Thoughts on Film: Lighting

When it comes to artistic creativity on a film set, the lighting director or director of photography has the freedom and ability to create any scene from any time and place.  By creating and manipulating light, those who are proficient in the complex art of lighting can make the directors vision come to life on screen.

Following with the styles of film, expressive design and effect of lighting setup are typically described as realistmodernist, or postmodernist.

Realist lighting appears to come from actual light sources in a setting or location.  The goal is to create an illusion of reality and enhance how a scene should normally or naturally appear.

Modernist lighting has no real-life basis, which leaves the design director free to design a light setup that can be more abstract or more subjective to emotional criteria.  The goal is to achieve a specific emotional effect or abstract design through sequences and design that might not seem natural.

Postmodernist lighting usually mix a variety of styles that comes from many different genres.  This style often is used to evoke a strong emotional reaction from the audience, either by bombarding them with powerful sensations or to highlight extreme moments.

The book lists an example of postmodernist lighting in Batman Forever which was released when I was five years old.  I remember watching this movie many times, in awe of the lighting effects and stylized scenes.  I didn’t quite understand what postmodernist lighting meant until I read this example and was immediately reminded of the disorienting feeling I would get when I watched certain scenes.  The film is truly a blend of moments of realism and modernism, creating lighting that is unlike anything else.

Light can also be distinguished by the color temperature the light emits, which is measured in degrees of Kelvin.  Light sources have different color temperatures that give various amounts of color wavelengths (red, green and blue), which together make up white light and the visible spectrum that we can see.  Depending on the light source, there will be different hues of the white light we see which is why it is important to white balance before filming.

Light can also be classified by the way it is housed, which we refer to as lighting instruments. These instruments are further classified according to the directness or indirectness and hardness or softness of the light they emit.  Some examples of these instruments include spotlights, floodlights, portable lights and various types of lamps.

In order to understand lighting control in the studio or on location, the director of photography must be proficient in understanding how light is measured and translating that to using patch panels or dimmer boards in order to get the appropriate amount of lighting in each shot.

While learning about lighting and how to control it takes patience and practice, becoming an expert in this field can allow to endless amounts of creativity and ability to design new scenes and aesthetics for movies and television.

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