Film Discussion: Lighting

[caption id="attachment_1727" align="aligncenter" width="570"] Yes, sometimes they do use this many![/caption]

(This is part of my series on how to better dialogue with and about films. See more here)

This goes in tandem with looking at the camera work. How the Director of Photography (DP for short) decides to light a scene is just as important as the angle or the framing. The light decides what shows up in the frame and what is left in the dark. It provides emotion, revelation, color, textures, and more. Sometimes it's natural. Others, it's stylized. However it's done, take note of the light, or lack thereof, in each scene.

Some questions to get your mind going:

First, does the scene's lighting look natural, as it would in life? Or does something seem a little different?

What colors of light are being used? Are they warm or cold? Is it the natural color of the environment? Or not?

What is lit, and how does this emphasize the character or object? What is left dark? How do the shadows contribute to the story as well?

How does the lighting change from scene to scene? Does there seem to be a sort of progression? Or does it just stay the same? Such as just using natural lighting throughout? What does this particularly tell us about the story? How does it add to it and our understanding of it?

What emotions do you feel because of the lighting? Is the lighting frightening or comforting? Does it intrigue you, or get out-of-the-way so you can focus on the story? Does it complement the scene, or contrast it? How does that affect your experience of the film?

Yes, I know it's a lot to look at. But lighting is crucial to the telling of stories in film, so take some time to really analyze how the director and DP use this element of filmmaking. It will open your eyes as you begin to better understand some of the intricacies of the visual language and find why certain scenes give you specific emotions because you are discovering how the filmmakers are creating that emotion. So do the harder work as you process media and you will reap the benefits!


Again, grab a movie you know well and watch it without sound, this time playing close attention to the lighting and how it is used. What do you notice? Throw them in the comments below!


(Image thanks to mikemcd)