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What is a Motivated Light Source?

The use of motivated lighting is important for filmmakers to understand. As light in various forms has a unique ability to add to your storytelling abilities. Differentiating your light sources by purpose can help you to better understand the role that each form of lighting on your set plays in delivering the intended connection between your scene and your audience. Motivated lighting techniques can accentuate existing light sources. But what is a motivated light source, exactly?

What is Motivated Lighting?

Motivated lighting is a technique that filmmakers use to accentuate existing light to create a realistic approach to lighting a scene so that the audience can feel connected to the world that the filmmaker has created. 

In short, motivated lighting imitates a natural light source within the scene. It’s basically lighting that your audience would expect to occur within the desired world or scene that you’ve created. 

You might wonder, what’s the difference then between motivated lighting and practical lighting? To help you better understand how each of these sources of lighting can be integrated into your scene, think of motivated lighting.

It’s useful in creating a natural appearance, and accentuating the appearance of your practical lighting. Thus, you might use motivated lighting to enhance or even replicate your practical lighting.

What is a Motivated Light Source?

To help you understand how motivated light sources work, consider the fact that the purpose of a motivated light source is to create a world. In which the audience will believe what they’re seeing.

Thus, if you think about how light works in reality, you’ll realize that all light is justified by the source from which it is derived.

The daylight comes from the sun, nightlight from the glow of the moon. Likewise, your dark hallway may be illuminated by a nightlight.

And your living room is likely illuminated by a desk lamp or the television at night. See how each form of light is justified by the source from which it comes?


Motivated light sources are justified. Such that the audience will see the light. And KNOW why it’s there and where it’s coming from. Or where it should look like it’s coming from.

Thus, if you have a scene that is replicating a dark living room at night, the motivated light source may be used to accentuate a television or a desk lamp, both of which are your practical lighting but may not be illuminated enough for your filming needs. 

The motivated light source is used to improve the illumination and create the correct amount of light exposure for the desired outcome that you’re creating.

In Summation

So to answer the question, “What is a motivated light source?” The simplest answer is that motivated light sources are those which create a believable experience for the audience. Because they give the appearance of light that is coming from a natural, motivated original source.

A motivated lighting source will imitate existing light sources. Such as that from a table lamp, the light coming in through a window, or the light shining down from the moon.

Need to see motivated lighting in action? Brady Bessette depicts the typical usage of motivated lighting in his video here: