What Is Reductive Lighting?

Lighting a scene is usually associated with placing light sources of certain quality, shape, and power on various places to illuminate parts that have to be visible to the camera. There are ways to light a scene not only without any additional light sources, but also without any white or black bounce-boards.

Reductive lighting is obviously not the action of reducing the power of your hot light, although the name implies there’s a diminishing of light power somewhere. Director and cinematographer Matthew Rosen explains how he lights several scenes with minimum light equipment, but at the same time manages to balance the exposure levels of the exterior and the interior. If you have a dark room without windows you can certainly light it with a low-wattage lamp. However, when you have a bright sunny exterior and a scarcely-lit environment, you usually think of adding powerful lights that would help augment the interior exposure and balance it with the outdoor scenery. Rosen shows a different approach by decreasing the light coming from the outside rather than using more light sources. While this may require a certain level of creativity, it is frequently less expensive than using the traditional additive approach. The good news is that to reduce the lights on the windows you don’t always need commercially available scrims used in cinema. Sometimes a do-it-yourself approach can be used to achieve the same result.

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