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How subjective is lighting?


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#1 Samantha

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 12:14 PM

Happy new year folks. One question that's been driving me nuts about lighting is exactly how subjective is it?

I'm relatively new to cinematography but I have developed a wee obsession with lighting, but I seem to have a different eye and tend to like a lot of lighting that others may not necessarily like.

Good lighting is good lighting, but when it comes to creative lighting how subjective is it? Is it just a matter of making it look good on camera or is there room for interpretation? Or am I being "too arty" with my lighting as my various colleagues tend to intimate? :)
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 12:25 PM

Happy new year folks. One question that's been driving me nuts about lighting is exactly how subjective is it?

I'm relatively new to cinematography but I have developed a wee obsession with lighting, but I seem to have a different eye and tend to like a lot of lighting that others may not necessarily like.

Good lighting is good lighting, but when it comes to creative lighting how subjective is it? Is it just a matter of making it look good on camera or is there room for interpretation? Or am I being "too arty" with my lighting as my various colleagues tend to intimate? :)


You need to change your user name to include a Last Name, Samantha.

Lighting is an art, and art is subjective. But if your tastes are far out of alignment with your peers and the general public, you may not be as successful from a commercial standpoint, since filmmaking itself is often a commercial art for profit.

Lighting goes far beyond "making it look good for the camera" because lighting is part of the arsenal of storytelling devices; its primary purpose is to advance the narrative, support the story and the actors' performances -- at least it is in narrative cinema. Sometimes that can actually mean creating ugliness or sloppiness, if that's what serves the story best. But obviously all of this still falls under subjective issues of personal taste and interpretation.
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#3 Samantha

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 12:51 PM

You need to change your user name to include a Last Name, Samantha.

Lighting is an art, and art is subjective. But if your tastes are far out of alignment with your peers and the general public, you may not be as successful from a commercial standpoint, since filmmaking itself is often a commercial art for profit.

Lighting goes far beyond "making it look good for the camera" because lighting is part of the arsenal of storytelling devices; its primary purpose is to advance the narrative, support the story and the actors' performances -- at least it is in narrative cinema. Sometimes that can actually mean creating ugliness or sloppiness, if that's what serves the story best. But obviously all of this still falls under subjective issues of personal taste and interpretation.


Hi, David. Thanks for that. It's precisely what I thought. I don't believe my tastes are so far out of alignment that I"m getting carried away, to be honest. I just find that the people I work with tend to play it straight and narrow, so much so that they have a fixed set up for interviews and various types of filming we do regularly and they don't like to stray too far out of that template regardless of what the subjects are wearing or doing etc...

I guess because I'm new at this, I look to them for guidance so that I develop good habits from the beginning, but having watched a zillion lighting videos and read books galore and, of course, having watched loads of film, I've grown unhappy with our current set up, which probably sounds a bit rich coming from someone comparatively new to these guys who have all been to film school and shot docos etc.

Maybe I'm just flat out wrong! That said, these guys are quite brilliant, so I guess when you're working under tight deadlines etc, art goes out the window and is saved for non-work projects...LOL...


PS: I did try to add my last name after I read your post, but couldn't find where in the settings to do so.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 01:35 PM

User name is under "My Controls" on the upper right of the screen, then "display name" 1/2 way down on the left hand side.
As for interview lighting, normally that's pretty straight forward, again, it depends on how you're shooting. Right now I'm working on a Mockumentary project, so the vast majority of our interviews are pretty much so set up as you would an interview. However, the rest of the lighting in the film needs to look 100% natural, unlit almost. Which is hard in and of itself.
But, lighting, as mentioned is an art form, and there are times which a certain quality of light is needed to reinforce what is being done in the film. What is right or wrong really is out of our hands I think. For me, it comes down to whether or not the audience at large accepts it. This being said, there are certain rough expectations that are placed on a piece. For example, look at comedies' lighting -v- horror film lighting and you'll see the difference. Now, imagine trying to impose one's style on the other and I think you will see quickly why some lighting is formulaic.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 04:30 PM

I find that for interview lighting, the basics of lighting the subject are almost always the same. Differences arise with the sex of the subject (males get a 3/4 key light and females get a more straight-on key light) and the mood the shot should convey (some are more "dramatic" with the key light placed farther off-center to darken the camera-side of the face).

The backlight (rim light) level is adjusted according to a person's hair (or lack of it) and what they wear.

Otherwise, the rest of the lighting setup for an interview tends to rely on the room I'm given to work in. There are times that arise when a Producer will obtain a space (a hotel room or an office) that is quite opposite of the mood that the shot should look like. But if I try to impose, say, a dark and moody look on a space that is otherwise bright and cheerful, the shot almost never works. For most interview situations, there simply isn't enough equipment, manpower, or time to completely remake a physical environment. So, for that reason, I work WITH the environment and create a shot that works with the room...typically, anyway.

Lighting various interviews can appear to be rote and in a way it is and the natural tendency is to want to mix things up and get "creative" from time to time. That's fine, but if a number of interviews are being done for the same project, a certain amount of consistency is necessary so that the entire project doesn't feel disjointed. Ultimately, the Producer and/or Director you're working with will let you know the "look" that all of the shots should attempt to be and then it becomes the Cameraman's (or woman's) challenge to achieve that look even when the locations and/or subjects are at odds with that goal.
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rebotnix Technologies

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