Looking at Movies – Lighting

Notes

Ratio

Lighting Ratio – the relative relationship between the illumination and shadow in any given shot or even the light and shadow on a single subject within that shot

start with just a key light the key
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light is typically the biggest and
Key Light – 
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brightest light that illuminates one
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part of the subject and casts shadows on
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another part if all we have is the key
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light then we have a high ratio or high
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contrast between bright illumination and
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dark shadow a high ratio like this
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creates a look called low key lighting
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this term can be sort of confusing since
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a high contrast high ratio creates low
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key lighting now we’ll bring in a fill
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light the fill light is appropriately
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named because it’s used to fill in
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shadows with just a little fill light
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like this we still have relatively deep
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shadows and thus a high ratio but you
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can see a little more detail within
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those shadows as we add more and more
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fill light the ratio or difference
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lowers until you can see lots of detail
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in the shadows and there’s not nearly as
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much difference at all between the
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shadow and illumination this is a low
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ratio which is called high key lighting
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yeah I know it’s counterintuitive here’s
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how I remember which is which in my head
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I just substitute fill for key high fill
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equals high key lighting like this or
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this or this or this high key is
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typically used for comedies and less
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dramatic situations back to Corey still
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lit high key let’s lower the fill until
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we’re back to low key lighting which is
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easy to remember if you think low fill
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see what I mean
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here are some other examples of low key
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lighting low key lighting is associated
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with crime dramas horror films darker
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and more dramatic stuff
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got it

Quality

there’s more filmmakers can also affect
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our experience and interpretation of any
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particular image or moment by adjusting
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the quality of light Coria is being lit
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now with hard light which means light
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coming directly from the source hard
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light picks up every detail and creates
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a very clear defined line between shadow
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and illumination and if you shoot at low
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key like this it can create a very high
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contrast look it’s not exactly
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flattering but it’s edgy and tough
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looking great for scary serious or tense
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situations see what I mean okay let’s
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give Corey some fill good
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now while hard light is direct soft
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light is diffused diffusing light just
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means breaking up the light so that
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instead of coming directly from the
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source and essentially a unified
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straight line the light is broken up so
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that it hits the subject from a variety
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of slightly different angles light can
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be diffused in all kinds of ways
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including bouncing it off board or wall
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or putting semi opaque material between
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the light source and the subject or even
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by filling the location with smoke not
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you however you diffuse it diffused
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light softens details blurs the border
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between illumination and shadow and
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depending on your lighting ratio can
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lower contrast and provide more subtle
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shades of gray on a scale between
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darkest shadow and brightest light for
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this reason that the more flattering
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soft light is often used on glamorous
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stars romantic situations and lighter
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moments and of course there’s a very
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wide range of diffused light from super
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soft to practically hard got it
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nope sorry there’s more the

Direction

direction of
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the light in relation to the subject and
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camera also affects the interplay of
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illumination and shadow most lights in
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most shots is aimed at the subject from
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about a 45-degree angle from a little
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above eye height that’s what looks most
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natural because that’s where most light
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naturally comes from in our world lamps
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windows light fixtures and of course the
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Sun it also allows for those places
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where our faces protrude brow nose
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cheekbones to catch light and cast
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shadows so that they appear
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three-dimensional this is known as
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modeling but the filmmaker can always
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diverge from this more normal lighting
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direction in order to alter the way we
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experience and interpret the character
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or situation for example there’s
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backlighting the light is now behind the
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subject facing the camera by removing
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all detail backlighting silhouettes and
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thus abstracts the subject
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handy for threatening characters or for
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differentiating noble or superior
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characters sort of the low angle of
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lighting directions now if we keep that
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backlight but at our standard key and
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fill light you can see Corey’s face but
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his edges feature extra rims of brighter
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light this appropriately named edge
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lighting or rim lighting is a common
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method of making the subjects stand out
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from the background kind of like tracing
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or outlining subjects and light makes
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them pop when lighting folks known in
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the business gaffers talk about
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three-point lighting they’re referring
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to the combination of a key light a fill
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light and an edge or rim light which
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they also sometimes call a kicker now we
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can reverse the light source and place
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it facing the subject from the same
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angle as the camera this is called
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frontal lighting now all the shadows
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that accentuate it Corey’s various
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dimensions are gone leaving his features
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looking rather flat depending on your
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context there are all kinds of uses for
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frontal lighting
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such as making our normally beautiful
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heroin look harsh and unforgiving during
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a police interrogation or accentuating
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the rather bland personality of a
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dim-witted or gullible victim if you go
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all the way with this technique and
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remove all shadow like George Lucas did
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here you can create a prison purgatory
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that’s so featureless and sanitized it’s
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scary
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speaking of scary
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let’s try lighting from underneath Cory
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sometimes known as Halloween lighting
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when the light is placed in the most
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unnatural direction shining up at the
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subject from below the normal order of
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shadow and illumination is reversed this
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distorts the features making the subject
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appear frightening or threatening it’s
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perfect for scary characters and
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unnatural situations sort of the Dutch
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angle of lighting directions it has an
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interesting effect on cast shadows too
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normally our shadows are smaller than us
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cowering down on the ground where they
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belong
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but reverse the light direction and you
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get these big bold shadows climbing the
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walls it’s enough to make even pee-wee
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Herman and cartoon mice intimidating
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ratio quality direction lighting got it
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wait yeah I do
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I’ve got it I’ve got it
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life comes on in action okay that’ll be
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my cue

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