Dramatic Lighting – 10 Tips part 1

A poster for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - the play between light and dark hints at the drama held within the movie

Lighting can be very important in film and TV. Sometimes it can mean the difference between selling a mood or failing. There’s lots of factors to consider when lighting and it can often mark out the better productions. But how do you get those effects and what can you use them for? Well, here’s my 10 tips on dramatic lighting:

1. Natural doesn’t always mean more convincing – People are often tempted to leave it to natural lighting for their productions. Often this can mean that you don’t get full control of your environment making more difficult to keep control of how each person looks. It also means that filming in front of windows can be bothersome, and crew and equipment may cast unexpected shadows. Just remember, controlled is better than natural! That and the fact that if you need to reshoot, you want to know exactly what the previous shoot was in terms of positions and intensity in order to replicate the style effectively and make it fit.

2. Style marks you out. Because film is innately competitive in certain respects, you generally want your product to stand out form the crowd. One of the more effective and creative ways to do this is to mark out a style. Now, often style will be added in post, such as the cases of Rotoscopy in A Scanner Darkly (Rotoscopy is when you trace or draw over an image or series of images to achieve some sort of effect). In other cases, you may want to think about it in production with the lighting. Check out the cover image for Hot Fuzz for example. Notice how one side is bright the other side dark – showing the darker side of law enforcement perhaps? Or just the two halves of the same personality? Either way, its part of what makes it stand out from the crowd.

Pegg and Frost - A combo not to be messed with!

3. Lightmeters can be your friend. While not useful in all situations, if you’re a technical geek when it comes to lighting and knowing when an image will come out, you can use a lightmeter to measure the amount of light coming in from different parts of the screen. This can be very useful when designing match cut shots, allowing you to really get the light and dark areas to match up.

4. Beware of the colours. What do I mean? If you’re shooting outdoors, or if you’ve got an indoor shoot that is meant to look like outdoors, make sure you use daylight bulbs. Each type of bulb (fluorescent, tungsten, etc..) has its own colour temperature. If you want a specific style, get to know these and apply filters when necessary.

5. Bit of basic courtesy. But tell people before you turn on a light in their face. Most lights shine on the actor, since they’re usually the ones we want lit – but before you do, make sure you let them know that you’ll be turning them on, and don’t turn them on full blast straight away. Dazzling the stars isn’t good. Unless you want them angry. Even then, you don’t want them blind as well…

Tips 6-10 coming shortly.


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