Cinematic Lighting: Night Exterior

The art of dramatic lighting, for cinematographers of independent films

Last updated 5/2023 English

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Paint with light on the blank canvas of night; set up an artificial moon; create depth, contrast and colour contrast; and use shadows to your advantage.

This is the last of four courses covering arguably the most important part of a Director of Photography's job: designing the lighting. Rather than demonstrating techniques in isolation in a studio, this course takes place entirely on location. The intent is to show the realities of creating beautiful lighting while dealing with the usual challenges of real independent film production, like time, weather and equipment, as well as meeting the requirements of the script.

This course follows the blocking, lighting and shooting of a short scripted scene (inspired by the fantasy web series Ren: The Girl with the Mark) with two actors in full costume. Watch experienced Director of Photography Neil Oseman and his team set up all the fixtures, control the light with flags and rags, and make adjustments when the camera moves around for the coverage. Every step of the way, Neil explains what he's doing and why, as well as the alternatives you could consider for your own films. The course concludes with the final edited scene so that you can see the end result.

Who this course is for

  1. Cinematography students
  2. Camera operators looking to move up to Director of Photography
  3. Corporate/industrial filmmakers looking to move into drama
  4. Indie filmmakers looking to increase their production values


  1. So glad to be your student Neil. This is what I was looking for. I have no words. This was the perfect course for me. I am very grateful, I am confident to be a pro DP now. Highly recommended ~ T Tsephel
  2. I was confused how to use lighting techniques on set but because of this course I learned a lot from it, how to light with single source and make your composition more better with these lighting techniques that he has taught in this course ~ F Ahmed
  3. This is an excellent course and I'd happily take another one from this instructor. The format was perfect for teaching lighting, not just the how but also the why. HIGHLY recommend this to others! ~ J Kelsey
  4. This course is great in detail and explanation ~ J Thanyapanich
  5. Thank you to Neil and his team for a fantastic course that gives a real insight into the thought process of a cinematographer. If you were expecting this to have the secrets of good cinematography the you need to look elsewhere as Neil gives you the tips and tricks of his approach for your to go out and try on your own set ~ D Baker
  6. great education, loads of fun and loads of create and real solutions to real problems, thank you :-) ~ D Lewis
  7. Please take this class if you wish to learn the THOUGHT PROCESSES CINEMATOGRAPHERS MUST GO THROUGH JUSTIFYING EVERY LIGHT/SHADOW/ATMOSPHERE THEY MUST CREATE IN SECONDS! As a complete novice to both camera & lighting, I watched every module straight through and allowed myself to simply watch & listen as I had no references to any of the camera/light equipment he would be using, therefore I had everything going over my head while at the same time reinforcing my belief that cinematography and lighting are of the utmost importance in conveying the story to an audience. Cinematographers and Directors with a command of lighting & shadows are magicians. We as audience members do not want to know the truths and so we are fooled willingly that the scene we watch actually is living in real sun/moon/light/shadow/fire/candles/fog etc....making us accessible and LIVE INSIDE THE STORY: BELIEVING the STORY ~ S Bitner
  8. This guy knows his stuff and gets straight to the point. A natural teacher! ~ V Gonzalez
  9. This course is excellent! It is very informative and engaging! The concepts are explained clearly and demonstrated well. I would definitely recommend it ~ E Yelen
  10. It's amazing how many self-proclaimed cinematographers are out there all selling their courses but real cinematographers teaching are few and far between. That's why Neil's course is one of a kind, he's an actual professional and he is actually justified in calling himself a real cinematographer, as opposed to almost everyone else who sell their cinematography courses... no offense ~ G Kozma
  11. Excellent!! Very well organized with interesting examples & set-ups. I also appreciated the realistic range of gear and scale of production - a very useful reference for independent filmmaking ~ P Riddihough
  12. I highly recommend this course to all those who want to improve their photo skills in a theory and practical way. I'd never been in a set before, but this course felt so lively as same if you were in there by seen all the choices taken by a professional DP, and how those decisions improved the final result ~ E Magallanes
  13. Excellent course! IMHO, it provides as much "hands on" experience as you can get from an online course. As you are on set with Neil and he is applying the lighting and changes as he is describing them, you can immediately see what effect the various techniques have on your picture. He is also casually touching other topics like image composition and techniques as he goes on discussing his shots. I also got myself a light meter after this course ;-) (my favourite part is still that the automated subtitles turned "Sekonic light meter" into the "psychotic light meter"...). I definitely recommend this course to anyone who would like to hone their skills in cinematic lighting and I definitely hope that Neil will do additional courses! Also check out Neils blog, which contains additional details ~ P Rüegg

What you'll learn

4.1 Setting the Moon

  • Observing the blocking with actors Kate and Ivan
  • Principles of night exterior lighting
  • Creating believable moonlight
  • Features of HMI lighting
  • Choosing a position and height for the HMI “moon”

4.2 Finessing the Master

  • Use of a practical fire source
  • Reinforcing a practical fire with an LED fixture
  • Colour contrast
  • Using a Kino Flo as an additional soft source
  • Tackling a difficult shadow
  • Reading and adjusting lighting ratios using an incident meter
  • Working with smoke/atmos outdoors
  • Shooting the master shot

4.3 Shooting the Singles

  • Adjusting the existing sources to work for a close-up
  • Shooting Ivan’s single
  • Diffusing the HMI
  • Monitoring exposure using false colours
  • Shooting Kate’s single

4.4 Lighting the Reverse

  • The pros and cons of flipping the backlight
  • Example of cheating the moonlight around
  • Using established sources to your advantage
  • Adding diffusion vs. a gobo to the HMI
  • Creating a “branch-a-loris”
  • Shooting the reverse
  • Summary
  • The final edited scene


  1. Students should have a grasp of basic cinematography concepts like white balance and depth of field.
  2. A familiarity with the principle of three-point lighting will be useful, but not essential.

Course Content

1 Section 4 Lectures 60m total length

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