Written by | Dioramas & Sets, Tutorials

Exclu Tutorial. Topics Covered :

In Digirama : Part 01, we focused on finding the right image for your indoor shot. In this installment, the main focus will be the importance of lighting your shot and how it can make or break your scene.  Hold on to your butts!



Here is a quick diagram showing a simple 3 light setup utilizing a 1) key light; 2) backlight; and 3) fill light. 

Key light – shines directly upon the subject and serves as its principal illuminator.
Fill light – balances the key by illuminating shaded surfaces.
Backlight – shines on the subject from behind, separating the subject from the background and highlighting contours.

Light color is measured in Kelvin with a general range between 1,700-27,000 K. The lower the number, the warmer the light and conversely, the higher the number the cooler the light becomes.

For more in-depth information, click on these wikipedia links


Just to be clear, there isn’t a right or wrong way to light your scene. Anything that emits light is fair game: a desk lamp, computer monitor, candle, a flashlight, a strand of Christmas lights. Experiment and find out what works best for you and your workflow. That said, here are some various lighting options to consider.


A standard light kit can  easily be found online, and they come in a wide variety of options and price points. Even though I’d love to have a kit someday, I’ve been able to get some really great shots without having to invest in one.


When I started doing figure photography, most of my lighting was created through the use of computer, ipad, and phone screens. Honestly, this technique began out of necessity due to my reluctance in investing in a light kit. As I experimented more, I found that using devices was extremely versatile because I could quickly customize colors and temperatures depending on the shots needs. Also, the small size and portability make adjusting the light placement quick and easy.

Several months ago I found an app called “Color Screen” that does exactly what you’d expect. In fact it is marketed as a “solution for lighting macro photography scenes”. It allows you choose a color to display on your screen, giving you the ability to control hue, saturation, and brightness. Currently it is only available on iOS, but you should be able to find comparable apps elsewhere.


For lighting using a computer screen, I open up photoshop and create a document with a solid color that matches the scene. That said, if you don’t have photoshop or similar editing software, you can use google or other search engines to find an image of the color you need. Searching the name of the color will usually yield plenty of varied results.

Another simple way to match the light color within your background image is to simply use the same image on your screen(s). The dune landscape in this shot of R2 and C-3PO was perfect to use on my additional monitor to add fill light.



Some shots will require more light than a monitor or device screen can provide, and the most obvious and economical solution is using standard, readily available lightbulbs. They will definitely provide more light for your scene, but use them with caution: if using incandescent lights, you’ll want to adjust your camera’s color balance to compensate (unless you are going for the warm tungsten color in your photo). The alternatives to incandescent are compact fluorescent and LED, which will give you cooler light temperatures.


I felt pretty brilliant when I realized that I could use RGB LED lights to achieve much of the same effects I got from using screens and monitors (and then pretty stupid for not realizing it sooner). But, after researching professional RGB LED kits it was clear that they were way outside of my budget.  Then, while on a weekend run to Best Buy a few months ago, I noticed several RGB LED home-lighting displays.  At a much more manageable price point, I picked up a set and found they were perfect for my needs.


There are several affordable options available but I chose to invest in the Philips HUE Starter Kit. At around $200 USD, the Phillips HUE light system is still a rather serious investment, but for me it has been worth it. The Philips HUE allows you to individually or collectively control any of the HUE lights via an app on your smart phone. In addition, it is just plain fun.



Once you’ve decided on a background image to use, the first thing to do is to analyze the lighting. How the background image is lit will determine where your physical lights will need to be set up. The more accurately placed your lights, the better your shot will turn out.

For this shot of Boba Fett, each of the twin suns of Tatooine act as our primary light sources. I chose the orange light to be my key light which I placed below and to the right of the figure, giving the sense of dusk. Placing a pink backlight above and to the right creates the effect of the second sun behind the figure, while adding a subtle rim light to separate our subject from the background. The purple light to the left provides fill light to keep the shadows from becoming to dark, while adding some additional color for definition on Boba Fett.



If I’m planning on adding any type of post processing effects like an explosion, laser blast, etc., I try to include a practical light to help sell the effect. Of course, if you’re a wizard in photoshop you might be able to create the light effect digitally; but generally, incorporating a light for the planned effect will help blend it into the photo.


You can see how adding the laser blast to this shot gives the illusion that it is emitting the red light, but when the physical light isn’t present, the laser loses the illusion and feels more like an afterthought.

I think that about covers it. Being intentional about your light type, color, and placement will only yield better results. In part 3 of this digirama series, we’ll bring it all together as we focus on getting the shot.

Last modified: June 4, 2019

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