Topic 4: Lighting


Film directors work closely with the director of photography on a project to ensure that each scene has the look and feel they intend. Lighting each scene influences your reaction to what you see and hear. Lighting can also emphasize a character by highlighting his or her characteristics and can affect the mood of a scene.


Directors employ chiaroscuro when they control the interplay between light and dark in a shot. Directors' intentional lighting decisions in a shot, around what is lit and what remains in the shadows, can create a sense of unease in the viewer and contribute to the mood of a scene.



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Top Lighting

Top lighting illuminates the subject from above. Notice how the top lighting impacts the mood of each different scene.


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High-Key Lighting

High-key lighting raises the brightness of a shot. In these examples, the brightness seems unnatural, suggesting that these specific moments have surreal qualities.

Photo by Sascha Thiele

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Watch these short film trailers: V for Vendetta, About Time, and Slumdog Millionaire. Notice how the lighting of each scene influences the viewer's reaction to what they see and hear.


Familiarize yourself with the cinematic technique definitions in the “Lighting” section of your Elements of Film handout.

Use the Elements of Film Tutorial to explore the remaining lighting techniques not mentioned here (e.g., side lighting). Be sure to review the YouTube link that accompanies each term in the tutorial to understand the effect of each technique. Record your impressions in your Elements of Film handout.