Thoughts on Light; Filmmaking and Photography


Co-Written with Forti Michael

There are many creative disciplines involved when it comes to shooting a short film or documentary. The technical aspects of recording a good sound signal or getting the proper exposure from the camera in a certain location is crucial to the success of the story translating to the audience. Sound Recording and Light & Photography disciplines come together as mixed media to create a film. Bad sound and lighting of a film is usually always the first thing an audience notices about a sub-par film production. Lighting is used as a tool in narrative filmmaking to show or not show important details to the audience, set a mood or enhance beauty. Naturally the same techniques and disciplines used in photography apply in filmmaking.

When shooting a film regardless of the genre, the filmmakers use light to express the mood of a scene or setting. Maybe you want to portray your character as evil and sinister, so you would place a light underneath the subject and shoot upwards towards the face to produce a ominous shot, my point here is we make certain associations about the characters in a scene based on the way they are lit. One of my favorite examples of excellent lighting for film is in Blade Runner. You can pause on any frame during the film and see how each shot was composed and LIT almost as if it was meant to only be a still photograph and not part of a moving image. In this particular scene I linked to, there are many techniques of light being used successfully in one scene. Theres the hard light beaming diagonally towards the bottom of the frame, there’s the soft light highlighting the cheek lines of each actor and a dark shadow that hides part of the actress’ face which produces a very mysterious beauty shot. Not every production can be as aesthetically pleasing as Blade Runner but in my opinion its the epitome of masterful lighting and translates across still photography and moving image mediums such as film and video.

I believe we can argue that light for photography and light for video are the same in principle but, at the same time there are a few differences. In photography you are working on a single shot and in video you are working on a clip or a scene. In video or film you are working with a subject that is moving slightly and in photography the subject stays still. In both of these artistic activities light is very important and vital in order to create a final artwork. It is also true that the light setup in video was basically imported from photography. However, light in video has also given photographers new ideas in how to achieve amazing results. With film you can’t use flash as you would with photography but you can use continuous light with both activities.

The three point lighting technique can be used in video as well as in still photography and it has been the standard for years. There is an advantage in using continuous light in photography, it gives you the ability to identify the shadows on the subject giving you the opportunity to adjust. Also you can use the continuous light in substitution of flash, something you can’t do in video, that is using flash to light your scenes. As said by Christina Craft in the New York Institute of Photography, you can use video light for portraits to achieve a more cinematic or dramatic tone.


As well as Craft, Izzy Hyman states that the usage of continuous light can impact your work. In his case is video, and he clearly shows how to control the light and the shadows it creates so you can give your video a specific mood. Depending on the position of the lighting and the intensity you can achieve a dramatic mood, a happy mood, and put emphasis on certain aspect as desired.

Taking into consideration that the fundamentals of light and photography go hand-in-hand, the comparisons we are making between the use of light for filmmaking and photography are how we interpret the final piece as an audience whether it is a still photograph or short film. It is light that allows the audience to feel a sense of dimensionality even in a 2 dimensional format, it gives the illusion of space and depth and is a discipline that enhances the viewer’s experience of the artwork.

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