In this article I will share with you the KISS method — or Keep It Simple Stupid — as it pertains to various aspects of lighting, and how you can still get professional results with minimal setup, and without any high-quality equipment.

Top-notch equipment doesn’t necessarily guarantee a top-notch end product. Let’s take a stab at creating the best possible lighting setup with minimal lighting equipment to set a scene using the KISS method — Keep It Simple, Stupid.

If you have access to a lighting kit, the entire setup can seem overwhelming if you have limited experience with lighting techniques and how to set your scene. With only limited experience, you should still feel confident that you have what it takes to be able to set a quality lit scene using the KISS method. Although I am not a fan of the acronym, it gets to the point. So taking that lighting kit or even just bits and pieces, let's set this scene.

With only limited experience, you should still feel confident that you have what it takes to be able to set a quality lit scene using the KISS method.

Imagine it is your duty to set up the lighting in a room with access to a window. Off the bat you already have a lighting source that trumps anything in your kit — natural sunlight. Of course the sunlight is only available during the day, but if you have it, use it as it can save you extra setup time.

Use the Sun as Your Key

Say the scene is of a subject giving a monologue. Our first move would be to stage it so that they are placed in front of that window to use our sunlight as our key light, or our main source of lighting. Let’s also say the director wants the background blurred out so we set our camera to a setting where we get the desired look. Even with an open aperture, we see we’ll still need more light for proper exposure and to fill in some of the shadows that might become a distraction. We could break out our lights at this point, but maybe there’s a simpler way.

Reflectors Make Great Fill Lights

Remember, we are using the KISS method — we don’t want to bother with finding an outlet or loading and unloading heavy gear. Before we reach for our lamps, might we be able to continue lighting this scene without them and still get a pleasant look? Well, we could use a reflector, or even a secured foil sheet attached to a tripod, and place it opposite the window on the other side of the subject to reflect the light from the window and help fill in the shadowy areas for more even lighting. This will become our fill light.

Finish with a Backlight

Things are looking good on set, but they could be better. We have the sun coming through the window as our key light — our main source. We have our fill light, the reflector or foil, filling in the shadowy areas on our subject. Now in a setup like this we might finally bring out a light from our kit to become our backlight, or maybe there is a lamp already on location that can serve this purpose. This backlight will help bring separation of our subject from the background while also casting a bit of rim light along the edges of our subject, which makes for a more three dimensional image. In this way, we can achieve professional lighting results with just one lamp.

3-point lighting diagram

Accent Lights Add Even More Depth

Another way to look at this setup is that it has become your standard three-point lighting setup, but with a little improvisation we have created this using minimal gear by taking advantage of sunlight. To push this scene just a bit more without reaching directly into our lighting kit, you could create some accent lights again using what you have on sight. Maybe in the background is a wall lamp you could flip on; maybe you have a set of candles you could light and place on a tabletop in the background of the scene. You may be able to reflect or direct light to make the scene feel more robust.

A Different Way of Thinking

Now, this is a scene lit using the KISS method. This may not be your ideal way of lighting a scene, but it goes to show you that sometimes less is more and that just because you have a kit of lighting equipment doesn’t mean you have to be stuck using only — or all of — what's inside.
While sometimes it’s easiest to dive directly into your light kit, using the KISS method can put you in a more creative mindset and enable you to do more with less.

Marc Johnson is a University of Chico graduate, a lover of the creative arts, and an avid photographer, with an undying entrepreneurial spirit.

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