Lighting plays a big part in creating depth, whether it’s through the use of minimal pools of lighting to highlight certain objects or subjects on screen, or whether it’s through lighting the whole scene to show even distant objects.
One film that really uses light to create mood and depth to a scene is the Film Noir thriller The Third Man (1949), and I also like the use of light in Schindlers List, which also had a Film Noir feel to some of the scenes, and The Colour Purple is stunning too.
The use of the natural daylight framed through the window in this scene from Schindlers List serves 2 purposes. It lights the subjects without overlighting the scene, and the shadow of the window frame also places a virtual barrier between the two characters, which to my mind highlights the differences between them, separating Oskar from the evil Goeth
In this screengrab Orson Welles is lit at the front of the shot, but there is also light to the back of the tunnel, to show where he is, and to add to the drama of the scene, showing the tunnel/sewer he is in.
The lighting in this scene from The Colour Purple is not only gorgeous, but the stream of sunlight singles out Shug, whilst the rest of the light falls on thos watching her, without distracting from the main character in the scene.
The silhouette dissapearing off down the tunnel wouldn’t have had quite the same effect if the tunnel had been fully lit from front to back. Lighting it from the bottom end elongates the tunnel and gives some perspective into how far he is running.
The even lighting in this from Skyfall serves to light the background as much as the main subject, but still gives depth to the scene by showing the size of the room. If the light had been restricted to just Bond it would have compressed the size of the room.
For the practical part I had to play around with lighting a scene in a small dark space. I’d have liked to used live subjects, but I have a rather camera shy husband, so I had to make do with what I could find in the living room. The lighting I used was a rather odd setup. The constant light I used was a little domestic spotlight with a daylight balanced bulb in it that I use for my sewing room, and I also used the light on my phone, which is a slightly warmer light, so there is a little bit of mixed lighting going on, but not too bad.
single spotlight on rear subject, mobile phone light on foreground subject, held directly above the subject. Depth of field is too shallow I think, there’s not enough detail in the subject at the back.
Mobile phone light directly above subject, highlighting the subject
single spotlight on rear subject, mobile phone light on foreground subject. Depth of field is too shallow I think, there’s not enough detail in the subject at the front
Even though the depth of field is too narrow to really show the rear subject clearly I particularly like the first and second shots, the top down lighting gives it a bit more drama, but I like the separation of the two different colour temperatures too.
Although I’m happy with lighting these closer in subjects and separating them with the light, I intend to have a play around more with larger scenes and spaces, when I find a suitable spot and some willing subjects!