Low Key Lighting

Low key lighting is technically the complete opposite of high key lighting arrangements. The low key fill light is very low, creating a large amount of shadows. This highlights the dark and light parts positioned in the frame.

This lighting technique is commonly used and is more effective in film noir productions as well as gangster and crime films as it presents a very dark and mysterious atmosphere. Low key lighting is just seen as an overall darker image compared to the high key lighting.

When researching low key lighting I came across this example from the film “The Dark Night”




The shot begins with low key lighting from two visible sources. The lamp of the desk, and the florescent light behind Detective Gordon. The darkness behind The Joker, creates and off screen space. Ultimately a big dark shadow. Then to end this particular shot sequence I have presented above is Detective Gordon, standing in front of the police door, that florescent light that was once behind him is now directly above him, showing us a full visual of his face and expressions. It bounces off the wall, but is intended to create a large source of shadow on his character, as it is a very intense scene in the film.

High Key Lighting

High Key lighting involves the fill lighting, used in the three point lighting technique, to be increased to nearly the same level as the key light itself. This extra illuminated light can make a scene appear very bright and soft, also showing very few shadows.
This particular lighting technique can be found in musicals and comedies, especially in the classic Hollywood era of film.

high-key-lighting-2An example of this high-key lighting was from the film “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). It created a very bright, soft and vibrant look in the image.


Three Point Lighting

Traditionally, Filmmakers use three types of lights.

  • A main key light in front of and/or to one side of the subject
  • A fill light, half as bright as a key light. Usually placed on the opposite side to reduce and soften the shadows
  • A rim light, to make the edge of the subject stand out from the background setting. Backlighting is also used as a forth source of lighting.


The image to the right is how each of the lights work on their own. Each create their own type of dramatic change. Fill light being soft and smooth. Rim light as well as backlighting creates the hard and/or soft edge around the characters body from behind, and key light is a very dominant light which lights up the entire setting of the shot, but can create shadows depending on where it is placed.


These are diagram versions of a basic 3 point lighting set up.

Each of these set ups are made to create an even spread of light on the character. This particular set up can be found in interview, live air or even large house/restaurant settings which allow the audience to see a wide, even spread of lighting.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) also used the three-point scheme throughout the film. There is enough contrast in the backlight and highlight, that the people in the crowded scenes are distinguishable from one another.

Black & White Lighting

Black and white films were once the only type of films made, and the thought of colour films was almost too good to be true and something of the future.

Although now days we only view films in colour, we see black and white films as a scary, mysterious, dark, very old school or even showing the past (in colour films), which is why I would like to explore how lighting was used in this particular medium to convey a different emotion.

Pretty much lighting in black and white films was the most important and influential source they could have and play around with. You could highlight a particular person, enhance the setting of the scene and overall change the mood of the entire film. Although we see black and white as a scary/mysterious view, it was here, lighting became crucial in making sure that effect didn’t happen.

horrorLighting and contrast in film noir style can enhance the brutality of a violent scene. For example lighting is kept dark, conveying a sense of panic and confusion



The lighting shown in this film is a hard back light, which highlights the edge of the character shown in the shot. What is also presented is a very soft fill light in the background which has a diffuser on it which is what has made the soft edge as well as that glow effect surrounding her image. This is the one of many ways directors used lighting in black and white films to enhance it perception of a happy/positive film

c68a118bbc9a201358b0a32bbb7eb000This lighting technique was used in most and almost all horror films in black and white. It’s an easy way to enhance the characters image and facial expression. It also creates a strong use of shadow which is what creates this mysterious and almost vicious representation of the person or thing.
The light is positioned below the character and is usually a very hard light with no diffuser.

18kz9fbdoismrjpgThis shot, (which I have mentioned in other blog posts, The Clockwork Orange) is known as a very hard black light. This particular lighting technique is positioned behind the character and presents only a black figure in the shot. This is due to no light source shown at all on the face of the characters. It can be seen as mysterious or unknown depending on the situation.

The shot I have shown uses smoke to diffuse the light so it doesn’t come across scary, almost heroic.

stock-footage-a-man-in-a-fedora-typing-on-a-vintage-manual-typewriter-film-noir-style-lightingPersonally I love this shot. The light creates intense shadows on the individual but the light source seems to be coming from outside the window of the mans office, leaving the blind lines on the face of his character. This is commonly used in crime films, to give more of an extreme mystery look.

its-a-wonderful-life1This shot is from the film “It’s A Wonderful Life”. A heart felt and moving film, which surrounds christmas. (It’s a great family film highly recommend!!!!)

The shot I chose, is a very openly lit shot. It uses the family house lights as well as an artificial light source etc Fill light. Every character is brightly represented, you can see the emotions on all their faces and it enhances the positive moment the family has as they all hug together.

Spotlight on Wes Anderson

Going on with my previous post on colour lighting I found it would be silly of me not to explore the work of Wes Anderson himself.

Each of his films use an unbelievable about of colour, but each of the colours presented in the shots are there for a reason. They are there to express emotion through detail. Now I could do about 50 blog posts on the colour palette Anderson has used throughout his films but my investigation is directly on lighting itself.

Each of the shots below are from the film “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

grande-hotel-budapesteWhat I love about this shot is that it is clearly lit up just by a white artificial fill light, but the pink and blue objects surrounding the two characters has allowed the light to bounce of them and create a pink tinge on the faces.


A soft diffuser was also used in this shot giving it a soft feature.

This sGrand_Budapest_Hotel_Gustave_2hot is of M. Gustave in prison. The blue light positioned behind his character, the bluely grey features on the wall and on the prison uniform creates a sense of cold, bitter and distort representation.


A hard backlight as well as a fill light was also used in this shot.
The hard light is to create an edge around M. Gustave and the fill light is to see the background setting.

The shots below are from some of Wes Anderson’s other films, that use lighting.


Hotel Chevalier.

Yellow in terms of colour is considered a happy colour and very positive yet her body language and emotions indicate the opposite. If you look into more detail she has a small window behind her head with natural lighting depicting daylight, yet she has two lamps on in her room, which is also there to create shadow.


Moonrise Kingdom.

This shot from the film is depicting natural lighting as it is set and presented outside.

Usually a diffuser and a reflector was used to soften the light on the characters/objects faces.

Colour Lighting – “Only God Forgives”

Lighting and colour are quite similar in the way they work. They can both create a particular emotion as well as set an entire shot or overall construct an entire scene to the way the director or art director is wanting to achieve.

For example director Wes Anderson is probably the most notable when it come to the use of colour, lighting and mixing the two together to contract a scene.

You can use colour to change the mood of your shot. You can also choose the colours of things to include in the shot like backgrounds, furniture and costumes.

Films that I found use the use of colour lighting to the extreme is “Only God Forgives”, “The Terminator”, “The Matrix” and most of Wes Anderson’s films.


Shot from the film “Only God Forgives”

This film is extraordinary in the use of their colours. The scene I’m about to show below is positioned in a bar and is only lit up by the artificial lights.

The use of red and blue lighting used created a very mellow, almost depressing representation, which went along with the help of the music . This particular lighting replicates the exact version of what the inside a club/bar would look like which I feel the lighting has established the setting perfectly.
The low lighting from the reds and blues allowed the character (played by Ryan Gosling) to have a lot of shadows, which created a sense of mystery, and darkness within his character representation.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 2.29.12 pm

What I found is the lighting in this scene set up an automatic emotional response to the audience. What we saw throughout the lighting is exactly how the director was intending to pursue. The only time we see a harsh light is on the asian woman standing up, she is obviously distressed and does not want to be there. This lighting almost highlighted her character.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 2.29.38 pmThe scene ends on a complete opposite lighting that was portrayed throughout the start. The lighting represented is very orange/yellow set up. Here it can be seen as positive colours in colour terms, but the way the director has created it was the complete opposite as he drags the man down the hallway.

After these investigations I found that lighting can create a huge impact on how a films scene/shot/coverage are all represented.


Back lighting

In my earlier blog post I wrote that ‘backlight is where the main source of light comes from behind the character. This can create a very mysterious mood. Commonly seen in horror films and detective/crime shows to enhance the use of shadows.’
I hope to investigate this future throughout this blog post and discover more along the way.

Doing research on this particular lighting technique, I found that particular genres of film always seemed to popping up. From mystery to crime to drama to horror, this lighting technique was used as a way to convey a point or dramatic effect within the shot.

So what is backlighting? Backlighting is a type of spotlight, a light that amplifies the brightness of an LCD scene by illuminating it from behind. This effect create a glowing effect on the edge of the subject or person, while the other areas are darker. This lighting technique is usually made more intense by an artificial source but can also be from natural light from the sun or from the moon.

If the lighting source were to be artificial, it is usually set up directly behind the subject, which lights foreground elements from the rear. This effect can create a very dramatic representation of the subject and or person presented in the scene.


The shot I have presented above is a very detailed and well represented example of the backlight lighting technique. The character presented in the shot is positioned to the side but the light formed from the back of him has created this hard light edge surrounding him. It is here we cannot see the characters facial expressions, but what we do see (as the audience) is the movements he or she is making. Commonly seen in mystery or crime films  the smoke in the shot has also been picked up by the light which in my eyes a pretty awesome shot.


Droogs attack tramp in the Stanley Kubrick movie "A Clockwork Orange"

The shot above is from the film “A Clockwork Orange

The film itself to me is a very scary, confronting representation of a young gang. Personally I could only watched 1/4 of the film as it was not the type I could sit and enjoy. I did however remember this shot as it was one I could never forget. The lighting in this shot is amazing from start to finish. The backlight is strong and the shadows that it creates is unbelievable. As they walk up to the old man lying on the ground their shadows are large but the very dominate backlight does not allow the audience to see any of the gangs faces until later in the scene when a close up has appeared.

The way this shot was constructed was to create a very mysterious and “horror” type effect. It was constructed for the audience to feel on edge and wary that something was about to happen within the shot. An old innocent man lying on the ground in a dark alley way and the shadows of 4 young men approaching. The shadows allow the scene to be scary and I feel the director did exactly that when creating and contracting the scene.

Natural Lighting

The film definition of “Natural lighting” is:
Nature’s illumination: daylight, even on interiors. The term implies that the source is not artificial.

This particular lighting is my personal favourite as it depicts “no” artificial lights were used in order to create the particular setting of the scene. I used the film Shawshank Redemption in a previous blog post to highlight the use of it with the shot from Andy Dufrense cell.


In this particular lighting investigation I am using the romantic comedy film The Notebook as it used a lot of outdoor shots to express a particular emotion at that time of the film. Each of the shots below represent a natural lighting effect where no artificial lighting was added.




In picture 1. It represents natural lighting through the trees surrounding the two characters Noah and Allie. This would have most likely been shot in raw and had the natural lighting edited in editing software. It has the effect of the sun not able to pass the trees but is still able to light the setting. Usually representing midday low lighting

In picture 2. A clear example of natural lighting of the “sun behind the cloud” hence the blue grey coloured representation. Slight lighting is reflected off the top of the characters heads.

In picture 3. We are presented with a natural sun glow from above the character of Noah.

In picture 4. Just like picture 2 the sun is behind the cloud but this shot is representing it is nearing the end of the day.

Natural lighting is used to convey a particular emotion throughout this film. It can also be perceived by a natural street light or even the light represented from the moon itself.


This shot is from the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone.It depicts a front house light as the natural light source on Harry and Dumbledore. It can be seen as a key light effect with a diffuser on it but obviously editing has gone into making this shot look very warm and fuzzy. I used this example of  natural light as it is something that is already in shot. Although yes it is an artificial light source it is in fact natural as it was already in the setting of the shot.


moonlight-night--large-msg-117807345376 This is a very good example of natural lighting in the night. The moon although dark at night its white and dominant light source can create a key light effect on a person/object seen in the shot. This shot I have presented with the moon is bouncing off the water giving a bright reflection. As it does this it has also created a very strong backlight which has caused the trees or branches in the shot to be all black figures.



Soft Light/Fill Lighting

A popular film technique is the use of soft light. This particular light source is normally a diffused light source from the front of the person and a more direct and stronger light from the back, which usually fills up those little shadows to create an even picture.

Soft light can also be known as a fill light as it is not harsh and intense on the character portrayed in the scene. It is here we can get an all round colour balance within the scene.

Soft light and/or fill light has always represented a rather soft even balance to a film, it does not create an emotion of negativity or mystery but almost represents a friendly welcoming approach due to its soft look. This particular lighting effect would never be portrayed in a scary film as it usually creates a soft yellow glow, which to the audiences perspective is positive.


Shot from the film Her” 

In week 8’s Wednesday class, my group played around with this soft diffused lighting technique which I personally have used in many of the films I have worked on. I experimented with this by placing the light slightly to the side facing up in front of the actor but bounced it off the white wall. We placed a diffuser on the top of the light to filter it so it wasn’t as harsh of a light on the person in front of screen (which was myself).

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 6.25.29 pm

Shot from an RMIT University film

Soft light technique is basically area lighting, which creates a more natural look. It is one of the most popular uses of lighting cause it evens out shot leaving the characters within the shot natural as if the light was from outside or from a well lit room. Almost an “unedited” shot


The particular shot above from the film 500 Days of Summer is a great example of soft lighting. To the audience it has a clear indication of being outside yet there a several lights surrounding them creating an even lit picture.

The next blog post I hope to explore Natural Lighting. 



Blog Investigation

Throughout the semester I have developed a huge interest in lighting and the components that go into making it look amazing and influential within a shot or scene.

I hope to explore and develop the makings and investigate lighting through a series of substantial posts using constructive writing. I hope to answer questions that I raise throughout my investigation as well as develop a strong understanding of what goes into lighting, the thought process and why they are are positioned in the shot coverage.


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