DSLR Lighting techniques from Eve Hazelton

Please read my ethics statement here

The lovely and talented Eve Hazelton, DP of the Underwater Realm, kindly offered to write a blog about lighting for me from her perspective. Not only has she written the post but done a great accompanying video! It’s really useful information and entertaining too! Thank you so much Eve!

Although it’s labelled as DSLR Lighting techniques this applies to all cameras, it’s just she is using a DSLR!

If you want to support her and one of the most interesting kick-starter projects I have seen then please do. I signed up. I think it’s simply brilliant! I hope she will let me get involved someone…I make good tea!! 🙂





Ok – let’s recap the major points there shall we?


First off – don’t just point a light at your subject and hope that’s enough. You are painting with light here, be a little more subtle! There are a number of problems with this shot – but first off we are going to tackle the lack of contrast between myself and the background…

We do this by moving the key closer (that’s the primary subject light source). Moving a light close to something makes it brighter (duh!) but this effect is accentuated the closer you get to the light – it’s called the inverse square law. If you move your subject twice as close to your light, it actually gets four times brighter!

What that means in practice is that as we move the light closer to me, reducing the exposure to compensate, the background actually gets much darker. There is now much more contrast between me and the wall behind me!

The next big problem is the nasty hard shadows (look at the earrings). Hard shadows suck for things like this. They are created by small lights (or big lights a looong way away, like the sun) so the way to combat them is to make your light source BIGGER.

Much better! The shadows are much less harsh and the eyelight is much, much bigger! You can achieve this with a softbox, a silkscreen, frosted gel – or even just by bouncing your light off a large white surface.

So if you only have one light, this a pretty good place to leave it. But let’s see what else we can do…

The next thing we are going to tackle is background separation. My hair is quite dark, so is the background, Let’s fire up a hairlight to draw some bright lines around my outline and pick out some shine on my hair. This is a small light just above and behind my head. I like this to be a little cooler (in this case 4500K) but that is really personal taste.

Nice – now we are talking! Let’s add one more light to finish off the subject (me!  this is a first…)

The downside of using such a big soft light as your key can be that you lose some modelling on the face, and it can wind up feeling a little flat.  I like to counteract that using a 3/4 back light.

A 3/4 backlight is just like a full backlight, except that instead of being directly behind your subject it is slightly off to one side. This catches one side of the face (usually the off side, as opposed to the key side) and highlights the bone structure, adding a bit more three-dimensionality and modelling to the face.

You can get a little creative here – adjust the height and angle of the light to flatter your subject.  I like to keep the light hard (far away) and very controlled (set to ‘spot’ if you can) and use flags or barndoors to make sure this light doesn’t mess with the rest of your scene.

So there it is – subject lighting done!

If that’s all you have time for – or you have run out of lights – you can leave it there. We are now going to go in and paint some strokes into that dark background to pick out some selective detail.

I always try to find the things that give the room it’s character – in this case it’s film memorabilia, primary colours and the fact that we are in a basement.

You can see here we have thrown a blueish light behind me to pick out that ‘king kong’ title. If we had used a tungsten balanced light we would run the risk of losing some of that separation we have worked so hard to get, but the blue complements the warm skin tone of the foreground and looks lovely! A couple of small lights to bring up the reds in the middle ground and the basement stairs in the upper left and we are done! A nice six-light setup!

 If this has been helpful at all PLEASE come over to our kickstarter page and make a donation. We are offering loads of tutorials from explosions like this…

…to plans to build your own battery operated, waterproof LED lights! There is loads of great stuff on offer for every level of indie filmmaker – check it out!! Be like Philip and make a donation to make these films happen!

Thanks again Eve, you can follow her (not literally as that is creepy!) on twitter here! 




  1. Great Blog! Very informative and always nice when well practiced individuals are willing to share their priceless experience and insight. Not to mention she is quite the lovely gal. Thank you Philip and Eve for this

  2. I’m so jealous of accents. Awesome tutorial that makes it look all too easy! I’m looking to upgrade my interview lighting setup. Could you share the lights/grip that was used in this setup. Looks great and relatively easy to setup.

    Long live community!

    1. Hi Jamison,

      The Key light we were using here was a 500/1000w halogen with soft box. Nice and cheap.

      The top/hair light is an 85W CFL (also very cheap.) – on a c-stand.

      3/4 back light is an 800W Red Head.

      King Kong highlight is a single 4ft day light fluorescent from a hardware store (cheap, seeing a pattern here :))

      Bins/red sofa highlighted with a desk lamp,.

      Stair light is another 500/1000w Halogens.

      The Halogens are basically just work lights. We would usually use our redheads, but all our bulbs had blown (eeeek). And if you don’t have a soft box, you can use collapsible reflectors (£10 on ebay) and clip it to a light stand and just sit it in front of your light 😀 It doesn’t matter what the set-up looks like, as long as you are getting the result that gives the best image right?

      Hope this helps. x

  3. I’m just wondering – what are manufacturer / model number of the lighting equipment you are using in this tutorial? e.g. if I wanted to buy the equipment you are using to make this shot what would I have to buy?


    1. check out there vimeo-page for more and take a closer look at the kickstarter campaign. if you have 50$ think about backing the project and you can get the indi action movie pack with 10 in-depth tutorials.


    but only could via PAY PAL, david wrote this on the comments of his first updatevideo (http://vimeo.com/33218385):

    You could send it to PayPal – the problem is of course that if we dont get funded we would have to refund the money to you which could lose a few %. If you are happy with this – send the funds and instructions to “dave@realm-pictures.com”

    dont wait for the last day, because they would need a little time to accept the payment!

    and if you want more than one of the packs, read the faq on the button of the kickstarterpage: “donate $80 for one and we’ll ask which other one you want if we get funded! Donate $100 and we will send you all three!”

  5. Hi,
    I am Neeraj kumar from Chennai/India. I have seen your video tutorial on the net. I was much impressed by your tutorial. I am into the media industry for the past 16 years. Presently I am looking forward to direct a documentary on paranormal subjects. I have planned to do this as a series for tv channel.
    In this context I would like to get your ideas and tips for me. I tried to register myself in your friendly website, but I wasn’t able to suceed.
    Please do forward me your email so that I can get in touch with you for further assistance help.
    Or atleast forward my your mobile number.
    My mailid is niranjan630@gmail.com.
    My mobiel number is 009962897473.
    Hope to hear from you at the earliest.
    Once again I thank you very much for your tutorial eve.

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