Lighting People - On Location

Paul Atkins, ASC & Stephen Lighthill, ASC

Lighting People - On Location

Paul Atkins, ASC & Stephen Lighthill, ASC
3h 53m
4 modules (view curriculum)

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  • Total Time:

    3h 53m


In this 4-hour course, master cinematographers Stephen Lighthill, ASC, and Paul Atkins, ASC, share their tips and tricks for on-location lighting, both indoors and outdoors. This is particularly relevant for documentary filmmakers, who often have to work with what’s available in terms of location. Having worked as DPs in the industry for many decades, Paul and Stephen share a wealth of experience and knowledge with a diverse group of filmmakers, and the MZed audience has an exclusive chance to be part of that workshop.

This course was filmed in Austria as part of the Jackson Wild Summit. You can watch the other course with Stephen and Paul, The Wildlife Cinematography Workshop, for free on MZed as well.


1h 10m

In Lesson 1, Paul Atkins, ASC, one of the most renowned wildlife cinematographers in the world, teaches indoor on-location lighting of people to a diverse group of young filmmakers. He talks about camera angles and positioning, eyelines, direction of the light, and achieving naturalistic looking lighting depending on your location. He experiments with the positioning of the key light and how it changes the look of the subject in front of the camera including how shadows fall. Paul talks about big light sources vs. small ones, and shows the effect of reflecting surfaces as well as spill light, and how to control it with black floppies, and so much more. At the end of the session, he answers lots of student questions on lighting and shooting interviews.


In Lesson 2, Paul Atkins, ASC, transfers what he taught in Lesson 1 into a very simple and everyday outdoors situation during harsh sunlight. He deals with getting an acceptable image and explains why he recommends always shooting into the sun outdoors. Paul touches on how to adjust for various skin complexions in outdoor lighting, and how to get more contrast even on light skin tones when the sun is out. In conversation with the students, they also discuss what to do if it’s overcast and how to change the setup. The importance of having eyelight is mentioned and explained how to achieve it in any situation. Diffusing sunlight is shown in practice with frames and diffusion. The students ask practical questions from documentary shooting outdoors - how to shoot interviews on a boat, for example. Paul also goes into practical considerations like choosing the right time of day for an interview, the right location, the right clothing for interviewees, and so on. Lighting is also creating shade when needed to create contrast, especially outside, and using reflectors to create a natural looking image without artificial light (or as a fill light).


In his first indoor lighting session of the workshop, master cinematographer and former ASC president Stephen Lighthill, ASC, challenges the students to tell him what their plan is to light the room, and then gives his comments about their suggestions. He talks about the problem of working under existing fluorescent tubes in a room when you are shooting an interview on-location, and how to manage different circumstances - lights you can swap vs. lights you have to live with, and how you can modify their look. Stephen talks about how to tackle different challenges when working with windows - in shot and off shot. They talk about working with multiple cameras in an interview and what compromises that would mean for the lighting setup. They run through various focal lengths and show the different effect that has on the face in front of the camera in combination with the lighting. Towards the end of the lesson, Stephen shows how to light a setup at a bar.


In his outdoor lesson, Stephen starts by advising the students to look at the direction the sun is moving and plan for that. He then proceeds to talk about the sweet spot of various lenses and how to find it - and what not to do with them. Stephen shares his rule of thumb that you should reflect the key light in order to get a natural looking fill light. He talks about the importance of eye light and shows his favorite positioning of a key light - in this case, a large white bounce board. They then swap to a strong LED light and show how easily a portrait shot will look “lit” outside if not used correctly. Stephen talks about the importance of consistency in lighting, framing and lens selection within one production, and much more.

About the Educator

Paul Atkins and Stephen Lighthill, both ASC members, are distinguished cinematographers recognized for their contributions to documentary and feature filmmaking, with Atkins known for his environmental narratives and Lighthill for his mentorship and influence in the industry.


Amazing content. I learned a lot, thank you. -Armando
Luis Orozco
The Teacher is good but he speaks kind a slow.
Arjan Oldenkamp

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