All About the 3-Point Lighting Technique for 3D Visualizations


*Updated 8/20/19*

The purpose of 3-point lighting—which is used in traditional photography, cinematography, and 3D visualizations—is to properly illuminate a subject in an effective and pleasing way by simply using three separate lights. Courtesy of Pluralsight, here’s a rundown of the technique.

The three lights are:

  1.  Key Light: a bright light placed to the right of the camera at a 45-degree angle
  2.  Fill Light: a less bright light placed where it can illuminate dark spots
  3.  Rim Light: another less bright light placed directly behind the subject


Setting up each light the correct way will allow the subject to be illuminated without deep shadows, and to be seen properly in the camera view. 

By using 3-point lighting, you have complete control on how the subject is illuminated. 

The Key Light

The first and most important light is the key light. Like the name suggests, this light is vital when establishing overall lighting for the scene. It should have the most intensity out of the three lights, and should highlight the form and dimension of the subject.


The key light is typically set up to the right of the camera at a 45-degree angle. While this setup works most of the time, it really depends on your scene and what you need to illuminate. Play with different angles and positions until you are happy with the result.

The Fill Light

The fill light’s purpose is to fill in the deep shadows that are inevitably cast onto the subject by the key light.


The fill light is usually set up opposite the key light and is set to a lower intensity. A common mistake is having the intensity of the fill light much too high, which can cause the subject to get blown out, as such:  


Instead, you want the fill light to be just bright enough to illuminate what the key light isn’t reaching:


It looks a lot better. You can see the detail better and the shadows add depth to the image.

The Rim Light

The last spot light used is the rim light (sometimes referred to as the back light). This has the least illumination effects because it is typically placed directly behind the subject, facing the camera. However, don’t be afraid to adjust the angle in order to achieve the look you want. The rim light’s purpose is to add a very slight glow to the back of the subject.


Make sure the rim light doesn’t provide any frontal illumination to the subject. If you were to hide the key and fill lights, you would see that the subject is darkened all around, except a small light around the subject’s edges.

3-Point Lighting for 3D Scenes

The world of 3D has grasped onto the 3-point lighting technique. It can be seen in everything from product visualizations to character busts and more. It has quickly become the go-to lighting technique for many 3D scenes because great lighting results can be achieved relatively quickly. Also, when creating a still image or for illuminating a single subject or product, 3-point lighting is great for getting that studio-type lighting effect.


Depending on the subject you are illuminating (and if there is a background), you may want to adjust the settings in your 3D application so the lights in your 3-point lighting setup only illuminates the subject and not the background. The reason for this is that the spot lights can have unappealing results on the background.

Keep Learning About 3-Point Lighting

Now that you are familiar with what goes into 3-point lighting, a great next step is to jump in and try it out on your next project. While 3-point lighting is not the be-all and end-all lighting setup for every project, it is a great place to start and build off of when you’re first beginning to light your scenes.

Keep learning with more 3D Lighting articles and 3D Lighting tutorials from Pluralsight!