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How lighting affects the Mood of films

When it comes to describing the importance of lighting in film, many people dismiss it as a simple technicality that is just there to make shots more visible. However, if you watch more than a couple of films, you'll realize that every frame of a scene looks different even with repeating camera angles or actors. Ultimately, it's an important tool not only wielded for constructing prettier scenes but more importantly—a variable that is also maneuverer to create moods in films.

Three-Point Lighting

Three-point lighting is the most standard form of lighting used in films to ensure that whatever catches on camera is visible, as well as to bring focus to the subjects or a specific part of the frame. A common setup for three-point lighting is to use a key light at the front and side of the subject, with a fill light placed behind him or her

Three-Point Lighting

The key light is the primary and brightest source of light, determining the mood of the shot. The back light is often placed behind the subject, separating that from the background. The fill light is then the supplementary light that lightens shadows created by the key light, while bringing out details in both subjects and backgrounds without being distracting.

2. Harsh Light

The harsh light technique is a type of lighting set up that creates more contrast in the shot than a normal three-point set up would. With examples from most of the scenes in Fight Club and any shots in a film noir, it can be seen that such forms of lighting draw attention to a specific part of the frame by creating dark shadows around it, forming suspense and dramatic effects along the way.

Harsh Light
Low-key lighting is a counterpoint to harsh, direct lighting. It places the light source under the subject, producing similar dark tones and shadows in film shots. Seen best with characters like the Joker from the Batman trilogy and Pennywise from Stephen King's “It,” this lighting is popularised for setting up suspicious or antagonistic characters from the scary and ominous effects created.


3. Soft Light

Conversely, soft light is produced by using larger and more distant key lights to illuminate the subject. This results in a brighter shot with little to no shadows created. Adding on with a generous amount of fill lights used and a focus on the entire frame rather than a specific spot, this technique is used best to portray hopeful and amiable settings like those at the beginning of The Hobbit and in the entirety of Her.

High-key lighting is often used in conjunction with soft lighting. It is characterized by shining the key light above the subject, giving an even more flattering effect than that of soft light. This effect makes characters appear appealing and youthful, with fewer shadows around them. Think of scenes from Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2 and most romantic comedies, in which high-key lighting is used to portray characters at peace or approaching it.

Soft Light

4. Practical

While most light-weighting set-ups in filmmaking are fashioned victimization studio lights, props that manufacture illumination, like lamps or maybe candles are often equally as helpful to shaping appearance and moods in films. Such styles of light sources are normally referred to as practical's. mostly utilized in films like “Birdman” and “Buried”, practical's are extraordinarily useful once shooting its wider and moving shots, since these objects that were already a part of the set style may blatantly be enclosed within the frame.

5. Ambient Lighting

Widely recognized as natural or location lighting, ambient lighting is the closest to a “no-filter” in filmmaking. Relying largely or even at times, entirely, on the natural or provided lights in the location itself, such forms of light sources tend to tell more stories of the environment and the setting rather than the subject itself. It is a recognized choice that is made most popular in the film “The Revenant”, where a softer light during daytime scenes might suggest that the day is near ending, while harsher tones indicate periods of noon. Ambient lighting helps portray realism within a film while making it feel like we are following a character around rather than just simply watching them.

Ambient Lighting
6. Cold Lighting

Now, we enter the territory of colour; after all, the manipulation of lighting to create different moods does not stop solely at its position and intensities.

One of the two main types of colours in lighting techniques, cold lighting is indicative of a “lower” temperature of colour, or one that takes on colour tones of blue, green or grey. You would very likely have come across such uses of lighting with films like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Matrix”. A creative choice that many a time looks unsaturated, it usually conveys a void of life in its frames. Regularly used in science fiction, horror and war-filled films, the cold lighting is greatly used to portray loneliness, dullness and quite obviously, coldness in both its settings and characters.


7. Warm Lighting

On the other hand, a complete parallel of cold lighting is the use of warm lighting. A colour scheme that is most similar to a fireplace, such forms of lighting technique often take on the tones of orange, yellow, or red. As a result, our frequent associations of warmth to comfort and cosiness' also reflects on the looks constructed. Best seen in films like “In The Mood For Love” and the French classic, “Amelie”, sentiments similar to nostalgia, hope, and happiness are, in turn, communicated. Commonly also seen in youth dramas, coming-of-age recounts and romantic telling, the warm lighting is most widely used to tell stories of the better times.


Not all variables have to be seen to be important, as we can clearly learn from the different effects and moods created by the lighting in filmmaking. Every position, colour and intensity of the lights used can shape a completely varying look, as it can tell an entirely different story.

Now that you have learnt the basics of how lighting can affect the moods of all films, it is not too late to start noticing all these set-ups and differences in all your favourite movies, and just perhaps, even try them out yourselves!



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