Lights! Camera! ACTION!!
We all know Lighting is used to emphasize the area of action in a picture. But, when used creatively, Film Lighting can be an expressive tool for a filmmaker much beyond mere illumination of action. A brightly lit area in a frame grabs our attention while a dark area creates suspense. Lighting also creates depth and articulate textures of objects in the frame.
In this article and the following articles, we will discuss some important aspects and techniques of Film Lighting that are key to understand the Language of Film.
“Lighting expresses ideology, emotion, colour, depth, style. It can efface, narrate, describe.”
-Federico Fellini, Film Director
One of the most important uses of Light is to create a sense of space and time. Through the Light, a filmmaker can suggest the kind of space and the time of the day of the scene. Two important concepts in this regard are Highlights and Shadows.
Highlights are those areas in a frame that are relatively brighter than other parts. Shadows are obviously the relatively darker parts. Shadows are of two types- Attached Shadows & Cast shadows. Attached shadows are those which the light fails to illuminate because of the shape of the object. Cast shadows are shadows that are cast on a surface by an object placed in front of the light source. Highlights and Shadows are used to create contrast in the frame that makes the frame more interesting and dramatic.
The Quality of Lights affects the Highlight and Shadows immensely. Quality is defined as the intensity of the light. Hard lighting creates well-defined shadows and has high contrasts. It comes from a light source that is smaller compared to the subject. Soft Lighting lowers the contrast, blurs contours and textures and creates a more diffused illumination where light is scattered. It comes from a light source that is much bigger than the subject.
In this shot (picture 1 given below ) from Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito (1956) (DOP- Subrata Mitra), Hard lighting has been used. The most highlighted area is the young Apu’s face. The other highlighted areas are- Both Apu and his mother’s bodies, parts of the room and the props. One of the striking shadows is the shadow cast by Apu’s Body on the wall. The shadow is cast because Apu sits in between the light source and the surface wall. Another cast shadow is of the globe. Here attached shadows can be seen in the palm of Apu’s right hand, the left side of the small metal waterpot in the foreground, the part of the room on the right side of Apu
In this shot (Picture 2) from Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D (2009) (DOP- Rajeev Ravi), Attached Shadows are more prominent. The eye and the chin region have attached shadows as the light fails to illuminate those areas while the forehead and the shoulder regions are highlighted. Here also Hard Lighting is used.
Picture 2 Dev D Flim Lighting Techniques
This shot from Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus (2012) (DOP- Pankaj Kumar), uses Soft Lighting which creates lesser contrasts. All parts of her face are illuminated. Even the background is illuminated without much shadow.
This shot (Picture 3) from Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus (2012) (DOP- Pankaj Kumar), uses Soft Lighting which creates lesser contrasts. All parts of her face are illuminated. Even the background is illuminated without much shadow.
Picture 3: Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus Demonstrated to explain Film lighting Tips and Tricks
In later articles, we’ll discuss some other techniques of Film Lighting and how Lighting is used in various genres of films to create a specific mood.