Roger Deakins Secret To Cinematic Lighting? Cove Light Setup

Have you ever wondered what makes a movie visually captivating and immersive? The answer lies in the art of cinematography, specifically in the skillful use of lighting.

Lighting can make or break a film, setting the mood, enhancing the narrative, and creating a mesmerizing visual experience for the viewers.

When it comes to cinematic lighting, there is one name that stands above the rest – Roger Deakins. With 14 Academy Award nominations and multiple wins, Deakins is regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers of our time.

In this blog, we will uncover Roger Deakins’ secret to cinematic lighting and explore how his techniques have revolutionized the world of filmmaking.

Roger Deakins lighting setups


Welcome to this cinematic lighting post which takes you along on the journey. In this episode, we will explore the topic of Roger Deakins’ secret to cinematic lighting. This article serves as an opportunity for me to experiment with lights and learn more about lighting techniques. Today, we will specifically focus on key lighting and try a method inspired by Roger Deakins, one of the greatest cinematographers.

One Light Setup

Usually, when creating my YouTube videos, I use a simple one light setup. It involves using a soft box aperture light as the main light source. I may incorporate additional lights in the room, such as a tube light or the natural light from windows. While this setup is convenient and quick, it only illuminates a specific area. If I move around, the lighting quality may not remain consistent.

Introduction to Cove Lighting

Roger Deakins is well-known for his extensive use of Cove lighting. While he may not have invented this technique, he has certainly mastered it. Cove lighting involves creating a circular wrap of light around the subject, providing natural-looking illumination throughout the space. Deakins achieves this effect by projecting lights onto an unbleached muslin fabric. This technique eliminates the harsh spotlight effect and creates a more subtle and aesthetically pleasing illumination.

Comparing Soft Box Lighting to Cove Lighting

To better understand the differences between soft box lighting and Cove lighting, I decided to experiment with both techniques. I started by making my softbox larger to observe the changes in lighting quality. Then, I incorporated two soft boxes – a larger one and a smaller one – to mimic Cove lighting. By comparing the outcomes of these setups, I anticipated uncovering the benefits and considerations associated with Cove lighting.

First, I increased the size of the softbox, which noticeably enhanced the natural appearance of the lighting. It provided a more appealing and professional look, especially for interview-style videos. However, I wanted to push further to explore the potential of Cove lighting.

Next, I set up Cove lighting using two soft boxes. One softbox was positioned to create a soft, diffuse light, while the second softbox was angled to provide slightly more brightness. The combination of these two soft boxes resulted in a wrap-around lighting effect that looked more natural and dimensional. While it required more effort to set up, the final results were worth it.

Exploring Cove Lighting

For the Cove lighting setup, I used an unbleached muslin fabric, which I hung up on stands or clipped to a rack. This fabric formed almost a 180-degree wall that I could shoot lights into. To achieve the desired effect, I adjusted the intensity of the lights and experimented with different angles.

Notably, Roger Deakins often shoots lights upwards into the fabric, creating an upward bounce effect. This technique adds an interesting visual dynamic to the lighting. By shooting lights into the fabric, I was able to achieve a wrap-around light effect that was softer and more pleasing to the eye.

Cove Lighting Cinematography from other cinematographers

While not as famous as Deakins, several other cinematographers have also explored cove lighting:

  • Emmanuel Lubezki (Chivo): Known for his work in films like “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” Lubezki often employs unconventional lighting techniques, including cove lighting, to enhance the visual impact of his shots.
  • Hoyte van Hoytema: The cinematographer behind films like “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” has experimented with various lighting setups, including cove lighting, to achieve striking visuals.
  • Bruno Delbonnel: Delbonnel, known for his work on “Amélie” and “Inside Llewyn Davis,” has a penchant for creating warm and inviting atmospheres using unique lighting techniques, including cove lights.

Remember, each cinematographer brings their own artistic sensibilities to the craft, and their use of lighting techniques contributes significantly to the overall mood and storytelling in film.

Conclusion about Cove Lighting Deakins

In conclusion, Roger Deakins’ secret to cinematic lighting lies in his mastery of Cove lighting techniques. By using unbleached muslin fabric and shooting lights into it, he creates a natural and immersive lighting experience. While soft box lighting setups can deliver professional results, Cove lighting offers a more dimensional and aesthetically pleasing look. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced cinematographer, exploring different lighting techniques, such as Cove lighting, can enhance the visual impact of your work and elevate your storytelling.

Frequently Asked Questions – Roger Deakins Secret To Cinematic Lighting

Q: Who is Roger Deakins?

A: Roger Deakins is a highly renowned British cinematographer who has worked on numerous critically acclaimed films such as Blade Runner 2049, Skyfall, No Country for Old Men, and The Shawshank Redemption. He is known for his expertise in lighting and has won several prestigious awards for his work.

Q: What is Roger Deakins’ secret to cinematic lighting?

A: Roger Deakins’ secret to cinematic lighting lies in his meticulous attention to detail, artistic vision, and immense technical knowledge. He carefully analyzes each scene, considering the mood, atmosphere, and storytelling intent, and then crafts the lighting setup accordingly. He understands how lighting can evoke emotions, enhance visuals, and create a seamless cinematic experience.

Q: How does Roger Deakins use lighting to enhance storytelling?

A: Roger Deakins understands the power of lighting as a visual language in storytelling. He skillfully uses lighting to convey emotions, highlight important elements within a frame, guide the viewer’s focus, and create depth. Through a combination of natural and artificial lighting techniques, he establishes the desired atmosphere and enhances the narrative impact of a scene.

Q: What are some lighting techniques employed by Roger Deakins?

A: Roger Deakins employs various lighting techniques to achieve cinematic brilliance. Some of these techniques include:

  • Utilizing different light sources such as natural light, practical light fixtures, and artificial lights to create a dynamic and visually striking composition.
  • Creating contrast through careful balancing of light and shadows, emphasizing specific areas in the frame and adding depth to the image.
  • Using motivated lighting to simulate natural sources within the scene, ensuring a realistic and immersive experience for the audience.
  • Experimenting with color temperatures and gels, allowing for the manipulation of mood and tone.
  • Employing strategic placement of lights and modifying their intensity to shape the overall look and ambiance of the scene.

Q: Can I learn Roger Deakins’ approach to lighting?

A: While Roger Deakins’ approach to lighting is backed by years of experience, knowledge, and artistic sensibility, aspiring cinematographers can definitely learn valuable insights from his work. Studying his films, analyzing lighting setups, experimenting with different techniques, and honing your own artistic vision are essential steps towards understanding and implementing his approach to cinematic lighting.


I hope you find useful my article Roger Deakins Secret To Cinematic Lighting?, I also recommend you to read my other posts in my blog at this link.

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