Monday, May 23, 2011

Tip # 8: Lighting

By Anant Mathur (May 23, 2011)

The art of lighting for films is essential for visual storytelling. The purpose of lighting is to create an aesthetically pleasing scene both visually and emotionally. 

Lighting adds significantly to the emotional response an audience has while viewing a motion picture. Not only does it help create a certain mood for the character(s) but also generates a peculiar environment for the scene.

Film Lighting includes the use of both daylight and artificial sources. Daylight is most often used for daytime scenes due to its low cost and high quality. Use of daylight doesn't necessary mean exterior scenes, it could also include interior scenes where light come in through windows, skylights, etc. Artificial Lighting is available from electronic lights, lamps, candles, etc. and most commonly used for interior scenes. Interior lighting is a form of fixture or furnishings and used as part of the set design.

Generally, there are three techniques used of lighting scenes: 1) General, 2) Accent, or 3) Task.

                        Task Lighting is usually the most intense and used for
                        situations such as reading or inspection of materials.
                        Other instances of task lighting are in machinery, where
                        a specific work area needs illumination. For example,
                        examination and operation lights for medicine and
                        surgery, as well as the dentist's lamp. Lighting of larger
                        areas is beyond the scope of task lighting.

                        Accent Lighting is lighting that emphasizes an area of
                        or an object in a room. This lighting adds to the drama
                        or style of a room by highlighting certain aspects of a
                        room's decor. For example, plants, pictures, or other
                        features of interior design or landscaping.

                        General lighting (also called ambient light) covers every
                        other situation and is a general illumination that comes
                        from all directions in a room that has no visible source.
                        For example, table or floor lamps or a fixture on the ceiling.
                        Outdoors it could be lighting for a parking lot, etc.

Methods of Lighting

Downlighting is the most common method of lighting a scene. In this technique fixtures are on or recessed in the ceiling directing the light downwards. This is the most used method and although it is easy to design it has drawbacks due to glare and large amounts of energy consumption.

Front lighting is also used very regularly, but it tends to make the subject look flat because it casts almost no visible shadows. Lighting from the side is the not all that common, as it tends to produce glare near eye level.

Uplighting is not very common, its usually used to bounce indirect light off the ceiling and back down. It is typically used in situations that require little glare and uniform general luminance levels.

As you can imagine, it is much easier to light a scene in black and white than in color. There have been instances where filmmakers have shot in black and white to save on the cost of lighting. That said, black and white is about tonality and is hard to grasp for some filmmakers. It's also important to remember that the colors - in make up, costumes, and sets - may turn into the same tone in black and white and may not look anything like what your eye is seeing. If you decide to shoot in black and white, its very useful to do several tests to make sure the tonality of the scene is working.

The Basics of Film Lighting

At its most basic, set lighting usually incorporates what's known as a three-point lighting setup. This film and video lighting technique uses a trio of lights to illuminate the action on screen, including:

                        The key light. A key light is the main element of a film
                        lighting setup, and it is usually placed at the side and
                        oriented at an angle to cast bright light on one side of
                        the frame while leaving shadow and darker space to be
                        filled in by the other lights.

                        The fill light. This set light is used to fill in the
                        shadowy areas left by the angled placement of the key
                        light. It's normally softer than the key light and is
                        placed across from it and oriented at the same angle to
                        create consistency within the frame.

                        The back light. Back lights are used to create the
                        illusion of 3-dimensional space on the 2-dimensional
                        screen; they shine in the back portions of the frame and
                        are also used to create definition and highlights in the

Lighting is not just about turning lights onto a scene and starting to shoot. Lighting is an art that helps to create the mood of the scene, it grabs the attention of the audience and helps them focus on the drama before them.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

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