Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lighting Part 2

Lighting design for motion picture can be controlled by controlling just five factors.

They are

(1)            Direction/Angle/Position from where light is coming
(2)            Intensity/Brightness of light
(3)            Color – is the light White, blue or yellowish?
(4)            Quality of the shadow – hard, cut out or soft, fuzzy?

(5)            Texture of light – is it continuous, drab or patchy?

Below are given some representations of each.

                           Light coming from different directions

    Light coming from the same Direction
    But of different Color

Light on the character’s face changes in Intensity. Notice that the Background light is unchanged

Light coming from the same direction and of the same intensity. But it creates Hard and Soft shadows. Light glitters differently on the Appy bottle, giving it a different look. That is part of the light’s texture.

Out of these five factors, the texture of the light is the most difficult to describe in words, and even the most difficult to visualize. This is why text books on lighting avoid this.

Direction/Angle/Position of light

The whole structure looks like half a wall clock. The five light positions are the basic positions around the face.

First time photographers, almost always, place the light next to the camera.
If a single light is available, that common sense choice is actually the ultimate wrong choice.

Light travels in straight line. And lighting design is for producing pleasant contrast between the grounds (Fore, Middle and the Backgrounds) for the story.

To produce contrast, separate lights are needed for separate grounds.

When light is next to camera, at 6:00 position of the clock, no contrast can be produced. The same light would fall on both the human face and the background.

Gerald Millerson, in Lighting for Television & Film, has described this in great detail.

At 7:30 position of the light, the face would get a pleasant modelling. On the frame left, the human face would be lit up. 

On the dark side of the face, there would be a patch of light, Depending on the height of the light, that patch would be above or under the eye.

When light comes from the left side of the frame, and such a patch is created under the eye, on the dark side of the face, it is known as Rembrandt light.

The 17th Century Dutch painter Rembrandt created such light patches in darkness to build up a Classical style of human portrait.

When in confusion, it is wise to set the character light to 7:30 position (or its opposite 4:30). This direction of lighting seems to be natural for almost all types of moods.

The next basic position of the light is 9:00. When light comes from that direction, it divides the face into lit up and fully dark.

A character in confusion, indecision or dilemma may be lit up like this.
So may be a character caught up between good and evil, or life and death.

Light position from 6:00 to 9:00, which are near camera positions, are known as the downstage positions. Specifically 7:30 – 6:00 – 4:30 are known as the downstage ranges.

These positions do not create too much contrast.

On the other hand, upstage lighting creates a lot of contrast. Hence, for very typical night scenes, or very dark mood, upstage lighting is preferred.

When light comes from 10:30 position, it automatically looks like night. Many people see the white light as blue, when light comes from this direction. That is an illusion. But, that happens.

This position of light is known as Kicker. When the Kicker is more like a rim, specially on long lean faces, it is known like a Rimlight.

Going more upstage, from 10:30 to 11:00, or 11:30, makes the Kicker more Rimlight for the same face.

When the light is directly behind the character’s face, the character hides the light from the camera. This happens at 12:00 position.

The character is presented as an outline in the darkness, for this light position.

If the light is taken to a height above the character’s head, it produces a halo around the face.

This light is known as backlight, to painters and photographers.

D W Griffith’s Cameraman Billy Bitzer started using this light for Lilian Gish. 

Slowly everyone took to this light, for giving a glamor look to the hero, or heroine. At the same time, this helped in separating the character from the background.

Things are pretty same on the other side of the clock. 7:30’s opposite look is produced by 4:30. Similarly, 3:00 divides the face into halves just like 9:00; and 1:30 produces a Kicker effect like 10:30.

Position of the light is the most important memory for a photographer. It is easy to identify the position of the character light in any other photographer’s, or painter’s, work.

Once a photographer knows the emotion or mood produced by a certain light position, s/he can make a note of it. Such notes or diagrams come very handy in reproducing any light situation very quickly, and precisely.

A Director of Photography may create such lighting diagrams scene by scene. S/he then hands them over to the gaffer and the assistant.

They can light up perfectly using the diagrams as a kind of notation, in the DP’s absence.

That makes work easy and much quicker.

Half light modified. Note both the eyes are visible.

(To be Continued)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


A Cinematographer is known by his lighting.

Lighting begins with composition.

Ironical. Isn't it? The way this article starts, reminds me of Vittorio Storaro. His Light-Color-Elements, the three part episodic journey into a Cinematographer's working process.

Storaro prepares us for a glimpse into his personality.

This article, on the other hand, is an initiation into the science and art of light design for motion picture.

Lighting is unnecessarily mystified by its practitioners.

Most of these practitioners do not go beyond basics - they only combine simple steps to create a coherent whole.

Often that creation is a straight lift from another practitioner - just a copy.

One major reason why India has no big history of Cinematography style. Except for Subrata Mitra and his legacy, almost no other style at all.

Light is needed to see things. It is needed to create an image, and to show that to the world.

There are many forms of image making. Etching, drawing, painting - to name a few. All these depend on contrast making.

Contrast means difference. Contrast creation is the goal in any artwork.

The contrast between the canvas and the image. 

The contrast between the ground and the figure.

Primarily, the contrast is in darkness.

Secondarily, it is in color.

If there is no contrast at all, the image would be a Monalisa painted with black ink on a black board.

It would not be visible.

However, even a light contrast in the foreground would show the image up.

A proper contrast would lead to an interesting image.

If the contrast is mostly in color, and not darkness, the result would be similar to a wedding video.

It would be flat. Uninteresting.

An ideal difference between canvas and image, in darkness and color, creates a presentable image.

The range of darkness is known as tonal palette.

The range of colors is known as color palette.

A Cinematographer uses both.

What is a proper contrast?

The answer is subjective. It depends on how the Cinematographer feels about an emotional situation.

A Cinematographer creates mood by separating the grounds in an image.

Here, Pi is in the foreground (Near Camera), the boat carrying the tiger is in the middle ground, and the sky far away is in the background.

We have talked about this in the page on composition

However, one needs to remember, it is not a rigid fact where the Foreground ends and the Middleground begins, in an image.

Normally, the reference is a line inside the frame. A line each for the boundary between the Foreground and Midleground, and between Middleground and Background.

Those lines may be horizontal, parallel to the top and bottom of the frame.

Or they may be vertical, parallel to the left and right edges of the frame.

Or they may be diagonally separating the Fore, Middle and Backgrounds. (For which I have no image now. But, I promise to click one and add that here)

When the grounds are separated in such regular geometric manner, we tend to appreciate them. We love such images. Why we do not know.

A Cinematographer enhances the division between the grounds, not only through mental divisions in lines, but actually, with contrasts in the Size of objects, Focus, Movement, Drama and of course the Human Face (or, animal) among inanimate props.

A major enhancer for ground separation is brightness of objects, and their colors.

We notice the brightest object first. If it is the biggest discernible human face, giving maximum details from the skin, speaking dialogue or doing some action, then nothing like it.

Even if it is just a dumb lampshade, our eyes go towards it inevitably. Its high brightness plays the key role in our decision.

Different grounds stand out against one another, if different color light fall on them. Or if different color properties, and characters in different costumes bedeck them.

A good example would be this particular scene from Tamil cinema.

Contrast creation in images is directly linked to emotion.  

In Indian aesthetics, there are nine rasas which generate specific emotions.

Shringara, Hasya, Karuna, Raudra, Veera, Bhayanaka, BibhatsaAdbhuta and Shanta.

These are the fixed mental states, or sentiments, to which the human mind comes to stay.

In between, a normal mind is always in agitation. Indian aesthetics has listed thirty three transitory states. These states are the states of mind at a specific moment.

Each of the sentiments has a particular color fixed to them, as well as a particular musical movement.

The sentiments may be comprehended as goals of basic emotional states.

However, a normal individual is always in a mixed emotional state, where the sentiments are not static. They are always changing.

The thirty three transitory states may be useful in the realistic portrayal of an individual in a film.

Along with that, the eight physical states - paralysis, perspiration, horripilation, trembling, change of color, weeping and fainting are listed for actors and dancers.

A detailed discussion of cinematic storytelling and the application of rasa theory, as well as other Indian aesthetic patterns, would be in a blog to come.

For now, we can start composing with the knowledge that if the lead characters are going from the fixed emotion of rage (Raudra) to pathos or pity (Karuna), we can use a range of certain colors connected to these emotions.

We may have those colors in characters' costumes, set properties and in the color of light.

I used some of these elements in this short ad made for NFDC, to celebrate one hundred years of Indian cinema.

In the film In the Mood for Love, Christopher Doyle tried something similar. However, he used Chinese codes, and not Indian.

A Cinematographer, as a lighting designer for movies, need to control four (and at times five) basic factors.

Each of these factors are independent of one another.

You can change any of them, without altering the others. 

So, they give a plethora of emotions, in different permutations and combinations.

Learning to light up is learning the visual dynamics of the story as per the psychology of the characters and the psychological dynamics of the situation.

Connecting those elements of the story to static and dynamic compositions in the frame is the responsibility of both the Director of the film and the Cinematographer's.

But, the final embellishment of the frame by planning the lighting design is the sole responsibility of the Cinematographer.

The execution of the lighting design is his responsibility too.

And also, giving the final look, sitting with the Colorist, so that the emotions in the mind of the screen characters rush to the mind of the audience.

When that happens, the audience become those characters.

The film becomes reality. It becomes a hit.

So, lighting, along with the Production Design, creates the look.

And lighting is controlled by five factors.

What are these factors?

They are simple to state.

(1) Direction from which the light is coming

(2) Intensity of the light. You can call that brightness.

(3) Color of the light. More bluish, or yellowish?

(4) Hard or Soft. Does the light give hard, cut out shadows?

(5) Texture of the light. Is it uniform? Is it patchy?

It is easy to control each of these factors practically.

It is much more difficult to plan the controls so that a particular emotion is elicited.

We shall take up each of these, one by one.

And then we shall try to see them in different combinations, in practical situations, for each of the transitory states.

(to be continued)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How Do You Relate to Stories

From the bedside lullaby to the remembrances of the past, in the old age, we are always wrapped around by stories.

We love to tell stories.

 We love to listen to them – from the coffee-shop table to the public spheres and social gatherings such as clubs, parties, office, school and even bus-stop.

Stories define our lives in the society.

They make us what we are.


Story comes from the Latin word historia, meaning history and fabrication both.

It would not be wrong to assume that initially story meant exact oral reproduction of actual events for the absent members of the society.

In the hunter-gatherer days, humanity was vaguely divided between members away for hunting, and those near the caves or dwellings.

At the end of the day, when the early heroes sat for munching cooked meat, encircling fire, they used to recount the day’s events to the other group.

This lead to the best reproduction of actual sounds and movements.

 With time, and generations, actual representation led to different types of symbolic representations – dance, music and speech.

 It is a different story, however, how speech became more important than the others, and also became most sophisticated and symbolic.

Gradually, the exact recording of actual events gave way to more fabrication. 

Even today, we nurture this practice. Rumor spreads this way. 

Finally, the stress came to metaphoric representation – allegories.

 And the story in its modern form was born about 1500 AD. 

It is not that there was no sense of conscious fabrication or fantasy before this.

But, they were more religious in nature, or demi-historic, like the Epic or the Mahakavya forms.

There were lyric and other types of poems. But, they were more like slices of emotion, than a type of extended tale.

However, the classical Greek or Sanskrit plays were kins of today’s stories. And they were meant to be enacted, much like today’s movies, serially unfolding in time.

For a modern approximation of how they used to be acted, in the amphitheater, you can watch this

But the initial question remains.

 How do people relate to stories?

All stories start from an urge to visualize, to make an external event internal, to assimilate reality.

 In short, stories act as our vehicles to internalize reality. To make sense of things happening all around.

 Automatically, the urge for drawing a conclusion in the form of a moral comes from the same vision.

 But, how much one can preach directly, without being obstructive to the free flow of events, depends on the culture where the story is told.

In turn, this dictates the storytelling form.

Epic and the Greek plays were composed in the days of uncertainty of human life and its relation to natural events.

 In those early days of civilization, gods existed in human reality. Our forefathers were mere puppets in their hands.

Fatalism was the philosophy of the day, and to add savor to it gods granted free will to select individuals from time to time.

Extreme play between fate and free will characterized the early heroes like Odysseus or Oedipus Rex.

Greek stories always ensued from major flaws – either in the situation or in the character’s life itself.

A flaw inbuilt in a character, or a fracture in the situation, would lead to a conflict. The Hero's journey would be to resolve this conflict.

Point to be noted, Hero always not used to be men only. Characters like Iphigenia or Electra were key figures in solving problems in their life, or society.

After European Renaissance, with the separation of the State from the Church, more secular stories could be told in a serious way. 

Tales of carnal love and human aspirations placed themselves in mainstream human culture for the first time.

Where there was human tales wrapped around religious allegories like Dante’s Divine Comedy before, simple love stories like Tristan and Isolde could appear now.

Elizabethan stage, with the reverse approach of showing great historical and semi-mythological heroes like Caesar and King Lear as frail, flesh and blood human beings, took the story further, closer to contemporary lives.

 And after the navigation and geographical expansion of the late fifteenth century Europe, novel emerged as the principal genre of story telling – the genre of industrial civilization and colonization.

Cinema came at a critical juncture in civilization.

With the mass migration for bread and shelter, some family members were always absent in the household.

Photographs helped to create a very realistic bridge between the absent dad, and the son staying with his mom in the village.

Already, in still frames, the extremely real silver representation told innumerable stories about the city and its attractions. Cinema took that several steps ahead.

It was reminiscent of early days of human civilization.

 Absent hunters from the commune’s dwellings returning in the evening to narrate the day’s happening in the wild, to the avid listeners around the fire. Remember? 

Cinema is very similar in its purpose and approach.

With colonization and modern education, people wanted to know more about other people in their own society, and in others'.

 An Indian could see the Yorkshire hills for the first time, without leaving his familiar physical space, and the citizens there.

It was a revelation in the sense that the universality of human qualities – love, anger, greed and peace – were shown for the first time to an unsuspecting mass.

 People saw themselves in the stranger’s persona. Spectators got stitched to the screen, passing life to those shadows, in the darkness of the theater.

Suspension of disbelief prevailed. The first screen heroes were born.

Cinema borrowed lots from other modes of storytelling – from plays, novel, dance, folk theatre and pantomime.

With the coming of talkies, the three basic media – dance, music and speech – were incorporated totally in the new medium of moving images.

And cinema kept on following the individual aspirations in the changing social atmosphere.

The days of assimilation and migration were reflected in the Western. 

The plight of the Immigrant during the great depression was showcased in Chaplin’s movies. 

The new structuring of the State and the accompanying philosophies were showcased in the hordes of movies made by the Russian filmmakers like Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Dovzhenko.

 And the recent cold war and its aftermath echoed in hundreds of films from Hollywood, made in the last four decades.

People still center their lives around stories just like they did ten thousand years ago.

Nothing much has changed.

We still dream of a happy family, secure future and immortality.

We still crave for the same bedtime stories.