Close Watching

From FMMC0105z Spring 2009/2010

What follows are descriptions of film lighting in scenes from films you have chosen. These descriptions should describe and break down, in detail, the lighting in each shot, as seen by the audience and as you imagine it was technically created. If there are inconsistencies in or between shots, or ways you can imagine improving the lighting to better achieve/complement the director's vision, note these.

Waterloo Bridge

(A preliminary scene in which Roy walks along Waterloo Bridge, reminiscing about his relationship with Myra – just before flashback)

Please start at 3:30 and end at 4:30.

The lighting elements of this scene are distinct directorial decisions, meaning information regarding the film and Roy's character is being conveyed to the audience through these lighting decisions. The black and white lighting in this scene not only implies a sad, tragic mood, but also conveys the 1950s time period. The gloomy tone of the scene is furthered by its association with film noir, which is classic for sharp shadows and black and white images. The only white light is shown on Roy, presenting his character in a positive manner; he is clearly a “good guy” if not the protagonist of the story. Through the lighting contrast between the dark background and Roy's white light, the audience is given the impression that this is a sympathetic character placed in a cruel or gloomy setting.

Shot 1 (3:30 - 3:40 Med -wide/Wide of Roy walking on Bridge): The scene begins with a medium - wide shot of Roy walking along Waterloo Bridge. Overall, the shot is very grey; Roy is lit brightly with a type of white, angelic light, while his surroundings are dark, creating a misty haze along the outline of his body. Light glistens from his hat, creating a spotlight; no shadows are cast upon him. This "spotlight effect" is due to low key lighting. The key light is positioned camera right so that it shines directly on the front of Roy's white jacket. The fill light is positioned directly above, but to the left of the frame illuminating Roy's hat and shoulders, creating a type of halo around his head and the outline of his body. The clarity of the texture of his jacket, collar, and hat is due to the light backlighting that follows his figure throughout the scene. All main lights are specifically directed in a narrow manner, so that each time Roy passes behind one of the bridge's steal beams, the screen becomes dark because the light is directed deliberately toward Roy's figure. Clouds can be seen in the background, and the darkness of the sky indicates that the sun is providing very little light, which implies that either the time of day is probably dusk.

Shot 2: (3:40 - 3:50, wide of Roy on Bridge): The camera fades to a slightly lighter, wide shot of Roy stopping on the side of the bridge to look out over the water. During the fade, the first light seen is from the sky, which becomes gradually brighter as the dissolve ends; the prominence of the sky and shadowy clouds implies that the sun is either being used as, or is supplementing the backlighting. He steps forward into a sharp shadows from one of the steel beams of the bridge. The key lighting looks as though it has been diffused to create a broader lighting range, yet a distinct circle can still be seen against the dark backdrop, indicating that the key light is placed almost directly behind the camera.

'Shot 3:'(Zoom in beginning at 3:50) As the camera slowly zooms in on Roy, the distinct circle of light closes in on a his figure from the waist up, enhancing the spotlight light approach. The dark shadow under his collar, combined with the dark beams surrounding his face, further the awareness of a distinct frame around Roy’s face. Fill light from above illuminates his hat and shoulders. His face is now emphasized with the same white light used to enhance his jacket in the previous shot; the key light is still directed on his figure, yet a slight amount of diffusion seems to be working to brighten the shot. Additionally, the texture of Roy's hat, hair, jacket, collar, and skin are still apparent, conveying the continual use of backlighting. However, Roy's figure in this shot does not have a distinct hazy outline, meaning lighting is softer/more diffused than in the previous shot. During the course of the zoom the shot goes from wide to medium.

'Shot 4:' (4:14 - 4:21, CU/POV of the good luck charm): Cut to a close up of Roy's hand holding a tiny, white good luck charm, from Roy's point of view. The light is supposedly unchanged in the "reality" of the scene, meaning the object is dimly lit by the back lighting seen on Roy in the previous shot. The background area around Roy's hand is completely black. There are a few sharp shadows from the bridge that are cast across his hand horizontally; as Roy rubs the charm between his thumb and index finger the shadows shift. The white, almost transparent color of the good luck charm allows for a nice contrast between the dark background of the shot, bringing the viewers attention to the charm and the way in which Roy is handling it: with care.

'Shot 5:''''(4:22 - 4:30, Zoom in as Roy brings charm closer to him): Cut back to the medium shot of Roy that we ended with at the end of Shot 3. This shot is lighter; the sky is providing a significant amount of matt light, Roy no longer has such a striking, angelic glow, and there are people moving around in the background. His face is lit by the key light coming from the right, making the focus of the shot is Roy's charm and his facial reaction to it. The camera slowly zooms in on Roy's face as he brings the charm closer to it. His facial expression, made clear by the lighting, implies a deep connection and longing associated with the charm.

The Lives of Others

The scene I have chosen is from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film The Lives of Others. I am going to focus on a few notable shots within this scene. This clip has every shot except for the last two, which it skips, randomly. The colour saturation is also way off in this clip.

The first occurs at 21:12, when the film's main character, Wiesler, a member of the Stasi, crosses in front of a large, curtained window. The window is framed in the middle of the shot; the furniture and walls on either side of it are in shadows. Bright white light comes in from the window. This could be purely natural light - late morning or midday. The inside of the apartment is lit well enough so that we can tell what the objects around and in front of the window are, this suggests a low set light. There is no key light, so when Wiesler crosses the window he is silhouetted against it. At this point, we are twenty minutes into the film and his character is setting up wiretaps in the home of a playwright. The lighting indicates his role as a primary character (there are several other men setting up bugs in the apartment), and, initially, as a 'bad' character whose operations are more suited to the dark.

In the shot immediately following this one (at 21:17), we see Wiesler's gloved hand opening and closing two drawers. Their contents come into light as he opens them: West German newspapers and magazines, illegal in Communist East Germany (where the film takes place). The newspapers being pushed back into the dark could be indicative of the restriction of free press. The lighting in these two shots is low key. A key light is probably places in front of the drawer to illuminate the papers as the drawers are opened.

At 21:47, Wiesler climbs a staircase, initially well-lit (though low key), but as W. turns the corner, he is plunged into darkness, suggesting a change of lighting to a broad low key light in front of him. A few shots earlier, the entire Stasi team had entered the building, taking a dark staircase. Wiesler goves higher, into a darker staircase, further indicating his main role and the secretive, sinister activities he will engage in. He picks the lock on a door. At 22:00, he opens it, and bright white natural light from a window - as in the earlier shot - pours in, he is silhouetted against it again. I think low set lighting was probably used, the shot is low key and high contrast. The repetition of silhouetting Wiesler could also be to indicate his conflictedness, his transformation from an ominous character into one that does good.

The lighting in this film is deliberate and part of the story. It works to create a mood of suspicion and portent. I think the director focused light on certain objects to highlight them and let the surrounding areas be dark or in shadows. The colour tone of the film is mainly greens, greys and browns - they represent the cold, industrial and gloomy feel of Soviet East Berlin.

Fritz Lang's M

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In the first scene (4:45 to 6:00 on the DVD) of the noir/expressionist film M by Fritz Lang, the lighting is used to set a mysterious mood and then later, suspense. This is accomplished by setting the hard light one directionally so to create a lot of shadows against the back wall of the set and to make the ground dark with the frame getting lighter as you move up in it. This type of low-key lighting creates the closed style of filmmaking that M is made in, because it makes little use of off-screen space with the sides of the frame often being quite dark and shadowy. Since it is a black and white film, the light does not affect the coloring but what the lighting in M does is make very clear distinctions between the whites and the blacks by making most of the movie very gray. This way, when the shadow of the killer enters the frame for the first time, you can make out his silhouette clearly. This is accomplished by putting the light source and the actor close to the set so that less of the light is defused. It appears as if the key light is about level with the head of the actor because when he enters the scene standing his shadow is perfectly clear but when he bends over it becomes distorted. Having the shadow projected on a white poster also helps with the quality of the image. Lighting in M appears to be very mechanical and the source of the light is more apparent and less natural then a film shot primarily in a city would feel. It never seems as though they are outdoors even though many scenes in the film do take place exterior. Most of the lighting comes behind the camera, which creates most of the shadows and the flat feel on the buildings. One shadow in particular that is clear is that of Elsie when she is walking with her ball; her shadow is projected on the sidewalk in double vision. This probably means that there was a light source coming in not only from behind but also from off-screen right. Noirs are notorious for dark, dreary, and shadowy lighting and M is no exception. Because shadows are so important in this film, the lighting is definitely part of the story as well. The only thing I would do differently in this scene is create more of a contrast between the lighting in the indoor and outdoors scenes. It would make the streets appear more dangerous and sinister. This could be accomplished by having a less intense key light on the set from above and counter balance that with some backlight to separate the actors from the background and a fill light to give the scene more light in general to emulate daylight.

Field of Dreams (0:58 - 2:12)

Shot 1: A medium shot of a man standing in his dining room. He is lit from the front by a lamp, and the back by a chandelier (which is also lighting the room behind him. As he moves, the camera pans left to follow him. He moves through darkness first, although the light sources remain constant and can be seen lighting the borders of the shot, but not the center (where the man is). He moves into light again, and a light source can be seen coming from his right, briefly lighting his right shoulder. He then moves into complete darkness. For a slight second, you cannot see him at all. He then emerges from the darkness, facing a window. The light has now changed dramatically: it’s blue, meant to represent the natural moon lighting, and lights his face from the front. The shot lasts about 20 seconds in total, and moves from a medium to a close-up gradually through a pan to the left.

Shot 2: A long distance shot of a man standing in the middle of a baseball field at night. There is a bright light shining on the field, lighting from the end of the infield all the way past the outfield into a corn field. The man is in the center. From his long shadow, we can tell that the light is set up to the right of the shot, and is at a low-ish angle. However, the man’s body is completely surrounded in light, indicating a second light source which doesn’t cast a shadow, but does light the other half of his body. The light is also too full to be just one light. This shot was likely taken using a flood light, meant to simulate moonlight. It lasts about 3 seconds, and there is no camera movement.

Shot 3: A medium shot of the man in the house, but shot from outside the house. He is still lit from the front by the “moon light”, and though the house lights are on behind him, they don’t appear to effect the lighting on his body. The light is clearly set up from right (our left). The shot lasts about 8 seconds.

Shot 4: A medium shot of the man on the field, who is now standing in darkness. The “moon” lights him from behind: this is the key light in the shot, as it provides the most light and accentuates the mysterious nature of this man. The slight difference in coloration on the grass in the front of the shot (greener) vs. the back of the shot (bluer) may indicate a fill light on the right side of the shot. However, this color issue may simply be a result of how the key light falls on the grass, or a problem with the resolution (movie was watched in lower resolution than desired). The shot lasts about 6 seconds, and the camera does not move.

Shot 5: A lower angle shot of the man and woman at the window, staring. This shot is from inside the house. It lasts only a few seconds, but again, they are lit by the moon, while what can be seen of the house is lit by the house lights. The blue effect of the moonlight was probably aided by the man and woman wearing green and blue shirts, respectively, and the wallpaper being red. This would allow the filmmaker to use a neutral light, which would light the people in a bluer tint, and the red wallpaper in a redder tint, thereby providing the perceived difference in light source.

Shot 6: A close up of the man on the field, with the key light to the right of the shot. This appears to be the only light used in the shot, as the light on his face is as pure as the darkness behind him. The contrast is crisp, and not muddy. He kneels. The shot lasts about 5 seconds.

Shot 7: This shot is a continuation of shot 6, but the camera has cut back to give us a medium shot of the man kneeling on the field. The key light now appears to be behind and above him, though still on the right side of the shot. There is a very strong backlighting effect here, as there is a defined “outline” around his body, where there is light. He stands, and the camera moves up with him. This shot lasts close to 10 seconds.

Shot 8: As the man from the house exits onto his porch, there are two different lights on his face. On the left of his face (our right), there is the bluish moonlight. On the right, there is still the house light. Behind him, there is a dim porch light, which doesn’t light him but does light the ceiling above him. As he moves, the camera rolls back and to the left, to follow his hands, which are moving towards a light switch. As he moves farther from the doorway, he loses the house light completely, and the moonlight to some extent, but not entirely. He flips the switch. Shot lasts about 10 seconds.


The film Snatch, directed by Guy Ritchie, highlights the dirty business of underground London.  

The section that I’ve chosen begins at 1:02:50 and ends at 1:04:21.  This section is a melding of two scenes that complement each other in a way that creates one large scene. The subject of this particular scene is revenge. The lighting in the scene greatly affects the emotional integrity of the characters and the action as a whole. 

The first scene consists of 11 shots that range from MS to ECU. The scene begins in an arcade, obviously occupied by artificial lights. But, the arcade is very musty and unclear, the fluorescent lights are low and apparently dingy, not top quality. The tone, represented strongly by the ominous and minimal lighting, of this portion of the scene is dangerous; the main character walks into the arcade to find a group of “gangsters” destroying the machines and accessories of the buildings with baseball bats. A fight ensues and the danger increases. The lighting of the scene is perfect in this sense; vision is slightly blurred because of the low and broad and sprawling lights; individual people or objects are not spotlit and the whole room contains the same thick, unclear light. The lighting does not notably change from shot to shot. 

The scene then fades (but continues) to an outdoor setting of a trailer burning to the ground. This creates a rapid and intense contrast from artificial light to natural light. This contrast is the most significant use of the lighting. This visual contrast is so important because the tone of the scene remains much of the same thing; the subject matter is still revenge so the emotional content is consistent. But, the lighting is obviously implemented differently. This portion of the scene consists of 8 shots. The enormous fire is the source of light, so people are easily and strongly silhouetted in front of the natural light source. This creates a great chiaroscuro in the scene, which looks beautiful while the content is devastating. In this portion of the scene, when the camera focuses on characters watching the trailer burn (specifically ECUs of people's faces), a light (probably a very dim and yellowed key light diffused by a crinkly and moving source) is used to emulate the fire in the background that's being reflected on characters' faces. The artificial light being used must be very low-key because all light in the scene looks completely natural. As the framing of a character gets tighter and tighter, eventually filling the frame with an ECU of his face as he watches his mother burn inside of her trailer, shadows increase and enhance the emotional tone.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

The clip starts at 38 min 5 sec.  The scene duration is 2 min 10 sec. 

  1. LS Tilt Down and Pan Right
  2. MS
  3. MCU (over the shoulder of Juan Antonio)
  4. MCU (over the shoulder of Vicky)
  5. MCU (over the shoulder of Juan Antonio)
  6. MCU (over the shoulder of Vicky)
  7. CU (over the shoulder of Juan Antonio)
  8. MCU (over the shoulder of Vicky)
  9. CU (over the shoulder of Juan Antonio)

This is a scene in a public park with an interaction between Juan Antonio and Vicky.  I feel like this exchange can be taken two ways. One, it is a dramatic exchange between two characters who are romantically linked. However, you can also look at it as a bit of frivolity. Two people are arguing over such a minute thing as a phone call. Both of these interpretations work with the lighting scheme of the scene and the movie. The whole movie, including this scene, is very brightly and warmly lit.  It evokes the ideas of summer and old memories.


In this specific scene, the characters are outside and the sunlight provides a broad warm light. It reflects off of the various sculptures and structures inside the garden.  The light is very clean and bright.  It is slightly yellow but very natural.  The light is slightly saturated.  The source is soft and is coming from in front of the camera, off-screen at a diagonal towards the right of the frame.  The light and shadows that are cast from this source of light suggest that this scene takes place during mid to late afternoon in an area without out a lot of obstruction to the key light.  The light and shadows also define the creases of the character’s clothing, create shadows on the actor’s faces (outlining them), and define the background space.   

The key light is high and suggests that the light is the sun.  During the over the shoulder close-ups of Juan Antonio, the quality and angle of the light remains the same as the long and medium shots.  For the over the shoulder close-ups of Vicky, the tone of the light remains the same, but Vicky’s face seems to be lit a little with a fill light in order to compensate for the key light acting as a sun casting light from behind Vicky’s head, obscuring the front of her face in shadow.    

The colors of the park are vibrant. There are greens, blues, and ceramic tiles of varying colors that reflect the light. If you take the idea of the exchange being dramatic, it acts in direct contrast to the warm light, which would usually indicate a happy scene. However, if you take the idea of frivolity, it matches up to the lighting scheme; the bright, warm light evokes a feeling of care freeness.  The night of lovemaking becomes this frivolous tryst that occurs during a summer vacation. I’d say the lighting in this film plays a part in the story. It adds to the emotional meaning of the character’s actions and helps to evoke the idea that this is a memory, a wild vacation that occurred in the past of the character’s lives. I don’t think I would change the lighting very much. It portrays everything and everyone beautifully.  

I think that the key light may have been the sun acting as a practical light coming from behind at a diagonal towards the actors.  A fill light augments this light, brightening faces to make up for overcast shadows from the sun.  The fill light seems to be coming from below and the left or right depending on which over the shoulder close up.  It looks like the angle of the sun provides a very small amount of back light to the actors but I don’t think any actual light-kit light was used for a back light.  There also don’t appear to be any lights illuminating the set.   

Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

Watch from 2:10 - 4:04

Shot 1 (00:35:15 - 00:36:37): Clementine enters Joel’s dimly-lit apartment living room from the kitchen. The shot is a medium close-up, and moves with Clementine out of the kitchen and onto the sofa before moving back and forth between the characters as they speak. The light at the start of the conversation is warm and relatively low-key, only casting light from a lamp next to Joel (this single source means that lighting on both characters’ faces is quite hard and leaves half their facial features in shadow). The shadowy nature of the shot (and in fact the low-key theme of every recalled memory in the film) reflects the incomplete nature of Joel's memories, and the variance of vividness in memories in general.

Shot 2 (00:36:37 - 00:37:03): Clementine angrily gets up from the sofa to leave, the camera follows into the heavily blurred and shadowed living room, then into the bathroom, which is a colder and brighter white light. Clementine heads for the door through the fluorescent kitchen (though her orange hair in the cupboard light centers the shot on a strangely firey orange) while Joel follows closely, and she walks out the door into the hallway. The hall is lit by a very strong white key light directly outside and to the left, and is so pronounced that the characters appear to be walking into a bright summer day.

Shot 3 (00:37:03 - 00:37:09): The camera is static, and only the hall corner directly in front of the lens is lit and in focus. Everything is lit cold greenish blue, and both ends of the hallway vanish into black. The camera moves from the right, where Joel comes out of the apartment door, and pans to follow Joel as he enters out of the darkness, moves into the light and into focus, then walks down the left hallway, out of focus and into the dark. The light here serves as a distinct part of the story, as it is a representation of the limits of memory, where the lit world suddenly vanishes into obscure nothingness. Because of this, lighting in each memory scene begins with plenty of light, and eventually ends up largely in shadow, with only a spot to distinguish the narrowing scope of the memory.


Shot 1, CU 28 seconds. [3:00 - 3:28] The opening sequence to “Crash” is initially lit with a stunned and ascetic tone.  The first shot is a CU of the side window [3:00] where red and incandescent lights reflect off of the water droplets out of focus, and illustrate the experience of being dazed in aftermath of a violent collision.  When the camera racks focus inside of the car [3:10], the main character’s face is revealed in the frame, lit by a hard light-blue key light, that is supposed to be the night time glow.  I think we are meant to assume that this is the glow of L.A. from a distance (the scene of the accident is situated on a ridge). His face is also filled with the flicker of several off-screen practical red emergency lights, and framed next to him are the blurry yellow emergency lights of the accident scene. After he delivers the opening line, the focus racks to an officer approaching [3:24], and his flashlight becomes another fill on Don Cheadle's face.  

Shot 2, credits/black 10 seconds. [3:28 - 3:38]

Shot 3, CU/MCU 8 seconds. [3:38 - 3:46] This has the same lighting as the first shot.

Shot 4, credits/black 4 seconds. [3:46 - 3:50]

Shot 5, MS tracking forward 4 seconds. [3:50 - 3:54] Now we follow the woman out of the car and the lighting changes from the hard blue key to a low yellow key light (presumably the headlights). This emphasizes the shadows on the face of the Asian woman and precludes the conflict.

Shot 6, MCU 6 seconds. [3:54 - 4:00] This is the reaction shot for the woman who was in the car. The headlight produces a glare in the left part of the frame as she defends herself and then argues with the other woman. The decision for this might have been made for the purpose of emphasizing that some prejudice is being revealed in a main character. Meaning: the spotlight is on her.

Shot 7, LS 2 seconds. [4:00 - 4:02] This is a longer shot of a scene with the same lighting as Shot 5, but just framed by the windshield. We now go back and look from the perspective of Don Cheadle's character. The framing of the car windshield makes a dark border. An interesting parallel could be drawn between the darkness of him sitting in his car watching this argument, and the darkness of the audience sitting in the theater watching this film.

I would argue that this fragmentation of color and the sporadic practical light sources help to prime the viewer for similar fragmentation and the foreboding of the collisions of storyline and character conflict.  The reds and yellows contrast with the blue “nighttime” light (and have a jarring effect), and we descend from the drifting unity of the first credit lighting—simply headlights moving along—into the many different “colors” of racism.  Perhaps the different colored lights on the faces of the actors helps highlight their own internal conflicts and the many “faces” that racism will take on in the film.  

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

The opening of this clip is at the 1:46:59 mark and ends at 1:48:38. There are 37 shots in this clip. 

Here is a link to this scene, click to the 4:55 mark

Shot 1: This is an establishing shot of the entrance to Jeffries apartment. The audience is supposed to believe that this light is a mixture of neighboring apartment lights and moonlight. This incoming light creates muffled grayish white color to the room. The incoming light only lights the bottom half of the room and leaves the rest in darkness. This gives the audience a confined sense of space.

Shot 2: This is an establishing shot of Jeffries in his wheelchair. We can see a light source coming from his neighbor’s apartment; it is a dark orange because of a drawn shade. The rest of the light appears to be moonlight, which is shown by white light being cast over Jeffries’ shoulder. Jeffries casts shadows; this shows the direction and location of the light source. The shadows are both harsh and blurred as seen by the ones on Jeffries’ leg cast and the one on the floor. This gives a sense of how far the light sources are from him. We have a wider sense of space now because we are able to see more of the room and where Jeffries is in relation to it.

The next few shots are of the previously described shots.

Shot 3: This is a medium close up of Thurwald. It is a dark shot first of just a door with a sliver of light appearing on the bottom half of the door. The door opens and a harsh light appears on his face. This light is coming from the hallway, which can also be seen when the door is cracked open. As he closes the door behind him he steps into the sliver of light that was being cast on the bottom half of the door. A key lighting source to pay attention to is an above light. The top of his head is well light and this is not consistent with the lighting that has been provided in the previous two lighting designs and believed light sources.

Shot 4: This is an establishing shot of Jeffries in his wheelchair seen through the Thurwald. The light sources are still consistent, however the shadows that are present on the floor now have changed. There are a mixture of shadows, some harsh and some blurred. This can represent gives we for the space to be expanded, we now can see more of the room and the shadows that are cast by other objects in the room.

Shot 5: An establishing shot of Thurwald is shown. He is now in the same shot and lighting as described in the first shot. His legs are well lit and the only inconsistency is the lighting on the top of his head.

There are a few shots of the two figures looking at each other.

Shot 6: Bright flash from Jeffries’ camera bulb. This quickly illuminates the whole room. Now the room space has been greatly expanded and the color of the light source is a harsh white electric light. The viewer now has a clear view of the Thurwald and the room space along with the furniture in it. There is question to whether this bright light came from just this bulb but it can be concluded that there was extra light to achieve this flash. This flash is very strong for such a small bulb. Also the distance that Jeffries holds the the bulb is further away. The light is too bright and harsh in the scene for it to be coming from where he is situated in the room. These observations lead me to believe that other lighting devices were used to create this flash.

There is a quick establishing shot of Thurwald walking towards Jeffries in lighting described in first shot. The same lighting is used as when he first completely enters the room.

Shot 7: A point of view shot from Thurwald’s perspective. The image of Jeffries in this shot is orange, which represents the effect of the flash on his eyes. The lighting stays the same in this shot, which represents that this process was done in post-production. The rest of the shots in this sequence use the same lighting that has been described in the previous shots.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Lighting is combined with sound in this scene to create suspense. From the beginning, when the murderous neighbor, Lars Thorwald, is in the hallway of Jeffries’ apartment complex, the sound of slow footsteps is heard. The viewer sees a horizontal strip of light at the bottom of the door. Then the light goes out. Jeffries scoots back until his face is cloaked in darkness. However—curiously—his body is lit by moonlight. The rest of the room is dark…indeed, there are darker spaces in which Jeffries could have hid. Instead, he occupies that space. There is a cut to the door, and as Thorwald steps through it, only a narrow strip of his face is illuminated by the light from the “rear window.” There is an interesting juxtaposition, here: Thorwald, the ominous, violent figure, is plainly visible; Jeffries, the protagonist of the film, is obscured by the black. Jeffries is presented as more powerful, as having the upper hand in knowing who Thorwald is and what he’s done. Thorwald’s ignorance is represented by Jeffries’ lack of tangible identity. The lighting seems to be mostly natural, but could just as easily be artificial. The source is from outside the window. Clearly (from the above description), lighting plays both a technical and narrative function. Lighting establishes the characters’ balance of power, as well as the mood of the room, which is somewhat dull. The frame is dominated by black (the absence of light) and drab grays. When Jeffries flashes his flash blubs near the end of the scene, it is clear how much lighting has driven the narrative action.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

This is a scene from Rear Window, by Alfred Hitchcock, starting at 1:42:00 and lasting 3 minutes 21 seconds. Lighting is notable in this scene as it is essential to the development of the mood Hitchcock wishes to create and makes the scene credible.

In the first scene, a justified light shines in from the right, where the window is supposed to be on the set, probably created by a dim or diffused spot light. The angle of the throw relative to the camera position suggests a sinister, urgent and dangerous mood, in a night scene, taking place in Jeffries’ mainly obscured apartment. Solely a light on the right illuminates the housekeeper and Jefferies, in a mid-long shot, speaking urgently and secretively in the dark. This light seems to come from the apartments opposite and perhaps the moon. It is just enough light to give a sense of colors, the wrinkles in the clothes, and the two’s silhouettes. As the reflection on their foreheads and the chair frame shows, the light’s real source is probably a dim but hard white key light illuminating them from the front and right. This low-key lighting throws the rest of the apartment into darkness and creates a high lighting contrast with large shadows on the faces and folds in the clothing. In fact the only truly discernable things are Jefferies, Stella, and the wooden chair behind her, situated respectively further and further away from the window.

The key light’s side angle makes the skin and wrinkles on Jeffries’ forehead visible and creates shadows in the hollows of his face during close ups, such as in the second and last shot after the pan.

The third shot shows the suspect leaving his apartment, lit from within, and from a justified light representing the lights from the building across.

A medium shot (fourth) with the same lighting as in the first shows the housekeeper leaving, panning afterwards to the right and reframing with Jeffries’ movement on the wheelchair towards the phone behind him.

There is a quick cut (fifth) back to Stella before the sixth shot cuts back to Jeffries’ in a medium close-up, showing Jeffries still conversing on the phone. Here a key light from the front right illuminates the scene again, joined by a soft fill light from the front left. There is also a possibility of a top light because of the shadow of his hand created below, as well as that of a kicker light, as a faint aura behind him near the floor seems to light up an object on the shelf. He puts the phone down and the scene cuts (seven) to the apartment across which is no longer lit from inside.

Another medium-close shot (eight) cuts back to him lit by the key light on the right and fill on the left, and slowly pans into a close-up at the end of this section. Through this, Hitchcock intensifies the suspense he wished to build up for this scene and the imminent climax, unfolding and end of the film in the next few minutes.

The cinematographer has shown us, through Jeffries’ window that the suspected culprit has exited his apartment after glaring in the camera’s direction (nine).

Now, contrastingly, the viewer is restricted, in the dark, to the protagonist’s point of view. We know something the protagonist does not, but we are restricted in the light. After Stella rushes off to pay Lisa’s bail, the camera closes in on Jeffries and the lighting increases slightly (ten). As Jeffries notices the culprit’s apartment is dark, the camera frames Jeffries in a close up, letting the fill light illuminate his eyes. This causes the viewer to focus in on Jeffries’ eyes, creating tension, and making the audience more and more nervous, as he darts his eyes anxiously back and forth.

Through this low-key lighting design, Hitchcock creates suspense and unease in the audience, and thus as he wishes, is able to frighten the viewer in the scenes to come. I think it might be interesting to increase the light coming from the back, so as to create a sort of halo around the heads of the two actors, and take advantage of Jefferies’ white shirt to reflect some of the same light. This might increase the eeriness of the mood of this scene. However, I would keep the high lighting contrast created by Hitchcock, as it strengthens the tone of the film noir that Hitchcock wanted.

Here is an online representation of this section. Please begin at 00:01 and end at 03:22.

The Truman Show

Close Watching of The Truman Show, 25:14-26:40. (Duration: 1m, 26s)

on the web from 2:57 to 4:24

This clip from The Truman Show begins when Truman and Sylvia exit the library. The first shot shows the parking lot. It is a long shot from above, presumably inside the building or in some hidden space. The parking lot is extremely well lit. The camera is dark in the corners and around the edges to show us that this is some sort of “search camera.” On-screen we see some lampposts with spherical lights, but these don’t actually throw much light. The camera smoothly pans to the left and we see tall streetlights that illuminate the space. These hard white lights throw fairly strong shadows, and some shadows (such as those of the stop signs,) show us that there are more bright lights offscreen. We imagine the expanse of the parking lot. The camera pans left across the entire parking lot, and the viewer searches for the couple. The camera then suddenly zooms in to the two people in left side of the screen. The zoom is jolty and reminds us that Truman’s life is on air. The camera catches them as they run under a streetlight at the entrance of the beach. The brightness is used to keep tabs on Truman: darkness would give him privacy and freedom.

The next shot, another establishing shot, begins on the full moon. The moon looks artificial to the viewer. The camera pans down, on bright, pastel-colored houses that are well-lit from the front. This shows that there is some light source shining directly on the houses. Truman and Sylvia have long defined shadows, assuring the viewer that some strong white key light shines directly on the set from offscreen left. We get the set? that this shot is on a movie set. The moon, though large and full, throws no light. We just saw that the moon is behind the houses and the couple, but it doesn’t create any shadows. There are no streetlamps in the piece of road that we see in this shot, so we can assume that there is not one offscreen. Yet it is clear that some bright light shines on the set. This adds to the film’s sense of manipulation and artificiality.

The third shot is a quick medium shot in which the couple runs across the screen. The fourth shot shows a close up of the dune sands and grasses. There is a hard white light shining on the grasses from behind the camera to the right. When we see the couple’s feet run across screen, we notice the consistency of light direction. That mysterious white light still shines from the same spot. The camera follows the couple towards the beach, and Truman’s strong shadow on Sylvia reiterates the existence of that light. In this picture, where we watch Truman and Sylvia from behind, the waves that lap onto the shore are also well lit. They seem to be illuminated by a softer white light that shines from above the camera. (At this point, the edges of the camera are still fuzzy black and dune grasses bob in front of the lens to remind us that Truman is being watched. This camera effect in combination with the phony lighting creates a strong sense of manipulation.) The couple runs down the sand to the beach and we see how the sand as well is, curiously, brightly lit. This light on the beach is not that bluish light we associate with nighttime, or with a full moon, but rather a deliberate white light.

The fifth shot is slightly more realistic. This MCU of the couple near the ocean is a little dimmer, with low-key lighting. But the shadows on the faces of the actors show the persistent white light that shines on the scene. The camera cuts back and forth as the two chat and then kiss. There is some inconsistency here; when the camera shoots from behind the shoulder of the woman showing the front of Truman’s face, the shadows are defined and there is higher contrast. When the angle switches and the camera shoots from the side of Truman, showing the front of Sylvia’s face, there is more graduated tonality, and we see no shadows. The lighting softens drastically. This may have been done to make the woman look more beautiful; I don’t think the filmmakers expected the viewer to notice these differences. Under a close lens, however, the inconsistency is clear. On the contrary, perhaps we are supposed to notice; maybe the viewer is being reminded of Truman’s public life (a life in which the “spotlight” is always on him.)

During the 12th shot, Sylvia then looks off screen and a car makes its way over the dunes.

In the 13th shot, the dunes are lit by a bright key from the left side of the frame. There is high contrast and intense shadows in the sand. The car then bounces down the sand with headlights that seem bright to the viewer. These lights make no bright spots on the sand, however. This shows that the offscreen key is so strong that the headlights do not affect the lighting of the sand. We cut to the couple in a medium shot (14) from next to Truman. The light is relatively soft on their faces (as it was during the previous shots from this angle.) An obtrusive bright light (presumably the headlights of the car) flash on the couple for a split second. We then cut back to the car (15) and the key light from the left is notably strong. The sand kicked up by the vehicle is an illuminated spray. The shadow of the car on the sand is well defined. The moon, judging from the second shot of the sequence, is in the opposite direction of this pervading light source. We are presented with a stronger sense of artificiality.

In shot 16 (MS), the camera is behind Truman’s shoulder and the lighting is once again soft. Intense bright lights flash on the actors and we assume these to be the headlights. The quickness and intensity of these lights give the scene a heightened sense of urgency.

Shot 17 is a CU taken from directly infront of the car. The headlights here are extremely intrusive, both in light quality and proximity. This shot builds on the film’s theme of bright lights robbing Truman of his privacy.

In shot 18, the car stops abruptly in front of the couple. The headlights shine hard on the legs of Truman and Sylvia. These lights, though low to the ground, shine from the same direction as the key light that has artificially illuminated the entire ocean-side scene. The lighting throughout this scene, and especially the strong headlights of this vehicle, symbolize the public’s intrusion on Truman’s life.

Edward II

Scene 5: Edward and Gaveston

Shot one opens with the dancers back stage right off center from the camera. The scene’s lighting is mainly white light that resembles natural light as if there was a window or door beyond the doorway letting light in. The light of the scene “flows” through the doorway in three steady steams of light. A left angle stream, a main centered wide stream and a right angle stream. The corners, the down stage, and the less illuminated parts of the room appear to be lit by a floodlight. There also appears to be an overhead light angled inward from outside hallway into the doorway that illuminates the dancers’ heads and clearly outlines the dancers’ shadows.

Shot two King Edward II and his lover Gaveston have a light shining of them from the viewer’s right hand side. The light is white and illuminates King Edward’s strawberry blonde hair and the actors’ fair skin; however it also deliberately cast a shadow on the actors’ left hand side (from a viewer’s perspective). The light also brings to attention the throne the two men are seated on and gives the shot a golden appeal. When the camera moves out to capture the whole throne on its pedestal there appears to be a kicker light behind the throne separating it from the background. The light clearly seems misplaced and the once concentrates light on the viewers right hand side is dimmed.

Edward and Gaveston :

Old Boy

Directed by Chanwook Park, Old Boy is about a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years only to be released to seek revenge within five days. The scene starts at 42mins and 37secs, where it lasts for 3mins and 50secs—though the YouTube clip may be slightly shorter. There are 12 shots that comprise the entire scene. The scene is shot in all low-key, strong fill lighting for the dark shadows are specifically and purposefully emphasized to harbor mood. Throughout the entire series of cuts there is a strong, white fluorescent light running along the ceiling, serving as the main source, or key light. Shot 8 comprises of a long take that lasts 2mins and 38secs as a wide-shot of the gang coming into frame from screen left as the main character (Dae-su) charges them going screen right. This take is dominated by the strong wattage of the fluorescent lighting and its reflection on the walls, creating a strong green within the entire scene—there possibly could have been some alteration with white balancing. Although this may be true there appears to be an addition of other incandescent lights in small areas on the wall, which are yellow in hue, but they do not govern the framing. Also, each of the various shots (i.e. medium-close up, close-up, or wide) does not differ in lighting for it stays consistent throughout the scene. The dark shadows and strong lighting on the ceiling direct the eyes of the viewer to want to go to the end of the hall, whereas the tight, greenish space creates a tense “atmosphere,” where we are finally relieved in the last shot to see in a wide shot a strong key light indicating what can be perceived as a garage opening to the outside—though we can not tell if it is artificial or natural light due to overexposure. Furthermore, there appears to be some hint of soft frontal and back lighting during close-ups, such as in Shot 1, 2, 5, and 9 where all sources are from above, giving the illusion of coming from the fluorescents. In sum, set lighting is the dominant source of lighting, producing mood and direction.

Please watch YouTube clip in HQ:

Duration: 3:50secs
Starting time: 42:37secs

Shot 1: Close-up of one gang member with two men in the back of him (left & right) and two men in front of him (left & right) out of frame with a medium amount of frontal/back lighting.

Shot 2: Close-up of main character with hostage. Green hues dominate with whites and blues being less present.

Shot 3: Pan up to a deep space focus medium shot of entire hallway. There are a series of strong fluorescent lights running along the ceiling—white balance may have been altered for scene.

Shot 4: Medium shot of the end of the line of the gang.

Shot 5: Close-up of main character dropping knife.

Shot 6: Medium shot of gang reacting to dropping of knife. All eyes focus on main character.

Shot 7: Medium overhead shot. Angled at the to main character’s right, while panning to the right as main character charges into crowd.

Shot 8: Long-take (2:38secs), wide shot of gang coming into frame (entering from screen right) as main character fights them going screen left.

Shot 9: Close-up of main character in focus, but framed off-center, slightly angled with a high angled position by the camera—key light comes from above. Men are out of focus behind him.

Shot 10: Medium shot of men in elevator with a strong key light coming from the ceiling inside.

Shot 11: Pan right to elevator opening & men falling out. Elevator (framed screen right) light is still strongest light in frame, while lighting on outside walls appear to come from off-screen sources.

Shot 12: Wide shot with a pan to the left as the main character walks out. Low-key lighting with a strong key source of lighting enters in what we perceive as a garage opening—though we don’t know if the light is artificial or natural due to the overexposure. Greens are still present on pillars screen right, which may be coming from behind the camera.


Please use the link below to watch the “Club Silencio” scene. The two sequences I focused on are between 03:35 and 04:45. 

The “Club Silencio” scene from David Lynch’s 2001 movie Mulholland Dr. is notable in terms of its lighting.

The scene begins with two women, Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Herring), entering the mysterious theater/nightclub “Silencio.” There are 14 shots in this scene; seven in the first sequence (40-second long) and another seven in the second sequence (30-second long). Here is some information on the 14 shots that make up the scene under focus:

Shot 1: Announcer, MS, warm yellow theatre lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, key light with throw angle center-right. Near the end of this shot lighting change to intense white flashlights, hard light source, high key style, key light with throw angle bottom-center Shot 2: Betty and Rita, MCU, intense white flashlights, hard light source, high key style, key light with throw angle top/center-left Shot 3: Announcer, CU, intense white flashlights, hard light source, high key style, key light with throw angle bottom-center Shot 4: Betty and Rita, MCU, intense white flashlights, hard light source, high key style, flashlights as key light with throw angle top/center-left Shot 5: Announcer, CU, warm yellow theatre lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, key light with throw angle center-left Shot 6: Betty and Rita, MCU, warm yellow theatre lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights Shot 7: Announcer, CU, intense white flashlights, hard light source, high key style, key light with throw angle bottom-center. Near the end of this shot lighting change to warm blue neon lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, key light with throw angle center-left

Shot 8: Empty stage, MS, warm/blue/moving neon lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights Shot 9: Audience with Betty and Rita on the bottom-left, MLS, warm/blue/moving neon lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights Shot 10: Empty stage, MCU, warm/blue/moving neon lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights Shot 11: Betty and Rita, MCU, warm/blue/moving neon lights (as set light), hard light source, high key style, no key, fill or back lights Shot 12: Lady in the balcony of the theater, MS, warm/blue/moving neon lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights. Near the end of this shot, lighting changes to warm yellow theatre lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, weak key light with throw angle bottom left Shot 13: Betty and Rita, MCU, warm yellow theatre lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights Shot 14: Next performer entering stage, MS, warm yellow theatre lights (as set light), soft light source, low key style, no key, fill or back lights (until the performer reaches the microphone)

Initially, the bar is poorly lit and there is a spotlight on the announcer standing in the middle of the stage. Lighting becomes interesting on the third minute of this scene (03:30 on the video provided in the link below, and 1:47:20 on the movie’s dvd). The dim but warm and yellowish lights in the theater turn into white flashes that resemble a stormy weather. In this 40 seconds long sequence the emotional atmosphere completely changes as warm lights that give viewers a sense of security are replaced by white flashes that are scary and alarming. This mood change can be queued in Betty as she starts trembling involuntarily before the announcer’s disappearance. Betty’s stress and fear are visible as she holds Rita’s hands tightly and moves herself closer to Rita. This intense sequence ends with the announcer’s magic trick in which he vanishes mysteriously.

During the magic trick, the white flashlights are replaced by subtle, wavy and bluish neon lights that make the viewer feel as if she was in an underwater world lit by moonlight. Beams of bluish light are wiggly and less visible than the previous flashlights, during this 30 seconds long sequence that ends as the next performer is announced to the stage. In this second short sequence, characters are no longer feeling edgy since they visibly relax and lean back on their seats.

So overall, there are two consecutive sequences that change the emotional content of the characters. In the first sequence (1:47:20-1:48:00) there is an alarming tone that unsettles the viewer (as well as the two main characters). The lights in the second sequence (1:48:00-1:48:30) have a soothing effect that suggests some sort of resolution for Betty and Rita. Thus, it can be said that the lights in this scene do not solely function as technical details and contribute to the character transformation that takes place in the movie.

The Searchers

The scene is the final shot from John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) has found Debbie (Natalie Wood) and is bringing her home. The scene begins with a long shot of a group of people standing outside of a house, a lighting source coming from above them and to the left. Ethan carries Debbie towards the house, his shadow (and those of other characters) extending in front of him because of backlighting, with a grainy and bright light coloring. As the camera dollies backwards and less and less of the landscape is seen, everyone but Ethan follows the camera and is swallowed by the darkness of the interior of the house. The scene ends with Ethan standing in the center of the doorway, darkness on either side, and the door shuts as he turns to walk away from the house.

When the landscape is visible, the lighting is hard and the shadows are sharply outlined, a bright light shining on the front of the porch and the dust and sand of the landscape. Ford shot most of the film in Monument Valley and it seems very possible the sequence was filmed with natural lighting from the sun, but it could also have been filmed on a set with a backdrop. In either case, the low key light source comes from high above and to the left of the actors, creating sharp contrasts, suggesting a noon-time setting, and causing everything facing the camera to be covered or half-covered in shadow. The left-hand sides of the porch posts and the characters have small pools of light shining on them, again facilitated by the high light source. As Ethan carries Debbie forward, there is a definite distinction between the lighting outside the porch and under the porch – much deeper shadows and darkness covering the characters standing on the floorboards.

Once the camera dollies back to the extreme darkness of the interior, only the outer doorway is visible, with no light coming from the side or the front. If the scene was shot on location, substantial opaque filters would have been needed to cover any windows or open elements of the house (or built set). If done in the studio, no light sources would be directed from anywhere inside the porch. When the actors come forward, they become silhouetted because of the high angle of the light source – no light is directed towards them in any manner. After all characters have passed the camera, Ethan stands alone in the center of the doorway, his shadow extending in front of him onto the floorboards. The outer two thirds of the frame are completely dark; Ethan is left in medium shot on the edge of the West, which is clearly visible and brightly lit. The shift from exterior to interior and the comparable shift of lighting towards a much darker finish enhances the audience’s understanding of the space of the West and the house, also developing an understanding of the character of Ethan. For him, the exterior lighting is warm and natural, a very bright color to give him a tiny glow from the direction of the West. The interior lighting is harder with sharper shadows and he is unable to make the transition from exterior to interior. He is caught in the middle of the lighting - when he turns to walk away from the house, his shadow becomes gradually less and less pronounced because he walks further and further away from the camera (and the sand/wind obscures his figure), and he begins to blend in with the wind and the landscape. The door closes and the light from the sun (or “sun”) is completely removed, leaving only the black house interior left in the frame. The lighting definitely plays a large role in the scene, not just an afterthought or addition; it gives details of the interactions of all characters, central themes of the film, and provides a distinct atmosphere and development of space. The scene lasts from 1:57:42 (or 1:03 from the end) until the end, a duration of one minute and three seconds.