Skip To Main Content

5 Lighting Techniques to Elevate Your Shot

Cinematographer Alissa Rooney offers tips for lighting scenes in dynamic ways and always in support of the story. Presented in collaboration with Made In Her Image.

I’m a big fan of mixing qualities of light in a shot. I love seeing hard light in some areas, soft light in others, as well as moving or textured light and contrasting color temperatures. Having a full tonal range lends a real sense of dynamism and contributes to what I view as a beautiful image. In the end, though, all of these elements have to support the needs of the story and convey the time of day when the scene is supposed to take place.

1. Choosing the Unit for the Job

You’ll save time and effort by working with units designed to be used the way you intend. I start by determining the intensity, directionality, and other qualities that are needed to convey the scene’s time of day, and I make sure to carry a range of options, including HMIs, Fresnels, LED panels, tubes, accent lights, and other practicals.

2. Mixing Color Temperatures


By mixing colors and temperatures, you can add contrast and depth to your images and enhance the cinematic feel of your scenes. This can be done any number of ways, such as using a combination of tungsten and daylight sources, color-tuning different LED fixtures, or working with varying densities of corrective or color gels.

3. Mixing Quality of Light

When you mix the quality of light in a shot, you can create a more dynamic image with broad tonal contrast from deep shadows to bright highlights. I like to deploy both hard and soft sources when I’m lighting a scene, and I’ll further refine the degree of softness with different diffusion filters in front of the lights.

4. Creating Texture

Texture can help your lighting feel more natural by introducing interesting patterns of light and shadow on the subject or the space. Try placing a cucaloris (aka “cookie”), a branchaloris (just a branch with leaves rigged on a C-stand), or some other object in front of a hard, directional source to break up a beam coming through a window.

5. Movement

Adding subtle movement to your lighting can bring a really dynamic feeling to your shot. This can be as simple as moving a branch in front of a light to suggest wind blowing through a nearby tree, or even physically adjusting a unit mid-shot to create a moving texture on your subject or the set.

About Alissa Rooney

Alissa Rooney is an LA-based cinematographer whose work includes narratives, commercials, documentaries, and music videos. In addition to her freelance work, she currently serves as cinematographer for Her passion for visual storytelling, collaboration, and educating future generations keeps her continually motivated in her professional journey behind the camera.

About Made In Her Image
Founded in 2018, Made In Her Image is a nonprofit organization committed to social equity in the film, media, and entertainment industry. Their mission is to give young women and non-binary filmmakers of color the opportunity to create their own vision through programming, camps, and workshops.

Discover more Filmmaker Basics.