How to light a short film

Using ONLY Aputure Lights to Make a Film

The final two shots in our short film The Asylum Groove were inspired by this piece of art which we randomly found online when looking for inspiration for this film.

In this video we are going to talk about the setup and how we lit those two shots.

Both shots were filmed in the same location as the first scene of the film. The location was 16.2 by 7.5 meters and had 6 windows which were 1.2 by 3.2 meters high.

To start, we positioned the electric chair in the spot we wanted and screwed it to the floor. Our actor would be strapped into the chair and wouldn’t be able to get out without assistance.

For his performance, we wanted him to to try and force his way out. Screwing it to the floor meant the chair would not tip over.

To make it as comfortable as possible for our actor, we made some soft straps for his wrists and ankles so he could pull as much as he liked and he would not be hurt.

Having so much natural light coming through the windows worked great for all of the other shots in the film, but for these two shots, we needed it to be completely dark.

Unfortunately, we could not shoot the scene at night as we could not get access to the location later in the day, so we shot it during the day. We made the location as dark as possible in two ways.

The location was a old school hall which had a lighting rig built in and had large blackout curtains. The curtains had been damaged over time and did not cover all of the windows, but it was a good start. We also used some of the curtains to block out the entire background for both shots.

Next we used the law of physics and something called inverse square law, let me explain.

The closer your light is to the subject, the brighter it will be, and the fall off will be harsher. The further away your light is from the subject, it decreases in brightness and the fall off is a lot more even.

The sunlight coming through the windows was further away our key light, which was about 1 meter away from our subject.

When we correctly exposed the camera for the closest and brightest light, this made all over light darker.

We have linked to an article from Petapixel and a video from a youtube channel called Wolfcrow which goes into a lot more detail about the inverse square law if you want to check it out.

For the shot we hung an Aputure 300d from the lighting rig that was all ready in the room. We did this by using a rail clamp which was attached to the bars of the rig. Attached to that was a C-Stand arm so we could bring the light further down, getting it about a meter away from our subject, and it also meant we could easily adjust the angle if needed.

We also attached a safety harness to the light just encase the clamp decided to fail. You can never be to careful.

One advantage of using the Aputure lights was the remote it came with which lets you wireless control the brightest and switch the light on and off.

As the light was up high, having the remote meant we didn't have to get the ladder back out to adjust it, which saved us a lot of time on set.

One of the main reasons we rented the Aputure 300d was because you can attach different mounts to the front of the light creating many different types of light sources.

For the first part of the film we used the space light attachment which we spoke about more in last week’s video.

For this shot, we attached a Fresnel lens which helps to focus and create a beam of light. The light was set at 75% brightness, angled just in front of our actor Chris, creating dark shadows on his face.

Before we filmed the shot we got someone to stand in for Chris, so our 1st AC Rob could get focus marks with the PD Movie Wireless Follow focus we were using.

It’s best to do these technical things with a stand-in. That way your actors aren’t standing around in front of lights all day as well as giving a performance.

We had to film this shot a couple of times because we had some technical issues with the straps not being tight about, causing it to fall of Chris’s head during the take.

One decision we made early one was avoid giving our actor an eye light for this shot. This was because we wanted his eyes to look dark and dead, unlike the previous scene where it was very light. In retrospect, this is actually something we would like to change because you can't read his reaction as well because you can’t see his eyes.

The last shot of the film was this one.

Taking inspiration from other films

We took the inspiration for this shot from this image we found online. We knew straight away this is how we wanted the film to end with the reflection of people watching him from the observation room.

So we built an observation room. We randomly had access to a window which was big enough and mounted onto a stand which was already in the room. Then we built a blanket fort around the window with the help of the blackout curtains, c-stands, more blackout material and lots of clips.

Now we had a room which was facing the chair and was completely blacked out all the way around, apart from the window. We did this to help emphasise the reflection of the people. By blocking out the background, this meant we would only get their reflection and nothing else.

To achieve the reflection of the people in the window we used an Aputure 300d with a space light and set it to 100% brightness which is around a 2k light. This was placed outside the fort, shining through the window, as we could not fit it in side.


Then we boomed an LED panel into the fort as the main key light for Emily who was playing the woman’s hand in the film. For Ed, who was playing the executioner, we had an Aputure M9 light just to bring him up a little.

We are not sponsored by Aputure - we just really like their lights.

One thing we learned from this shot was just the sheer amount of light you need to add in order to achieve a bright enough reflection to see the subjects.

Another thing we decided early on which helped seeing them in the reflection was dressing them in white. And because I was in the fort operating the camera, I made sure to wear black to avoid being picked up by the camera.

With the camera being in the fort on a slider, the reflection was so strong we could see it in the window. So to combat this, any part of the camera that reflected light, was gaff taped up and it solved the problem.

The final part of the shot were the curtains falling which was achieved by clipping blackout material to the outside of the window and having two people let go on action.

These two shots did take around 4 hours to setup and the footage in total lasts for about 40 seconds, but we think it was totally worth it and without the crew, it wouldn’t be possible so big thanks to them.

Equipment Used

🎥 This episode's kit/gear/equipment:

🇺🇸 US links: 

Aputure 300D -
Aputure Space Light -
Aputure Fresnel Mount -

🇬🇧 UK links:

Aputure 300D -
Aputure Space Light -
Aputure Fresnel Mount -

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Using Inspiration to Light Your Film

In this video we are going to breakdown the process of using inspiration from other films to help you light your short film.

We did this same process to light our short film The Asylum Groove and If you haven't seen it yet you can find it here.


First of all, you want to look for inspiration. Our short is set loosely in the 70s and in an Asylum, a film we took a lot of inspiration from was One flew over the cuckoo's nest. You can see this in the costume our main character is wearing. We have a video about that HERE.

You can create a moodboard of images which have a similar look to the film you want to make. We took inspiration from films and others were pieces of art we found online. This image of Gene Kelly in Thousands Cheer from 1943 inspired this shot, and this image inspired us to create the final shot in the film.

We are going to be talking about how we set up this shot in next week’s video. So if you haven't already consider subscribing.

Example images allow you to focus your attention and dial in the look of the film, so you can start to work out how to light it, the design of your costumes, and how you would like your location to look.

Now you have this inspiration you can start to make the creative choices which will make it your own.

The location we had for our film was an old assembly hall which had large windows that let in a lot of natural light.

This laid down the groundwork for how we were going to light the film and we wanted to embrace the natural light coming into the room.

It’s not always possible but if you can get into the location before the shoot and do some camera tests it will allow you to work out how you can light your film.

One of the main creative choices we made was to shoot at F8. The was because we wanted to show the detail of the location, as it was already old and grimy which suited the look of the film.


This was another decision we made after looking at the reference images from films like Thousands Cheer and one flew over the cuckoo's nest both which have a deep focus.

Shooting at F8 also helped us prevent blowing out the window light, which again allows for the audience to see how old and grimy the location is.

One problem we had shooting at F8 was that our subject was underexposed, so we did a camera test. We placed our subject in the middle of the room with the window behind them on a bright sunny day, which would harshest lighting conditions we would encounter on the shooting day.

By using a light meter it told us if we wanted to expose the outside correctly we would have to shoot at a F-Stop of F16, and if we wanted to expose our subject correctly we would have to shoot at a F-Stop of F5.6. This was a 3 stop difference or a ratio of 8 to 1.

To get a little more dynamic range we decided to shoot in Cine 4 which would give us a little more information to work with in post.

With all of this information we worked out the lights we own would not be powerful and reliable enough to light the scene.

So we rented 3 Aputure 300d’s. These lights are rated to be the equivalent of a 2k light and are set at 5500K, this meant we did not have to gel the lights with CTB as they already matched the colour temperature of daylight.

One of the most versatile aspects of these lights is the bowens mount attachment which is on the front of the light. The light comes with a reflector cone, but you can also attach a Fresnel which we used for this shot.

The main attachment we used was a space light which essentially works the same way a china lantern.


The original idea was to take advantage of the lighting rig we had in the room and hang the lights from there. We soon realised we would need to move the lights a lot more than we planned during the shoot.

Moving the lights helped to keep the exposure consistent and bring the lights closer to our actor, but still allow our actor to be able to move freely throughout the room.

So we put the lights on high up on stands and angled them downwards so the space light could hang down and spread the light evenly. We positioned the lights in front on the windows so the light would come from the same direction of the day light.

Now the light was evenly spread, it brought the exposure up in the room and created enough light so our subject was correctly exposed.

Everything at this point was very even, so to add a little contrast, the space light kit comes with flags which can be clipped onto the space light. We used them to block the light from hitting the background, therefore creating contrast between the subject and background which helps make him pop on screen.

Throughout the shoot we either moved the lights closer to the actor, or dimmed them down to get the correct exposure. The Aperture lights come with a remote which allows you to control each light from the one remote, meaning you can dim or turn off a light wirelessly.

The lighting setup we used on the film was super versatile, we could move the lights where ever we needed them, and they gave off a lot of soft light. Being so flexible allowed each setup to be setup quickly and save time on set, which was important as we shot this film in a day and a half.  

Taking inspiration from other films and art work really inspired us when lighting this film, and it can do the same for you. Find images that closely represent how you would like your film to look, and use them to drive your creativity to create new images.  

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