definition of practical
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What is Practical?

In video production, the term “practical” refers to any lighting device visible within the scene itself and functions both as a source of illumination and as a part of the set design. Unlike off-screen movie lights hidden from the audience, practicals are integrated into the filming environment, contributing to the aesthetic and atmosphere of the scene.

image of a man recording

Practical Definition

A practical is a light source that appears in the shot and is used as part of the film set, enhancing both the visual composition and the narrative context of the scene.

What is Practical for?

Practicals are used for various purposes in film and video production. Primarily, they help to create a believable and immersive environment. By using visible light sources like lamps, candles, or neon signs, filmmakers can enhance the naturalism and continuity of the visual storytelling.

These lights also help to motivate the lighting scheme of a scene, meaning they justify the use of other light sources that are not seen on camera. For instance, a lamp on a desk may suggest a warmer glow, influencing how additional off-screen lights are positioned to maintain a consistent look.

image of a hand in light

Additionally, practicals can serve a symbolic or thematic role, reflecting character traits or enhancing the mood of a scene. A flickering light bulb might symbolize instability or tension, while soft candlelight could evoke intimacy or secrecy.

What are some common advantages and disadvantages of using practical?

Practical lights are a staple in video production for several reasons, but they also come with challenges.


  1. Enhanced Realism: Practical lights contribute to a scene’s believability. By using visible sources of light, filmmakers can anchor their scenes in reality, making them more relatable and immersive.
  2. Artistic Influence: These lights offer an additional layer of creative control. They can be used to set the mood, emphasize emotions, or highlight important story elements. Their placement, intensity, and color can drastically alter the visual impact of a scene.
  3. Continuity and Motivation: Practicals help maintain visual continuity across shots by consistently justifying the light seen on the characters and the environment. They provide a logical reason for the presence of ambient or accent lighting in a scene.


  1. Limited Control: Unlike studio lights, the intensity and spread of practicals are often less adjustable. This can pose a challenge in scenes requiring precise lighting setups.
  2. Color and Quality Issues: The color temperature of practical lights can vary, potentially clashing with other light sources. This might require color correction in post-production, adding to the workflow.
  3. Physical Constraints: Since practicals are part of the scene, their placement must make sense within the space’s design and story context. This can limit where they can be effectively used without disrupting the narrative or visual composition.

image of lights


What makes a light source ‘practical’ in film production?

A light becomes practical when it is part of the scene itself and visible to the camera, serving both functional and aesthetic purposes within the narrative and visual composition of the shot.

Can any light be used as a practical light in video production?

While many types of lights can be used as practicals, they must fit the scene in terms of scale, style, and output. Common practicals include table lamps, ceiling fixtures, and candles, but creativity and necessity often expand this list.

Do practical lights replace the need for other types of film lighting?

No, practicals usually complement other lighting setups. They are used to enhance realism and provide motivation for other light sources, but additional lighting is often required to achieve the desired artistic effect and ensure proper exposure.

In sum, practical lights are a crucial and versatile tool in video production. They blend seamlessly into the film world, enhancing both the story and the visual dynamics of a scene. Understanding how to effectively use practicals can greatly elevate the quality and impact of a filmmaker’s work.

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