Mastering Eye Lights | Cinematography 101

Mastering Eye Lights | Cinematography 101

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Creating eye lights is crucial part of good cinematography. Viewers most easily connect with characters through their eyes. Dark eyes make a character feel empty or dead, whereas having a light in the eye can give life to a character. Therefore an eye light is essential to making relatable characters. Today, director of photography Jon Salmon teaches us 3 different ways to create eye lights, using low eye light, high eye lights, and lighting effects.

In this video, Jon shows us three different methods for creating eye lights.
In our first setup, he uses several lights placed around the actor to create a collection of lights in the eye. In our second setup, he uses abstract shapes of light to create interesting shapes in the eye of the actor for a surreal effect. In the third and last setup, he uses special techniques to create a distinct eye light look.

The main ideas that we will be discussing today about eye lights are how genre relates to eye lights, not pointing a light directly at the subject, and placing your eye light before your key light.
Genre can influence your eye light because different genres allow for different types of eye lights. A naturalistic genre requires normal looking eye lights that you might see in daily life. Music videos or sci-fi projects allow you more freedom with how your eye lights look. You shouldn’t point a light directly at the subject because that might overpower the light shaping the face. Instead, it’s best to pan the eye light off of the face until it doesn’t light up the face but can still be reflected in the eye. Placing your eye light before you place your key light is important because your key light can overpower and fill in the shadows created by the eye light.

Ultimately, as most filmmakers try to tell human stories, learning how to create life-like characters is extremely important. Different lighting styles and directions of lighting the eye will create different feelings and emotions. It is also important to be able to embrace different sources or motivations for your eye lights, as they might lead you to lighting designs that you would never have thought of. There is almost always a way to make the light reflecting in someone’s eyes more interesting, and now you know how to do that. But it is also essential to be able to embrace the type of lighting that will complement the talent’s face and best tell the story.

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