Importance of Lighting in a Film

Image source: Adorama

Great films are those which excel in every aspect of production. The plot, acting, direction, sound, screenplay, and so many other things must be spot on so the film can resonate with the audience. One of the most important facets of filmmaking is Lighting. Light sets the entire tone of the film, and when used effectively can create something truly brilliant.

camera studio set up
Photo by Alexander Dummer

Mood and Ambience

The choice of lighting for a scene determines the mood and ambiance that helps the emotions which are to be conveyed to the viewers better.

blade runner 2049 ryan gosling
Image source: ECG Productions

It has to be able to grab the viewers’ attention and keep them engaged. One of the best examples of great lighting is in the movie, Blade Runner. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, the audience can see both bright neon signs and also dark, mysterious alleyways which serve to create an intense, dangerous atmosphere. Light is masterfully used in the film and the audience can sense changes in the intensity of the film without even thinking about it.  

Three-Point Lighting System

The most common technique of lighting used in cinema is the three-point lighting system. It consists of key light, the strongest and brightest source of light which casts the strongest shadows; fill light, which fills in the shadows cast by key light; and backlight, which helps to bring focus onto the subject and away from the background. There are several lighting techniques used in filmmaking today.  

Harsh Lighting

Harsh Lighting involves the use of smaller light sources to cast larger shadows and to heighten contrast. It helps draw attention to the subject and creates a suspenseful setting. One film which uses this technique is Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman. As can be seen in the image below, the character is a silhouette and the rest of the frame is brightly lit. This draws the eyes of the viewers onto the character. 

Image source: Bett McCracken

Soft Lighting

Soft Lighting, on the other hand, conveys hope and happiness. It is commonly used in romance and fantasy movies. Soft lighting eliminates any harsh shadows or contrast and helps make the scene ‘pretty’. The 2014 film ‘Her’, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is one of the most popular romantic films of all time. The entirety of the film makes use of soft lighting to display the main character’s innocence, hopefulness, and naivety. Soft light takes away all worry and trouble and shows the viewer the better things life has to offer. 

     One of the most popular TV shows of the present day is HBO’s Euphoria. One of the most notable parts of the show is the aesthetic that it creates. Cinematographer Marcell Rev said he wanted to portray emotional realism in the show, in the way that teenagers imagine their lives to be. He wanted the show to center around the characters’ emotions rather than the actual storyline.  

Image source: Tunefind

A film cannot succeed without effective lighting. It is essential because it reinforces the vision of the filmmaker and allows the audience to interpret the content exactly as intended. It can be said with absolute certainty that no production can survive without good lighting.  


About the author: Sidharth Reddy is a second-year MBBS student at Kasturba Medical College, MAHE

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