees’ eyes are sensitive, but not human eyes.

Ultraviolet (UV) or Skylight Filter
see Haze Filter

Umbra Penumbra Phenomenon
The black center shadow and gray outside shadow(s) produced by an eclipse and most hard lights. The phrase of choice when you need approval to rent or buy a budget-busting light: “…but it’s the only one that won’t create a penumbra.”

Umbrella (for Lights)
Appropriate umbrellas convert hard or broad lights into large soft sources.

Umbrella (for subjects)
Instant shade for immobile subjects like growing flowers and perspiring ones, like camera crews in the desert. Don’t forget a stand, clamp, and weight.

Underexposure, Prints of Darkness *
The result of too little light or too small an f-stop. See: Thin. Underexposure may also occur if you have a lazy agent.

The ratio of the minimum illuminance to the average illuminance over the specified area.

Away from the audience or camera.


Vanity Ploy *
The art of getting VIP subjects, by exploiting their insecurity, to “talk you into” one more take long after they said they absolutely had to leave.

Video Engineer
The person who can expand or compress your creative horizons as well as your contrast range. The more you understand the technical aspects of Waveform Monitors, vectascopes, video recording, and broadcast, the more likely the video engineer can become your partner rather than your censor.

Video Monitor
The experts disagree whether or not lighting should be appraised on a studio monitor, since many are of poor quality or are poorly adjusted. Regardless of quality, video monitors are used to judge performance and camera moves during set up, shooting, and playback, whether for video or film cameras that have a . . .

Video Tap, Video Assist
A motion picture camera “tapped” to provide an electronic image for viewing and sometimes recording. It allows instant playback of scenes in order to judge performances and cinematography. For some, the video tap is indispensable; for others, about as welcome as a spinal tap.

Viewing Glass see Contrast Glass
Visual comfort
Our feeling of ease or well being within the visual field.

Visual satisfaction
The qualitative impression of a lit space.
Visible Spectrum see Spectrum

Visual performance
The ability to perceive detail and carry out the visual tasks.

Volts (v)
A measure of electrical “pressure.” Formula: volts = watts ÷ amps. Tip: To save bucks and save face, check lamp-voltages before plugging in; and check overseas voltages before grabbing your passport.


Light, gels, or subjects in the red/orange/yellow region of the Spectrum.

Warming Filter
Subtracts excess blue or adds sunset-candlelight- like glow to a shot.

Watt (w)
A measurement of power or the rate at which electrons move along a wire. Tip: Different types and makes of fixtures using the same wattage lamps when tested at the same distance will have considerable variations in light output. Performance charts may be helpful; an Incident Light Meter definitely will be. Watt/seconds, W/s, Joule, J (flash) The electrical current stored within the capacitors of electronic flash units, only part of which reaches the flash tube and none of which can be compared with the real or claimed watt/second ratings of other units. Joule is the British equivalent. Flash maven Jon Falk suggests that skepticism and flash meters are in order.

Waveform Monitor
The box that provides the electronically literate with a beam-by-beam evaluation of the lighting while they set up, but does not, as Harry Mathias reminds us, replace a trusty light meter.

The distance between “waves” in the electromagnetic field, specified as angstroms or Nanometers.

White Balance
The process of adjusting the video camera’s red, blue, and green Gain controls in order to balance the color of prevailing sources (sunlight, sky light, fluorescent, etc.). White Balance is performed instead of, or in addition to, using internal or external camera filters or colored gels on the lights. Tips: For normal results, balance is done on a pure white card using the same light that falls on the Subject. In order to achieve abnormal color you can trick the camera by white balancing on a card or paper exactly opposite from the color desired. Some pros keep an assortment of colored cards handy for this off-white-balance operation. Also see: Auto White Balance and Color Distortion.

White Light
The 1,000 or so colors humans who are not Color-blind can discern have their origin in white light. The Hues we attribute to any object depend upon how the surface reflects and absorbs light and how the eye interprets it. See: Spectrum and Absorption.

White Reference (Video & Film)
The best way to outwit TV automatic gain control. Tip: Compose and light so that about 10% of the Frame is white. Even with film, large areas of black tend to look muddy unless there is sufficient white reference.

Wild Wall
An easily removable Flat or section of a Set which facilitates camera positioning, dollying, and lighting.

Wind Machine
An excellent way to introduce atmosphere and drama – power and budget permitting.

Window Gel
Gels for color conversion (such as 5,500K to 3,200K) are available in wide rolls to cover windows. Tip: If you see through them, wrinkles and Reflections can be a problem.

Wrap (finish)
To pack up equipment. Also, to complete a shoot – or an almost endless Glossary.

Wrap (light)
Large, close, soft sources tend to envelop small subjects with light that Falls off gradually on the curves.

Wrap Party
End-of-the-shoot celebration to reward the crew for their past efforts and future silence regarding what really happened on location.


Zone System
A series of ten zones (or tones) from 0 (black) to 9 (white) with 5 being middle gray and reflecting 18% of the light. Each zone reflects double or half of the light (1 Stop) of the adjacent one. Specific subject tones can be placed in predetermined zones that best suit a particular subject, contrast range, and stylistic intent. Developed by Ansel Adams, the system is widely taught and is detailed in books by Minor White and others.

Used instead of collections of fixed-focal-length lenses and, unfortunately, instead of a dolly.

Zoomitis *
A serious nervous disorder. Cause: uncontrollable lunging. Symptoms: extreme dizziness and disorientation. Cure: Zoomenders.


Carbon dioxide (CO2)
An important greenhouse gas. Countries that ratified the Kyto agreement have committed to reduce their emissions. Lighting designers have the power to hold down CO2 emissions into the atmosphere (0.42 kg of carbon dioxide is produced for each 1kWh of electricity).

Colour Appearance
The colour emitted by a near-white light source can be indicated by its correlated colour temperature (CCT). Each lamp type has a specific correlated colour temperature measured in degrees Kelvin e.g. 3000K and are described as warm, intermediate, cool and cold.

Colour Rendering
The ability of a light source to reveal the colours of an object. It is determined by the spectral power distribution or spectrum of the light source. Measured by the colour rendering index (Ra). The higher the number the better, up to a maximum of 100.

Control gear
Most artificial light sources other than incandescent lamps require special control gear to start the lamp and control the current after starting. Depending on the type of lamp involved, the control gear can take the form of ballasts, igniters or transformers.Diffusers and moisture-proof fittings
Luminaires of a higher protection class. These are closed luminaires for humid, wet, chemically aggressive or dusty environments where the requirements for glare control are generally rudimentary.

Digital Serial Interface (DSI)
A lighting control protocol created by the Zumtoble Group, for applications where the addressing feature of DALI is not required.

Ceiling luminaire that concentrates the light in a downward direction. Downlights are generally round or square and recessed into the ceiling, but may also be surface-mounted. They may feature an open reflector and/or a shielding device.

Poles for mounting roadlighting lanterns or floodlights. Also known as “masts” and “towers”.

Subjective experience of comparative brightness between points or areas of luminance, seen simultaneously or successively.

Contrast Rendering Factor (CRF)
A measure of the degradation of contrast that is caused by veiling reflections (bright reflections in the task).

Measured in lumens per Watt (lm/W) and a useful parameter for assessing how much light is available from the lamp for each Watt of power. Luminaire efficacy is often expressed by dividing the initial lamp lumens by the combined lamp and control gear power.

Glare is the result of excessive contrasts of luminance in the field of view. The effect may vary from mild discomfort to an actual impairment of the ability to see. When the ability to see is impaired this is called disability glare. Discomfort glare is associated more with interiors; it refers to the discomfort or distraction caused by bright windows or luminaires.

Igniters are required for lamps that cannot be started using the normal line voltage alone. This is the case with high-pressure discharge lamps such as metal halide lamps and high-pressure sodium vapour lamps.Illuminance
The amount of light falling on an area divided by that area – measured in lux. Generally, 500 lx is needed for office work, whereas a watchmaker requires 4,000 lux. In summer, the sun shines on the ground with 120,000 lux, and a full moon produces 3 lux.

Indirect Lighting
System of illumination where the light from lamps and luminaires is first reflected from a ceiling or wall.

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